Recently, Sandra Bullock was cast in the role that was originally George Clooney’s in “Our Brand is Crisis.” Clooney told ET, “You’ll see this happening a lot, where they talk about how there aren’t a lot of great roles for women. The truth of the matter is there are plenty of these films where you can stop and look and just change the gender and make a really interesting film. So we need to start thinking that way.” This was after Bullock talked about not getting roles sent to her that she was excited about. She was actively looking for male roles that could be gender-swapped.
It’s not as strange as it sounds to some of you. One of the best writing exercises I’ve even done was to take a story I’d written and see if it was possible to gender-swap the roles. If your character is fleshed out enough — a real person, fully realized — then it really shouldn’t take much effort.
That’s really the trick, isn’t it — writing people instead of gender? Of course, if the story is about the experience of being a man, a woman, a trans-person, etc., there are specifics there. However, if we’re talking about most roles, what difference does it make? Swap race, gender, sexual orientation — we’re all people. We all have fully realized lives. The thing is, women are often written as ciphers. “The girlfriend.” The love interest.” “The sexy spy.”
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Try a little experiment. Look at your favorite film and see if it would make a difference if you changed the gender. I’ve talked about this before, but “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which I re-watched this weekend, made me really ponder. Yes, you could make Furiosa a man. The character might have different motivations for saving the wives, but you could do it. You could do it with Max as well. Any of the characters in “Battlestar Galactica” would work either way. Heck, you could probably do it with “Frozen”! (Everyone seems to be doing “Disney Princesses as…” these days anyway. Just look at Tumblr.)
Want to try to do the same thing with something like Tessa from “Transformers: Age of Extinction”? You know, the one with pretty much no reason for being there other than to be sexy and passed from her father to her boyfriend? Or Teresa in “The Maze Runner.” In the book, she’s fully fleshed out. In the film, she’s pretty much there to be “the girl.”
I think — I hope — studios are starting to realize that women go to the movies because we love them. We even go to action movies and geek movies, and not just because our boyfriend or husband drags us there. Even better? Guys will go see a film with a female lead. They will buy action figures of female characters — even ones that aren’t sexy. (The biggest “get” on #ForceFriday was Captain Phasma, a female character.) If Hollywood gives it a shot, they’ll discover what the rest of us know: women are more than sidekicks, hot chicks and set dressing.
So, female doctor from “Doctor Who,” anyone?