Actress Scarlett Johansson has pulled out of drama film Rub And Tug, in which she was going to play a transgender character.

Johansson, 33, had been set to play the lead role in a biopic of US massage parlour owner Dante “Tex” Gill, a woman who lived as man and had ties to organised crime.

Her casting had drawn criticism from some transgender actors and advocates, who said the part should be played by someone from the community.

Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson said she has great admiration and love for the trans community (Ian West/PA)

In a statement quoted in LGBT lifestyle publication Out, Johansson said: “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.

“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 realise it was insensitive.

“I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.”

Johansson added: “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.

“I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly.”

Johansson has previously appeared to defend her decision to accept the part by suggesting she was not the first actor outside of the trans community to play a transgender character in a film.

She said in a statement earlier in July that any criticism “can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps”.

Johansson was previously at the centre of a row over perceived whitewashing after she starred in  the remake of the Japanese sci-fi anime film Ghost In The Shell in 2017.

Rupert Sanders, who directed the adaptation, is also set to direct Rub And Tug.