There is a moment in the just-released Ocean’s 8 when Rihanna descends the stairs of the fictional Met Gala in a form-fitting red dress, faux locs hanging down to her waist. In the theater where I watched it, there was an audible gasp from other moviegoers as Bad Gal RiRi graced the big screen in what many of us know to be her full glory. To say that Rihanna wasn’t at least part of the draw for me to go see Ocean’s 8 in the first place would be a lie. Now, having seen the film in its entirety, I can say that this paid off for me in more ways than one. Black women in this film are truly joys to watch and positioned in a way that indirectly exhibits the exact kind of allyship that I'd like to see more of in the world. Spoilers ahead.
Swapping out her spiked heels for baggy overalls and beanies, the pop star plays an extremely talented hacker by the name of Nine Ball in the film. She’s guarded, sarcastic, and obviously smart as hell. Even with the prospect of $20 million coming her way, she still juggles work from other “clients.” Throughout the film, it is her eye for tech that helps the mismatched group of bandits pull off their jewelry heist at the Met Gala. She hacks security cameras, breaks into the computer systems of different companies to gather intel, and knows exactly how to plant a bug. Apart from her activities being completely illegal, they are absolutely brilliant. Nine Ball’s younger sister is also a genius in her own right, cracking the code on a physics dilemma that the team of lady thieves do not see coming.
Following in the glory of Black Panther’s Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), Ocean’s 8 is bringing even more Black women in STEM realness, something we still need more of. In the same way that STEM fields are vital to our societal function and progress in the real world, millions of dollars worth of jewelry would have never been stolen from a museum exhibit without them.
However, what was even more encouraging was the fact that, as a behind the scenes player, Nine Ball wasn’t nearly as likely to get caught. Without the racial protections of some of her co-conspirators, she would have surely been among the first to be sussed out and taken down. Let’s face it, a robbery of this scale would never have been pulled off without the privilege of unassuming inconspicuousness that comes with white womanhood. Seriously, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) could never have pulled off some of her cons in those fancy department stores and hotels if she wasn’t a white woman. With white women on the front end of the operation, players like Nine Ball were left relatively protected while still enjoying an equal share of the profit. This, my friends, is true allyship.
We need more white women putting their asses on the line to create opportunities for women of color. I am not encouraging anyone of any race to get involved in organized high crime, but I don’t think the lesson here can be overlooked. Plus there have been some powerful examples of people with privilege using it to advocate on behalf of those who don’t have it. Jane Fonda spoke up about women of color being left behind in the #MeToo movement and Jessica Chastain demanded that Octavia Spencer get equal pay for a movie they worked on as well. There is theoretical allyship — where you talk the talk — and there is active allyship — where you walk the walk. Ocean’s 8 inadvertently modeled the latter and the whole movie was better for it.