In the wake of the new Ghostbusters facing severe losses at the box office, a female spinoff of the popular heist movie Ocean's Eleven is adding big names to its cast: The project, dubbed Ocean's Eight, is led by Sandra Bullock and now includes Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina, a.k.a. rapper/actress Nora Lum.
That's an absolute stellar cast, diverse as much in age as in origin and acting experience. They all have the perfect badassery for the kind of story that is Ocean's Eleven — to be honest, I would watch these ladies rob a laundromat. And yet, something feels a little bit off. Beyond the usual complaint that none of the big budget movies coming out of Hollywood lately seem to have any originality, it seems like the idea of putting women in roles previously played by men is going against the very girl power this project is trying to convey.
A Simple Movie With A Killer Cast Shouldn't Have To Rely On A Previous Franchise
Granted, Ocean's Eight is a spinoff, not a reboot or a remake — meaning the story should only loosely be inspired from the Ocean's Eleven we all know and love. The reason the "Ocean" is still in the title is that Bullock's character will reportedly be Danny Ocean's sister. But if the stories aren't even meant to be that similar, why do we need that link in the first place? With names like Bullock's and Blanchett's, which have clearly proved in the past that they have the power to carry countless types of movies, why does the Ocean name need to be slapped on top like some kind of approval sticker?
A heist plot is pretty much the opposite of complicated: Eight ladies dripping with cool decide to take on a casino or a bank or whatever it is that contains a shit load of money in some hidden basement. "Watch your favorite actress do something excitingly illegal" would convince plenty of moviegoers. But no, the studio felt that if they didn't explain to audiences that this was like Ocean's Eleven, they would never get their attention. It's a female-led movie, and yet it carries a sort of anti-feminism that assumes that for women to be amazing, they need to step into a man's shoes. A role created just for them, really? Do they want equal pay while we're at it?
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Prompting Moviegoers To Draw Endless Comparisons Is Promoting A Competitive Type Of Feminism
That's a terrible thing to tell women, and it's also the wrong attitude to have with men. In a way, repurposing stories with male characters makes feminism appear like a trend: Men aren't in these days, let's replace them with women. Which, in turn, feeds into the perception of feminism as a competition, rather than a common fight for equality. But one's power shouldn't have to replace another's. Can't we enjoy multiple heist movies instead of making this a case of one gender against the other, one generation against the other?
Desperately linking new releases to beloved franchises in fear that an original story can't stand on its own will inevitably draw comparisons between the two, which means that instead of saying "I loved these eight robbers," Ocean's Eight viewers will be prompted to declare "I loved these eight robbers, they were so much better than Clooney and Pitt!" Or, you know, the other way around.
Ultimately, such a project is saying that to sell a female movie, no matter how many millions of dollars the members of the cast make each year, there needs to be a male story or name attached. How crazy is that?
It's Time To Break The Cycle
The recurring argument for these reboots and spinoffs is that this is how movies get sold nowadays — it's tempting to make a parallel with the idea that you need Matt Damon's name and face all over the poster to carry a Chinese movie like The Great Wall. But let's keep in mind that this attitude is a self-sustaining cycle: Keep on making Chinese movies with Western names as the lead, and you'll never have Chinese A-list stars. Keep on making female reboots instead of creating new female-led franchises, and you'll never have examples of female-led successes. If no one gets rid of the idea that a female movie needs the safety net of a preexisting hit, that net will never come off of its own.
Of course, there's always the idea that shaking up an old classic will get people talking, and create visibility by provoking controversy. But the intrigue soon gives way to the hate, and female actresses and their fans deserve much more than bringing in the numbers by being bait to some people's outrage and other people's curiosity.
Reboot Controversies Are Shifting The Focus Away From Quality
And similarly to app developers selling their product by claiming that it's "the new Instagram" instead of pitching their own concept, the constant referral to movies we know worked in the past is getting in the way of quality. If Ocean's Eight is a great movie, it don't need no Oceans: Reviews and word-of-mouth combined to the hype factor of the cast will do the job just fine.
In the end, the fact that Ocean's Eight is basing itself off an existing franchise is focusing the conversation on the fact that, wow, they replaced male characters with female ones, instead of leaving the spotlight on the movie itself. There'd be less voices saying "they made these female casino robbers" than there will be shouting "they replaced Pitt and Damon and Clooney," and that's not doing anyone a favor.
Considering how little female-led blockbusters we currently have, Ocean's Eight is a nice little step on the path to an equal Hollywood. But if we want to get to the other side, we're going to need to put both feet on the bridge and not just a toe.
What's your take on Ocean's Eight and other female-led reboots?
To cheer yourself up, take a look at the most badass women in pop culture: