Why Ocean’s 8 “Gender Flip” Take on Ocean’s 11 is a Tokenization of Feminism

By Leo Hsieh and Sheridan Smith

Image: WFAA

Introduction

Remakes of old films have been around since the start of cinema. It always brings a sense of nostalgia when you see an animation you once loved as a kid getting rebooted into a live-action movie, and some of your favorite films could be remakes and you’ve never noticed. While remakes have been in fashion for a long time, there has been a trend of “gender-flipping” in Hollywood. In which, popular films are rebooted with a new set of characters often being women or people of color to bring life into a beloved film that is potentially outdated. In the summer of 2018, Ocean’s 8, a “gender flip” remake of Ocean’s 11 was released in movie theatres worldwide. Ocean’s 8 features an all female cast that pulls off a heist for a jewel necklace worth more than $150 million. Some argue that the film’s all female cast was simply a marketing ploy by Hollywood to profit off of all the talks of female empowerment and feminism, while others believe the film was a win for feminism with its minor success in the box office. We argue that, while Ocean’s 8 intrinsically pushes for feminism and consists of a diverse cast, the film fails to deliver a real, collective empowerment for women that ultimately revolves around the men from the original trilogy, features lackluster and stereotypical characters, and comes from a “male gaze” perspective.

Men at the Center of a Female-Centric Film

Image:  Insider

Despite featuring a full cast of women in remake of the Ocean’s franchise, it felt like an act of tokenism as the film still very much revolves around men. This image on the right references the opening scenes of Ocean’s 8. We see Debbie Ocean mirroring the parole hearing with Danny Ocean featured in Ocean’s 11. It was then revealed that Danny Ocean was Debbie’s brother who had died. This was seen as a brilliant nod to the franchise by intentionally mirroring the actions and speech featured in the original film, we began to see how the entire plotline of the film still revolves around Danny Ocean. When Debbie Ocean was seen visiting Danny’s grave, she was seen eyeing on the tombstone half expecting her brother to appear as she questioned whether or not he really died. At the end of the film, Debbie visits her brother’s grave again. She said, “You (Danny Ocean) would’ve loved it”. While some might assume that this is a nod to the original franchise as Danny Oceans was an icon of the original film, it doesn’t take away the fact that the film starts and ends in reference to men. Debbie’s closing statement toward her brother felt like her act of asking for approval. Through the statement, it showed that Danny Ocean’s presence in the film posed as a standard that Debbie Ocean is trying to live up to through her own heist. Instead of developing Debbie’s personal story arc and purpose, the writers choose to fill the void with an absent male. 

Image: Me+ Richard Armitage

Secondly, the film also included an unnecessary subplot that involved Debbie’s ex boyfriend Claude Becker. Despite building up an entire plotline solely focused on getting a large sum of money through a jewel heist, the writers decide to alter the motive of its main character and shift her reasoning behind the heist into getting revenge on an ex boyfriend. The writers had a chance to write up some badass female villain to play the antagonist against the eight strong female leads, instead they decided to opt for a classic revenge trope against a past significant other. This change in narrative signifies a problematic aspect of the “gender flip” trend in Hollywood.  “Even when a Hollywood franchise is retooled around women, it still revolves around men — the story lines they wrote, the characters they created, the worlds they built” (Hess, 2018) Women need their own story on the cinematic screen, instead of utilizing gender swap as a tokenism for feminism, writers should focus on delivering a plotline driven by women and about the women. The film attempted to make amends by having Debbie tell Lou,”A Him gets noticed, a Her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.” (Oceans 8, 2018) to explain why she assembled a team of women for the heist without recruiting a single man. Instead of pushing on with this idea, the team still ended up recruiting a man to help with the heist to bag the rest of the jewelry from the Met Gala.

