Rub and Tug resurrected

Scarlett Johansson drew major heat in 2018 when word came out that she would be playing a trans man in Rub and Tug, a feature film intended to reunite the actress with her Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders. After a loud backlash to that casting announcement, Johansson eventually stepped away from the project altogether, and we haven’t heard any updates about its status…until now.

Rub and Tug, which tells the story of massage parlor kingpin Dante “Tex” Gill and his run-ins with the mafia in 1970s Pittsburgh, is being reworked from a movie into a TV series, and the producers have hired a trans writer to write the pilot script. And the lead role, the one that Johansson was once slated to play? That part will now be played by a trans actor.

Deadline reports that Our Lady J, an Emmy-nominated writer and producer on Amazon’s Transparent and FX’s Pose who was the first openly trans person to be hired in a writers’ room, will write the pilot of the newly-reformed Rub and Tug TV series. The project still hails from New Regency, which was initially developing it as a film. It’s unclear if Sanders, who took his own heat for whitewashing the cast of his movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, will still be associated with this TV iteration in any way.

The report also states that there is now “a commitment to cast a trans actor to play the show’s lead,” which is clearly the correct choice here. The controversy had lots of folks up in arms about things like who can be “allowed” to play whom, but the simple fact of the matter is that trans people have not had nearly the same opportunities that cisgendered actors have had over the years, so when an opportunity arises for a high-profile role in a cool project, it just makes sense to give trans performers the kind of shot that cis actors have had from the beginning.

The story sounds fascinating: Gill “took on the mob and became the crime kingpin of 1970s Pittsburgh through an empire of illicit massage parlors and an anabolic steroids ring that helped fuel the Pittsburgh Steelers’ NFL dynasty,” threw a birthday cake at a cop who raided one of his massage parlors, and dodged attempts on his life made by his rivals. The initial description of the story drew comparisons to American Hustle. I’m glad this project is now in the hands of someone who can give the material the respect and authenticity it deserves, and we’ll keep you updated when we learn more about it.

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