ENTERTAINMENT

After Scarlett Johansson Debacle, 'Rub & Tug' Will Get A Trans-Inclusive Reimagining

The life of transgender mobster Dante "Tex" Gill will be adapted for TV, two years after Johansson dropped out of the project amid backlash to her casting.

After a controversial false start, Dante “Tex” Gill is finally bound for Hollywood.

Deadline reported Tuesday that “Rub & Tug,” which depicts Pittsburgh’s underground sex industry of the 1970s and ’80s, is being redeveloped as a television series. The show’s pilot will be written by Our Lady J, an Emmy nominee whose credits include “Transparent” and “Pose.” Producers also are interested in casting a transgender actor for the lead role of Gill, a trans mobster who ran an empire of massage parlors as thinly disguised fronts for sex workers. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to write a gangster drama based on such a fascinating and diverse web of queer characters,” Our Lady J, who is transgender, told Deadline in a statement. “The show is about the promise of reinvention, and the peril of losing oneself in the process.”

She added: “Tex Gill was out and proud in an era – the late 1970s – when living authentically came with the price of social ostracization, leaving him vulnerable to a life of crime and lawlessness. Having grown up in Pennsylvania myself, I’m also excited to delve deep into Pittsburgh’s underbelly as it unspools the story of Tex’s remarkable life – it’s also the story of a city’s struggle for rebirth and a proud community’s efforts to make its voice heard.”

Among those praising the news was Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of transgender representation. 

“Industry leaders are hearing, and even joining, the call to hire talented and experienced transgender storytellers like Our Lady J to tell trans stories,” Adams tweeted

“Rub & Tug” was originally conceived as an “American Hustle”–like mob drama, to be directed by Rupert Sanders. 

The project sparked heated controversy in 2018, when it was announced that Scarlett Johansson had signed on to play Gill. The “Jojo Rabbit” star’s casting was met with outcry among members of the LGBTQ community, who objected to the prospect of yet another cisgender actor inhabiting a transgender role

Johansson didn’t exactly help matters when she issued a glib statement via her representative, who told Bustle: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

The remark was a nod to the fact that those cis actors won critical acclaim for portraying transgender characters in television and film.

A week later, however, Johansson reversed course. She withdrew from the project and apologized for her “insensitive” response. Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2019, she acknowledged she “mishandled” the backlash. 

“I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing — and how they felt in general about cis actors playing — transgender people,” she said

The Johansson debacle resurfaced earlier this month, when Halle Berry expressed interest in playing a transgender man in a forthcoming movie. Though Berry offered few details on the role or the film, she repeatedly misgendered the character in an Instagram Live interview with hairstylist Christin Brown.

Days later, the “Monster’s Ball” star apologized and exited the project, vowing to “promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and behind the camera.”