Scarlett Johansson’s new movie role is based a real-life ‘transmasculine’ figure from the 1970s.
The project, Rub & Tug, reunites her with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders. New Regency won the rights to the movie in a high-bidding auction.
Rub & Tug tells the story of Jean Marie Gill in 1970s Pittsburgh who was able to thrive in a male-dominated society by assuming the identity of a man. According to reports, Gill preferred male pronouns and wanted to be known as a man.
Gill clashed with the mob and became a crime kingpin through illicit massage parlors, prostitution, and steroids for Pittsburgh’s NFL team the Steelers.
When assuming the identity of Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, Jean Marie was able to start an empire.
The movie will also explore the relationship with Gill’s girlfriend Cynthia, which Deadline describes as a ‘fiery romance’.
Gary Spinelli is writing the film.
A debate about trans identity
Many people are expressing outrage at Johansson taking on the role of a trans man. However, most outlets have used ‘she/her’ pronouns when writing about Gill, while others described Gill as ‘transmasculine’.
There has long been debate about straight actors playing LGBTI characters, but it is still something that happen often.
Cis actors playing trans characters and people is much less forgiving transgression.
Further, people are skeptical of Sanders after both whitewashing and straightwashing Ghost in the Shell.
Update 3 July, 2:55 pm:
An obituary for Gill in the Post-Gazette refers to Gill as ‘the woman who prefers to be known as a man’. Author Torsten Ove uses ‘she/her’ pronouns in the piece.
It also says that Gill ‘may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine’.
Barry Paris, a Post-Gazette film critic and Gill’s cousin, described Gill as ‘an anomaly for her day, someone who had to hide her sexuality as a single woman in the transgender community, which at the time was so underground it had yet to acquire that label’.
The apparent lack of trans or any LGBQ people on the project is concerning, as there is still a lack of people in the community with opportunities to tell their own stories.