The Soapbox: Casting Women In “Male Roles” Won’t End Sexism In Hollywood

Alicia Swiz | January 8, 2016 - 2:00 pm

“What if James Bond were a woman?” asked a recent headline in my Facebook feed. Sigh. Like, I even care. Bustle writer Kelsea Stahler recently posed the question to Daniel Craig and other’s in the cast of Spectre, the latest film in the ongoing legacy of the world’s favorite spy. Craig gave a diplomatic, “Yeah, sure. Anything’s possible.” But, I’m interested in the opinionated response of Christoph Waltz:

“I think that if a woman would play James Bond, it wouldn’t be James Bond. Can you do it? Of course you can, you can do anything, but does it make sense? Not one bit.”

Waltz may have simply been sexist but he was also telling an explicit truth: this character completely changes when it is a woman. Any character does because women have completely different experiences than men. Not only that, but every woman has a different experience so just because you make one movie about one woman doesn’t mean it speaks to all women. Stahler’s question to gender swaps the roles of Bond reached back to the fandom of a young girl who wished she could be James Bond. See, that’s totally not my jam.

So, the question I’d like to see Hollywood answer is where are the movies that are simply about women?

Why not just create a female spy character that may grow to be as iconic as James Bond so that young girls can watch her? The idea that we have to simply put a female body in to a male character is not only lazy and severely lacking in creativity but it’s sexist. It tells us that stories about women are only valid when they are constructed through the male gaze and embody traditionally masculine gender roles. An all female Oceans 11? I’ve already seen Sex and the City.

It’s been reported that Sandra Bullock’s leading role in Our Brand is Crisis was originally intended for George Clooney while Charlize Theron’s role in The Gray Man was once attached to Brad Pitt. Even Ronda Rousey is getting in on the action. There are positive outcomes of these choices. Perhaps it’s an example of the type of shift we need to see in films, as suggested by Soraya Chemaly who advocates that involvement from powerful men is central to ending the rampant sexism that pervades Hollywood.

“One way to speed that change along, however, is for high-profile men who have far less to lose, longer careers, make more money and have greater cultural capital in general to step up to the plate and take concerted steps, explicitly calling their industry out on its racial and gendered imbalances. People need to go from feeling uncomfortable about extending support to public protest and institutional disruption.”

Substituting women into roles made for men can certainly initiate dialogue and maybe encourage more gender-balanced films. However, as Chemaly discusses, it still neglects the issue of representation: that women are not creators, generators or even original characters in most of the stories being told in Hollywood.

It was recently reported that Jem and the Holograms would be pulled from theaters after only 2 weeks due to dismal performance. Jem and the Holograms was an attempt to remake something women already identify with, but the previews elicited immediate disappointment. What we saw on the screen didn’t look like the thing we all know and love. But I was planning to see Jem and the Holograms and I would have seen it in the theaters.

Yes, it appeared disappointing form the eyes of someone hoping to see a vision of a cherished childhood cartoon replicated in an authentic way as a real person. However, I did see, especially after watching the extended trailer, what could be a great film from the perspective of modern pop stardom and how the girls in that space are constructed and exploited. The casting of Nashville’s Aubrey Peebles made even more sense, as the character is similar to that of Layla Grant, the starlet struggling to define and maintain an identity while navigating success, celebrity and power struggles. No, it’s not “Jem,” or even what original Jem and the Holograms was about, but it is the narrative of most of the tween queens who have dominated in recent years – Brittany, Miley, Taylor.

That’s a film I’d love to see.

The ignorance Hollywood has around what kind of movies women actually want to see is astonishing. But, the choices we make as audiences are even more so. We need to demand more of Hollywood and that starts by demanding more of each other. We are comfortable with women achieving parity and success – even the fictional versions of them – when it’s in a man’s world and when her methods align with the patriarchal system.

It’s time to embrace women’s stories and experiences not because they look like a man’s or because they will trigger our nostalgia–but because women are a part of our larger story as a culture. Our experiences and our stories are not those of men and that alone is why they are worth watching.

Alicia Swiz is a Chicago-based writer and educator, follow her on Twitter at @popgoesalicia