In 2018, it was announced that production company New Regency would be making “Rub and Tug,” a film following the life of infamous 1970s transgender Pittsburgh criminal Dante “Tex” Gill. Originally, Scarlet Johansson was set to star as the trans man; however, after facing major backlash over her choice to play a transgender character, the actress dropped out of the movie. Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Ghost in the Shell”) was originally set to direct.
“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project,” she said as she withdrew from the film.
After the huge controversy over the film’s original casting choice, the concept is being pushed as a television series — without Johansson as the lead. “Rub and Tug” was originally set to be a comedy-drama film that explored the trans man’s life, specifically his dealings with the mob, running a steroid ring, and his personal life.
Although casting has not yet been announced, the show now seems committed to casting a trans masculine lead. This is especially important, considering Johansson’s original intention to take the role would have essentially erased a trans person’s visible space. With this commitment, the show would become the first major network series in history to star a trans man if it were to make it to air.
In an effort to both save the show from its scandal and to make it better moving forward, New Regency tapped Our Lady J to write the show’s pilot. The writer-producer is known for her work in FX’s “Pose,” Amazon’s “Transparent,” and for her appearances on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” as well as her work with music.
In reality, Gill was a prominent criminal figure in 1970s Pittsburgh. He built an empire of illegal massage parlors in the city’s red-light district in the ’70s and ’80s, as well as running a steroid ring for the Pittsburgh Steelers, before being sent to jail for tax evasion in 1985. As a trans man, however, Gill never forgot where he came from, often surrounding himself with other marginalized people — specifically the LGBTQ+ community.
“Tex’s life story is like no other, and the rich landscape of this unexplored moment in time has truly captured my imagination,” Our Lady J said in a statement to Deadline. “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.”
“The show is about the promise of reinvention, and the peril of losing oneself in the process,” the statement also said. “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.”
While the show has yet to name a showrunner, it’s being developed by New Regency in partnership with Dark Castle Entertainment and Material Pictures. Author Brendan Koerner, who is known for his deep research into Tex’s life, is currently on board as a consultant — along with Tex’s widow Cindy Bruno Gill.
“Tex was transgender at a time when being transgender meant facing great discrimination, yet he was fearless about being himself in a way that inspired those who knew him to be proud of who they were, too,” Bruno Gill said in a statement. “Our Lady J is the perfect person to give voice to Tex’s story, and I know he would be proud of the evolution of this project.”