A gender-flipped ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ won’t solve Hollywood’s sexism problem

When the news broke that Sandra Bullock will be starring in a gender-flipped remake of and”Oceanand’s Eleven,and” it was inevitable that entertainment writers would give in to the temptation to fantasy-cast the whole lineup.
I particularly liked the set of suggestions from Matt Brennan of Thompson on Hollywood, which was full of great ways to make use of actresses like Kristen Wiigand’s skills as well as irresistible juxtapositions, like the possibility of Jessica Chastain and Amy Adams playing bickering sisters.
The and”Oceanand’s Elevenand” franchise, which started in 1960 as a Rat Pack heist movie about a group of World War II veterans before morphing into a stylish 2001 Steven Soderbergh remake and George Clooney vehicle, followed by and”Oceanand’s Twelveand” in 2004 and and”Oceanand’s Thirteenand” in 2007, has always been an opportunity to showcase a whole lot of Hollywood talent in a supersized ensemble picture. And the idea of seizing that opportunity and using it to let Hollywood actresses play is absolutely compelling.
But I felt a sense of unease at the news. And I donand’t think itand’s just because Bullockand’s movie and”Our Brand Is Crisis,and” in which she plays a political consultant originally intended to be Clooney (whom sheand’ll also replace in and”Oceanand’s Elevenand”), is presently tanking at the box office and earning poor reviews from critics I trust. The news about a gender-swapped and”Oceanand’s Elevenand” is the kind of thing that sounds like a step toward equality, but is rooted in an idea about women and storytelling that actually risks shutting out womenand’s voices and perspectives in the long run.
There are two situations in which casting a woman in a role originally written for a man can yield benefits, one of them convincingly argued by Alison Willmore at BuzzFeed last week. Using and”Our Brand Is Crisisand” as evidence, Willmore suggests that such gender-swapped castings can shake us out of our complacency about familiar tropes, in this case, the amoral anti-hero, always a man, whose sheer competence overcomes our disgust at his repulsive profession or personal behavior.
and”Weand’re used to male antiheroes, often accompanied by women as the nagging moral centers, but Bullockand’s character is a gleeful participant in the … industry of exporting the most manipulative of American campaigning abroad (that is, until andlsquoOur Brand Is Crisisand’s terrible failure of nerve),and” Willmore writes. and”She unsettles an otherwise familiar story about someone whoand’s really good at their terrible job, and without the need for someone to stand around wagging their finger at what sheand’s doing.and”
Itand’s absolutely true that parts like these can give us a useful jolt, making us wonder why we might tolerate a difficult but insightful male CIA agent but be turned off by a Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in and”Homelandand” or a Maya (Jessica Chastain) in and”Zero Dark Thirtyand” or why we might let a troubled man fix himself but expect a troubled woman to be fixed by a man. The same can be true of playing with racial expectations, as our debates about the possibility of a black James Bond suggest: One role entertainment can play is to confront us with the double standards that allow us to admire womanizing and expertise with violence in a white man but see the same behavior as licentious and threatening in a black one.
The other useful role gender-flipping can potentially play is to change the preexisting stories themselves. and”Magic Mike XXL,and” another movie Willmore mentions in her piece, is a different film for having Jada Pinkett Smith playing promoter Rome in it. If a man had that role, he might have been part of the pretty but somewhat shallow crew who surrounds the titular male stripper (Channing Tatum).
But by making Rome not just a woman, but Mikeand’s former lover, and”Magic Mike XXLand” acquires a sweet, melancholy center that nods to — if not quite equals — Mikeand’s struggles from the original and”Magic Mike.and” Itand’s not merely a road trip anymore, but a story about exes who find a way to be friends, people who appreciate each otherand’s finer qualities without necessarily feeling drawn to indulge in them.
But asking movies to do one of these two things is, frankly, setting a rather high standard for Hollywood fare. Maybe itand’s a reasonable mark to hope for when the director in question is someone like Paul Feig, who has defined his career in recent years by making strong comedies for actresses and poking at gender expectations in films such as and”Bridesmaidsand” and and”Spy.and” Not every director, though, is going to bring such credentials and such clear intention to a resurrection of an old, popular property like and”Ghostbusters.and”
Slotting actresses into roles that male actors were initially intended to occupy could just as easily result in movies where women are determined to be interesting and admirable only when they act like men often do in films: when theyand’re decisive, physically forceful and confident in their sexuality without fear of consequence.
The announcement of the gender-flipped and”Oceanand’s Elevenand” came around the same time that Vulture published Kyle Buchananand’s list of 100 female directors who ought to be working regularly in the entertainment industry Iand’m sure we could come up with a list of female writers with relative ease. That list was a reminder of the limits of casting actresses in roles initially intended for men, especially when those roles are written and directed by men.
Using that kind of role reversal as anything other than a temporary tactic in the fight for gender equity in Hollywood (something Willmore and I both agree could be temporarily useful) risks ceding the idea that thereand’s anything distinct about female characters and womenand’s perspectives. If the most interesting woman is basically just a man, weand’re settling for leaving the Hollywood door only partially open.
Actresses like Bullock may slip through. But stories that are unavoidably about women and femaleness, where the lead couldnand’t possibly be replaced by a man, may remain out in the cold. (c) The Washington Post 2015


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