NEW YORK — Scarlett Johansson on Friday withdrew from the film "Rub & Tug" after her plans to portray a transgender man prompted a backlash.
In a statement to Out.com on Friday, Johansson said she's pulling out from the project "in light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting." Last week, Johansson said she would star as Pittsburgh 1970s and '80s prostitution ring leader Dante "Tex" Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill but identified as a man.
When transgender actors and advocates questioned the casting, Johansson initially responded with a statement that criticism "can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman's reps." All are cisgender actors who won acclaim for playing transgender characters.
"Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I've learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive," said Johansson, who added that she had "great admiration and love for the trans community."
"While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante's story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film," the actress added.
Johansson previously came under fire for playing an originally Asian character in the 2017 film "Ghost in the Shell." That film's director, Rupert Sanders, was set to also helm "Rub & Tug."
It's not clear if the film, which Johansson was also producing, will go forward. A representative for Johansson didn't respond to an email Friday. A spokesman for New Regency, which was set to produce "Rub & Tug," said it's uncertain what will happen with the film.
Some critics have argued that trans roles should be played by trans actors. Last week, numerous trans actors responded to Johansson's casting as another sign of a lack of opportunity for trans actors.
"Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters," Jamie Clayton, a transgender actress who stars in Netflix's "Sense8." ''That's the real issue. We can't even get in the room."
Jen Richards, trans activist and creator of the web series "Her Story," praised Johansson for stepping down.
"If you're tired of hearing about it, you can't imagine how tired trans actors are of talking about it," Richards said on Twitter. "We just want to work. And with more trans and nonbinary people, of all kinds, participating, the work will be a better and richer representation of our world. This is a win."
GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said in a statement: "Scarlett Johansson's announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood."