‘Ocean’s 8’ brings diversity in representation to the classic heist franchise

When director Steven Soderbergh rebooted the classic heist film “Ocean’s 11,” the ensemble cast sought to capture the spirit of the 1960s Sinatra-led Rat Pack while paying homage to the original film: same name (with “11” becoming “Eleven”), same setting (Las Vegas), same recognizable — and male — names to bring the story to life on screen.

The 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven” was a box office success, and now 11 years after the last film in the franchise, a new pack is picking up where the “Ocean’s” trilogy left off: “Ocean’s 8” will tell a similar heist-themed plot with a slew of recognizable names — but this time, it’s the women who are front and center of the story.

“We’re celebrating eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds, and this is what the world looks like, not just what Hollywood has made the world look like,” director Gary Ross told reporters in May at a press conference to promote the film in New York City.

Image: Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling
Actors Sarah Paulson, from left, Awkwafina, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and Mindy Kaling pose together at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 22, 2018, in New York.Evan Agostini / Invision/AP
‘Ocean’s 8’ brings diversity in representation to the classic heist franchise
‘Ocean’s 8’ brings diversity in representation to the classic heist franchise

“Ocean’s 8” follows Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), who has been released from jail after 5 years and assembles a team of experts to rob the Met Gala in New York City. The concept, Ross said, came after he directed “The Hunger Games” and found himself wanting to explore more films starring powerful, female protagonists with complex upbringings.

According to a study by The Center of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, females comprised 24 percent of protagonists in the 100 top domestic grossing films of 2017, which represents a 5 percent decline (down from 29 percent) in 2016.

At the May press conference, “Ocean’s 8” co-star Mindy Kaling said she felt like the film “passes the Bechdel test with flying colors,” referring to the Wallace-Bechdel test, which originated from cartoonist Alex Bechdel and examines if a work of fiction features two female characters who are speaking about something other than a man.

“These women are orchestrating a crime as opposed to fighting over a man,” Kaling said.

Beyond the Bechdel test

The Bechdel test is often referenced in Hollywood when talking about female representation on screen, and it’s also inspired theaters in other countries as a grading tool in an effort to make audiences more mindful of what they’re watching. In 2013, four theaters in Sweden announced they would give a film an “A” rating on its movie poster if it passed the Bechdel test.

We’re celebrating eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds, and this is what the world looks like, not just what Hollywood has made the world look like.

We’re celebrating eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds, and this is what the world looks like, not just what Hollywood has made the world look like.

In 2013, according to IndieWire, only 30 percent of Swedish films passed the Bechdel test. The next year, it jumped to 60 percent; in 2015, 80 percent of films earned an “A.”

But using the Bechdel test as a measurement can also miss the point, according to Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

“A far better test would consider the centrality of female characters to the narrative, the agency of female characters and the dimensionality of female characters,” Lauzen said.

Beyond the conversation of including more women on the silver screen, the cast and crew of “Ocean’s 8” emphasized how important it was for them to include a diverse cast who come from a variety of backgrounds.

Olivia Minch, “Ocean’s 8” co-screenwriter, told reporters at the May press conference that one way they sought to make the characters multidimensional, the film featured all five boroughs of New York City to show a diversity of backgrounds.

“Any woman — or human being — knows that women are funny, smart, nuanced, and sometimes contradictory, and it’s crazy, but we have to start seeing characters like that,” Minch said.

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