When George Clooney and his partner Grant Heslov decided to take on a script about a political strategist attempting to return to his former glory by taking charge of a South American political campaign, Clooney himself had been intended for the lead role. However once Sandra Bullock got a hold of the script and asked her Gravity co-star to consider her instead, there was a quick change in the character’s name – now Jane Bodine – and the film was immediately put into production. It has just been released at the Toronto International Film Festival and Vanity Fair praise Bullock’s “unnervingly good [skills] at pitching Jane’s prowess somewhere between sharp insight and outright insanity”.
At the premiere Clooney suggested that there are numerous male-lead films out there that could be quickly converted for a woman. Hollywood are desperately in need of having a few more women on centre stage following a disastrous period for women in film. A study by the University of San Diego showed that women were vastly underrepresented in the top grossing films of 2014, with female-lead films making up only 14% of the top 100 grossing movies that year, a drop of 4% since 2002, and only 55.6% of the 100 passed the Bechdel Test. That’s extremely depressing when you consider the very basic requirements needed to pass it.
Perhaps an adaption of Shonda Rhimes’ colour blind casting that includes gender is the best way forward to expand female presence on film. And it’s been proven that a gender swap does net necessitate an overhaul of the script. When Julia Roberts agreed to star as an FBI agent in Secrets in Their Eyes, a role originally written for a man, there were almost no changes to dialogue, scenes or set direction aside from changing the pronouns.
However you need not look too far of examples where films have struggled for financing with a female lead. The other big premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival is drug war thriller Sicario led by Emily Blunt as the FBI agent working along the U.S.-Mexico border. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan struggled for years to get the film made and came under severe pressure to change the lead character to a man. He refused and the film was eventually picked up by director Denis Villeneuve who embraced the script. It’s due for release this month and already has a 92% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
At the Our Brand is Crisis premiere this week, Sandra Bullock was asked a number of questions about her character and one of the first was about her hair colour choice. While Bullock swiftly shut him down with the retort “sometimes roots grow out”, it does force us to ask a much more pressing question – had Clooney stayed on to play the lead role, would he have been asked such a thing? Doubtful.
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