Perpetuated Stereotypes & Mythical Norms

Ocean's 8 ending explained

Image: Digital Spy

The Ocean’s 8 cast was quite diverse in terms of gender and race both in front of and behind the camera, but the representation present in the film perpetuates mythical norms through the constructions of emphasized femininity. Firstly, emphasized femininity was a term coined by RW Connell in order to describe one kind of idealized form of identity, specifically in relation to gender, in the media. Emphasized femininity is usually portrayed by white, cis women, which perfectly describes the main characters, Debbie Ocean and Lou, her best friend and partner in crime. The cast was diverse all around, but the majority of the cast, besides Lou and Debbie, were only there to aid the heist and would be considered flat characters, or those without any true qualities to their identity. Debbie and Lou were able to have a fully rounded plot line and were the main characters, which perpetuates this sort of idealized form of identity; white and straight. Mythical Norms are identities that seem to be standard within society that other identities are compared with, such as being straight, white, able-bodied, male, etc., and although Debbie and Lou aren’t men, they represent all of the other norms (Lorde, 1984). The emphasized femininity and mythical norms in Ocean’s 8 were present although they weren’t explicit, unlike other stereotypes touched on in the film. 

Representation of People of Color On-Screen

In reviving a franchise, 'Ocean's 8' brings diversity in representation to  the classic heist series

Image: NBC News

Despite the fact that the people of color in the Ocean’s 8 cast were stereotyped and the director being white, the cast was mostly diverse both in front and behind the camera. Firstly, the eight characters with the most screen time are women alongside other various women playing side characters. Additionally, one of the two writers was a woman and one of five camera operators was a woman, although they were both white. According to Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only about 30% of the characters that comprised the top 100 films from 2016 were women with 25 films featuring no Black/African-American characters, 44 including no Asian or Asian-American characters, and 54 including no Hispanic/Latino characters (2017). Compared to the majority of films that come out of Hollywood, Ocean’s 8 represents several different identities that are more similar to, and more so reflect, what the population is like in the United States. Although they’re seen physically on-screen, like I’ve previously stated, the script and overall storylines are easy and stereotypical for most of the characters that are people of color.

In 'Ocean's 8,' Revenge Is a Delicious Surprise - The Atlantic

Image: The Atlantic

Alongside the usual representation of the white woman in the media, Ocean’s 8 consists of a diverse cast including many women of color, but the representations of these different backgrounds in the film perpetuated stereotypes, which allowed the film to avoid diving more deeply into their identity as characters. A stereotype is a way for people to group an individual based on their physical features and acts as a mental shortcut to make assumptions about others (Kidd, 2016), which was exemplified through Amita’s storyline. Amita is an Indian-American woman who is desperate to leave her mother’s household after she is continually begged for an arranged marriage, which is quite traditional and stereotypical. Although it can be argued that the writers were attempting to touch on Amita’s cultural identity, it didn’t have to be the only aspect of her whole character. The point is that stereotypical storylines can very possibly be true, but they’re mostly overdone and perpetuate the idea that these groups of people have all grown up living the same experience and diminish their individual qualities, such as an Indian-American coming from a traditional background. Additionally, the film pushes for a storyline that contains a lot of implications about the power dynamic between men and women that is also quite stereotypical.


On the topic of stereotypes, the film pushes for a storyline that contains a lot of implications about the power dynamic between men and women. While the film doesn’t explicitly emphasize femininity in its character’s virtue and personality, the characters and their personal plotline fell flat in comparison to Ocean’s 11. First, the crew in Ocean’s 8 had zero crisis moments. Everything was so planned out flawlessly that there wasn’t a chance for failure. If you were to look at any other Ocean’s film from the franchise, there would be internal struggle among the crew or back stabbings that cause their plan to fall through. Instead, in Ocean’s 8 their crisis moments were when the main characters argued over a man, while the other was a goofy insurance investigator that clearly served as a comedic point in the film. The storyline was so smooth sailing that it felt unrealistic. On top of its sloppy plotline, the character development in this film was extremely lackluster. Rihanna’s character “nine ball” was supposed to be this tech genius that Debbie recruited to be a part of her crew, but instead the writers decided to show off her tech expertise through Facebook stalking, photoshopping an ad, and angling security cameras to a blind spot. While in past films in the Ocean’s franchise we’re able to see the usage of magnetrons and holograms. Instead of accurately presenting the character’s skills, it felt like the writers were poking fun at women’s supposed ineptitude with technology.

