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Ocean's 8: The importance of an all-female main cast

Novia Riani Putri
Novia Riani Putri

Graduate of the School of Humanities, University of Indonesia

Jakarta  /  Mon, June 18, 2018  /  02:04 pm
Ocean's 8: The importance of an all-female main cast

Thick as thieves: The band of criminals in ‘Ocean’s 8’ includes (from left) Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Lou (Cate Blanchett) and Constance (Awkwafina). (Warner Bros. Pictures/File)

The all-female Ocean’s 8 was released earlier this month. While at first critiqued for merely being a reboot for the sake of diversity, Ocean’s 8 continues to fly and has broken a record by raking in the highest opening-weekend revenue for the franchise, toppling the original Ocean’s 11 and the Ocean’s 11 trilogies. The response from both critics and the audience is warmer than for another Hollywood all-female remake of a notable film, Ghostbusters ( 2016 ).

Ocean’s 8 is fun in a popcorn way. Mostly due to its all-star cast consisting of all-rounder actresses who would act decently despite the rather dull script and subtle homoerotic tensions between some of its characters that definitely add entertaining quick bites throughout the film.

The main selling point of the movie is the dynamics of its female characters. Crime heist movies with eight female protagonists are not common, even in Hollywood. Although the heist conflicts are definitely not as rounded as in the Ocean's trilogy, the depiction of an all-female cast on a generally masculine genre is quite a fresh move. One notable example is the character Tammy (played by Sarah Paulson), a former smuggler and at the same time a caring housewife with two children. She's an expert at both sneaking in illegal things and at motherhood, where the two things seemingly represent opposite ends of the spectrum.

Indeed, through its characters, Ocean’s 8 aims to explore the complexity of the individual and how people may break traditional gender norms. However, due to the screen time and numerous main characters, the character development falls rather short. Still, this is significant, as Ocean's 8 is definitely made for a broad segment of viewers to send out its message.

This could also be said of any other movies that have unusual casts. Spy Kids' ( 1996 ) main cast and inherent theme were full of Hispanic representation, as its director, Robert Rodriguez, is of Mexican descent. While Spy Kids is notable for being one of the surprise hits and an adorable family-friendly spy film, it definitely brings a fresh representation of the Hispanic and Latin community, which is mostly stereotyped by melodramatic telenovela. Although the situation of Spy Kids and Ocean's 8 is quite different, as Spy Kids is an original movie while the latter is a remake of a remake, their understated representation of debunking stereotypes is indeed notable, regardless of the overall quality and reception of the films, which would be left to critics and the audience.

In an 1889 essay, Oscar Wilde stated that "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." While any statement regarding art does not have an absolute truth and will definitely elicit pros and cons, Wilde’s statement does suggest that art, or in this case a movie, could project a concept or an idea that might not be well represented in real life. In other words, an artwork can bring fresh air to our complicated and polluted real life, which would be both refreshing and insightful.

Obviously, any film released on earth is definitely produced with both professional (e.g.  profits) and personal (e.g. cultural representation) considerations. As mere viewers, we will never know the real intentions behind the making of a movie. Perhaps the idea of having an all-female cast in Ocean's 8 is owed to the fact that female-led films are more profitable than male-led ones, rather than for the sake of "diversity"? We will never know for sure.

Roland Barthes, a prominent postmodern philosopher and literary critic, stated in his essay ‘The Death of The Author’ ( 1967 ) that the biographical and any other context of the author could be abolished when analyzing or simply consuming an artwork. He argues that "a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination." In other words, we could interpret an artwork merely on the basis of its inherent characteristics, leaving the external context out of the picture.

Hence, whatever the real intentions might be, having multiple representations – or fresh air brought to our real life by any artwork – would help show that the world is indeed diverse and full of complexity. Ocean's 8's all-female cast might be deemed successful at doing just that and might bring fresh air to the land of cinema. (dev/asw)


Novia Riani Putri is an alumnus of French studies at the University of Indonesia.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.