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Why Sandra Bullock's all-female Ocean’s Eleven movie is exciting, but also a little worrying

Sandra Bullock, future heist master.
Sandra Bullock, future heist master.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

There have been whispers for months, but Indiewire is now reporting that an all-female Ocean's Eleven reboot is officially underway, with Sandra Bullock set to star in the role previously occupied by a grinning George Clooney. Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit) will direct.

This isn't the first time Bullock has taken over a Clooney role even just this year, as her starring role in Our Brand Is Crisis was originally meant for him. In fact, Bullock told Entertainment Weekly that she came across it only because she "put out feelers" to see if any filmmakers wouldn't mind gender-switching some parts, because she wasn't reading anything that excited her. Clooney, who produced Our Brand Is Crisis, agreed to turn his leading role into one for her, and has since talked up the idea of gender-switching more roles in scripts going forward.

It seems that same mentality is behind this Ocean's Eleven reboot, which would, by default, feature more women than most movies, period.

And now, my two main reactions to an all-female Ocean's Eleven reboot, in chronological order:

1) Awesome! An all-lady Ocean's Eleven reboot could be so much fun!

An all-star cast of women planning a heist while bantering with one another and smirking, probably in some crisp, tailored suits? Yeah, that could be awesome.

Also, the Ocean's Eleven brand is more slick than strictly comedic, so this reboot could be a stellar showcase for a deep bench of talented actresses.

For evidence, look no further than the first actress cast. Bullock is just as likely to star in a comedy like The Heat as she is a wrenching drama like Gravity — or something in between, like Our Brand Is Crisis. With her as the anchor, this new Ocean's Eleven could feature actresses who work across all genres. Her partner in crime (originally played by Brad Pitt) could be Gina Torres, Viola Davis, Lucy Liu, or Lena Headey. Her protegé (originally played by Matt Damon)? Kristen Stewart, Saoirse Ronan, Tatiana Maslany, Gina Rodriguez. Throw in John Cho as her ex-husband, Rose Byrne as the target, and Bullock's old Heat partner Melissa McCarthy as literally anyone, and you've got yourself one hell of a cast.

Both the 2001 Ocean's Eleven and the original 1960 version were lauded as being particularly exciting for their all-star casts, who always looked like they were having the time of their lives. The same could go for this all-female version, because there are plenty of talented actresses out there who would relish the chance to bounce off each other in roles other than "beleaguered wife."

2) But wait — isn't it a little weird that finding new roles for women now means rebooting male ones?

Sequels, remakes, and reboots are a ubiquitous part of the entertainment industry that will never die. And it's cool that studios are now considering all-female reboots, as with Ocean's Eleven and Paul Feig's upcoming Ghostbusters with McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon.

But something an all-female Ocean's Eleven highlights is that it would be much, much harder to get a green light for an all-female heist movie that didn't have Ocean's Eleven's brand already attached. Women are leading more and more successful movies, but they are still not a default choice to headline those movies. Even if you can gender-flip a previously established male role, as Bullock and Clooney are advocating for, the fact remains that the juicier part was originally written for a man.

Meanwhile, if you have "too many" women in a movie, it tends to get flagged as women's entertainment. It's the old elementary school "boys won't like girl things" argument, on a multimillion-dollar scale. When news broke of a possible second Ghostbusters reboot, this one featuring all men, it revealed a troubling instinct to "balance out" Feig's all-female cast with an all-male one to ensure box office sales. While it looks like that counterpart is now dead in the water, it doesn't change what that instinct said about Hollywood's commitment to a gender divide. As Vox contributor Genevieve Koski wrote:

Having two Ghostbusters, one led by women, one by men, is just a new form of an old sort of brand extension: the distaff counterpart. The Hardy Boys begat Nancy Drew. The Chipmunks begat The Chipettes. Hercules begat Xena. One for the boys, one for the girls, double the merchandising opportunities.

...The idea that there is "girl entertainment" and "boy entertainment" is outmoded but annoyingly persistent, based more in advertising opportunities than how most people actually consume entertainment.

As this new, all-female Ocean's Eleven goes forward, it will be very revealing to see how it's marketed. Will it be billed as a smart, sexy heist movie that any fan can enjoy, regardless of gender? Or will it be sold as Ocean's Eleven: The Lady Edition: This Time It's With Ladies: Amirite, Ladies? As much as I want to watch a group of women at the top of their game pulling off a heist together, this distinction in the industry's approach will be a crucial tell.

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