Male Gaze in Ocean’s 8

Image: Queer Culture Chat

Lastly, I want to bring attention to male gaze that is present in the film. At a surface level, the film doesn’t seem to show signs of “male gaze” but through a deeper analysis of Debbie and Lou’s relationship, the essence of male gaze became prevalent through queering their relationship. “The male gaze theory looks at the ways in which three distinct looks further enhance the over-sexualization and objectification of women in film” (Day, 2019). The exchange between Lou and Debbie brings attention to the underlying sexual objectification. The film insinuated that Lou and Debbie were potential lovers in the past by hinting of the “rough patch” they’ve had in the past. Additionally, in the diner scene where Lou and Debbie were catching up after Debbie had just gotten out of jail. The physical flirtation such as the spoon feed that occurred were signs of shared intimacy between the two characters. “Friendships between bros are always kept as just merely a brotherhood whereas friendships with two females is over sexualized” (Day, 2019). The male gaze was still present in the film, not through skin tight clothing, or the exposure of a body part, but instead through subtle objectification in its portrayal of  same sex friendship. 

Concluding thoughts

Review: Ocean's 8 – Destructoid

Image: Destructoid

Gender-flipping has become a common trope within Hollywood to revamp older films with all male casts, and it has come at a price. It feels as if the all women cast is a ploy in order to make profit off of material that has already been created. Although Ocean’s 8 includes more women and people of color on-screen than the majority of films, the representation of these characters has fallen back into the stereotypes and mythical norms we have created within society. Additionally, Ocean’s 8 puts these women, more so Debbie Ocean, into the shadows of the original men that have played these roles and the position to always come back to these original plots. Despite avoiding sexual objectification of women at the surface level, the film still contained various scenes that were still presented through “male gaze”. In conclusion, Ocean’s 8 both perpetuates societal gender and racial stereotypes and is centered around the original cast of men rather than the women. Even though there is a diverse cast present that isn’t usually seen in Hollywood, the gender flip of the Ocean’s franchise is still seen as a business move to profit off of the tokenization of feminism. 

Work Cited

Baker, C., & Baker, C. (2018, July 2). ‘Ocean’s 8’ Set Out to be a Feminist Hit. Instead, it Fell Flat on its Hype. Study Breaks. https://studybreaks.com/tvfilm/oceans-8-fell-flat-on-its-hype/.

Day, E. M. (2019, November 12). Uncovering the Women in Ocean’s Eight: Understanding the Trends of the Women’s Movement with the Portrayals of Women in Film. Digital Scholarship@UNLV. https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/thesesdissertations/3792/.

Gutowitz, J. (2018, June 11). ‘Ocean’s 8’ is Extremely Gay-So Why Isn’t It Gay? INTO. https://www.intomore.com/culture/oceans-8-is-extremely-gay-so-why-isnt-it-gay/.

Hess, A. (2018, June 12). The Trouble With Hollywood’s Gender Flips. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/movies/oceans-8-gender-swap.html. 

Kidd, M. A. (2016). Archetypes, Stereotypes and Media Representation in a Multi-cultural Society. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 236, 25–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.12.007 

Lorde, A. (1984). Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. Sister outsider. Essay, Crossing Press 

Staff, M. D. S. C. I. (2017, July 31). Hollywood sticks to the script: Films aren’t more inclusive, despite a decade of advocacy. USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. https://annenberg.usc.edu/research/mdsci/hollywood-sticks-script-films-arent-more-inclusive-despite-decade-advocacy 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s