Recently there has been a surge in the inclusion of women at the helm of decades-old TV shows and film franchises such as Star Wars or the MCU, often taking over roles that have been traditionally held by men. And fans have loved it. Though a momentous change, they’ve respected it and shown up in droves to support these new female heroes.
I am only joking – everyone hates it. Everyone.
The reviews and box office numbers are just as bad as people say, with new lows recorded on Rotten Tomatoes and other critic websites. It begs the question, why are these movies failing?
Some may try to convince you it is because everyone hates female protagonists, but this is untrue. Yet it is an unavoidable truth that even women – and die-hard feminists at that – are not consuming these movies and TV shows. The culprit seems to be the fact that these movies – surprise! – are actually really bad at being “feminist”.
In this article, I want to focus specifically on gender-swap films and TV shows.
A few years ago, it was announced that Doctor Who, a BBC program that has been a staple of British programming for the better part of the last six decades, would feature a female doctor for the first time. Now to say that all the fans were against this would be just as inaccurate as saying that everyone was for it. People were intrigued about this new direction – but were worried that their favourite show would get the same treatment Star Wars and Ghostbusters had faced before it, plainly replacing the “male” with “female”. Bo-ring. In recent years, the introduction of female-led narratives in the film industry has been praised as epitomising female empowerment and the opportunity to take stories in interesting new directions. Usually, the launches of these films are accompanied with heavy-handed choruses of “about time” and “this is what we all need.” This can sound empowering; however, it comes off as very self-congratulatory and self-aggrandizing. It completely distracts from why people tune in to these much-loved TV shows every week – the plotline and the characters.
Furthermore, it also creates a point of comparison to the male characters, which completely diminishes the character they are trying to create. For example, in the new Oceans 8 movie, Sandra Bullock’s character, Debbie Ocean, is essentially a “remixed” version of the protagonist of Oceans 11, Danny Ocean – they even sound similar! Going into the film, you no longer see Debbie as her own character, but rather the “female” Danny Ocean. When a woman takes on a role with exclusively male predecessors, she will be denied the chance to be the “first” or the “original”. The subsequent subconscious comparison and audience filtering is not fair, but cinemagoers will not bother to differentiate between what was and what is. In my experience, if Oceans 8 was retitled to reflect its new plotline and was not associated whatsoever with the original franchise, I would have enjoyed it much more.
All of this prompts the question, why can’t we create original female characters? Isn’t it more empowering to have a new character, with their own personality and characteristics, rather than lazily recycling old archetypes to make a quick buck?
Overall, gender-swapping films isn’t nearly as feminist as you think they are. Rather, they take old characters and present soulless remakes, instead of celebrating some of the amazing things that women can create and represent. Moving forward, can we not instead write original films that leave no room for comparison? We deserve to have stories that can inspire and celebrate us for who we are and who we want to be.
Doctor Who (TV Series 1963–1989) – IMDb. (2022). Retrieved 21 July 2022, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056751/
Doctor Who (TV Series 2005– ) – IMDb. (2022). Retrieved 21 July 2022, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436992/