The answer is that it's all of those things. And yet, can we really talk about the new instalment of the Ocean's franchise (don't call it a reboot) without mentioning its all-women cast?
Of course, that's how it was first embedded in our collective imaginations. The film was announced in 2015 with headlines touting it as an "all-female Ocean’s Eleven starring Sandra Bullock."
Still, I've never thought of Ocean's Eleven as a "guy movie" — if anything, it's a movie in which Brad Pitt sports impressively colourful silk shirts and eats constantly — but that's probably because male-led movies are the default. Ocean's 8's all-female cast is remarkable mainly because it's not male. But does ignoring that (sadly, still) revolutionary aspect somehow reduce this to just another heist movie? But how could it be? It has Sandra Bullock, and Cate Blanchett, and Rihanna, and Anne Hathaway, and Sarah Paulson, and Mindy Kaling, and Helena Bonham Carter, and Awkwafina!
It's tricky: On the one hand, a movie starring a cast of A-list women carrying a plot that doesn't revolve around a man or a feud is still rare enough as to be worthy of distinction. And yet, how do we keep the conversation moving forward so that the next time this happens, we can look past the initial awe-factor and talk about substance? How do we not get stuck in a vicious cycle of only framing the conversation around how astounding and amazing it is to have women carry a huge summer blockbuster all on their own?
As a woman who covers movies for a publication geared towards elevating women's voices and stories, it's a question that I think about a lot. And so, during an interview held during the Ocean's 8 press junket ahead of the film's June 8 release, I asked Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Awkwafina to weigh in.
Refinery29: During the press conference [held last week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art], you said that you honestly thought this movie would never happen. Was that because you never thought that they could get all those names together, or because you didn’t think there would be interest in a movie with eight female leads?
Sandra Bullock: “In order to get something greenlit, all the elements have to be there. It’s a chess match, and I didn’t think in a million years that it would work. And it was a while before it did happen, too. It was a long silence. And once you get everyone, you’re playing chess with everyone’s schedules.
The reason I ask is that this film coming out at a time where an all-female Ocean's movie feels not only relevant, but also almost self-evident. But that wasn't the case when it was first announced, back in 2015.
Cate Blanchett: “I hope that we don’t have to have these conversations anymore. I am really done with talking about how amazing it is that we’ve got an all-female cast. Because in the end, it’s a heist movie, and you don’t want this sort of political climate on a human issue to eclipse the fact that this is just a fun film. The timing is actually completely coincidental. Fantastic, wonderful, but completely coincidental.”
S.B.: “And there's been groups of women making movies. I did one, [Practical Magic], about witches! There were a lot of us, and a lot of hair!”
Akwafina: “I can sing the whole soundtrack of that movie.”
C.B.: “Please don’t, we have other things to talk about.”
S.B.: “But it’s been going on. Not as frequently as we would like, although I think it will be more frequent.”
Awkwafina: “I hope we can live in a world where it’s not special, where it can just be a movie.”
I think the reason it matters is that it’s refreshing to see movie about a group of women that’s not just about them feuding.
Awkwafina: “Or fighting over a man…”
S.B.: “We’re having fun, and we’re getting along, and we care about each other. Maybe that’s the difference.”
And supporting each other!
Awkwafina: “And it shows, too, on camera.”
C.B.: “But also, I think that the media needs to start talking about this stuff differently. I feel like that might be beginning to change, perhaps with female journalists, because women have been collaborating in the film industry for quite some time, even though the industry is trying to separate us, and silo us. But it’s also the way it’s talked about. And the pressure that’s put on female movies, or that they’re even called female movies.”
Awkwafina: “I agree. There’s this narrative that’s formed around these kinds of movies. As actors, we go into them as a ‘movie,’ and then we read about it, and there’s this whole other way of introducing it.”
Speaking of how the media’s been covering this movie, are you tired of being asked if you’re all friends?
Awkwafina: “I’m tired of being asked to rank my castmates. I’m sick of Cate Blanchett, man.”
Cate: “To be honest, it’s mutual.”
Because there’s subtext there, right? It implies that eight women could never be on set together and get along.
C.B.: “That’s what I mean about the media. That’s a construct.”
Awkwafina: “Also, I don’t know about you guys, but on the movies I’ve done, I’ve never fought. You know what I mean? That just doesn't really exist on movie sets — I guess, I don’t know.
Sandra: “Sure, it does.”
Awkwafina: “But not on our set! I think it’s possible. It’s possible to be friends, It’s possible to empower each other, as opposed to compete with each other. It’s possible to just get along. And it shows.
When I interviewed Kay Cannon, who directed Blockers, she said that as one of three female directors to helm a studio film in 2018, she felt this incredible pressure that the movie be received well, because otherwise she would feel like she had let down all women.
C.B.: “Or, that she may never get to make another movie. I mean, that’s happened in the past. Even though like, how many men have made some doozies? And then they get twice the budget the next time they go back in!"
What do you think has been missing from the conversation about this movie?
S.B.: “That it’s a tentpole, fun, entertaining, funny ride, that’s supposed to give you release, and has a fantasy element…"
Awkwafina: “Plus, sexual satisfaction.”
S.B.: “A LOT of sexual tension, which will leave you sufficiently bothered, so you’ll go home and do what you need to do.”
Awkwafina: “And not to say that female movies can’t exist without being political, but I just think this specific one...it’s just a movie. I think it fits really well with the other movies that came before it.”
C.B.: “I think political films end up being agitprop.”
S.B.: “Another good word!”
C.B. “If you’re trying to tell your audience what to think, I think you’re patronising your audience. And I think the way a film is consumed and dissected, can become political. But the act of making the work — this is certainly not a political film. But somehow, because we’re all female it becomes political.”
S.B. “And hopefully it’ll be successful. When you get down to it, the only way we get to make movies is by making someone some money. If this film doesn’t perform, then it’ll be another political statement. I don’t want that. What would be nice is that if this works, it works because it was a good movie, and that people forget that it was a group of eight women. And then maybe this group of eight women will take on a ninth person, and we’ll be able to do it again. But it all depends on how it performs.”
C.B.: “I’m remarking on how much remarkability there is about the nature of the women in this movie, and that somehow it needs to stand for all women. Like, if it does okay, then that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that it was a bad movie. L’Avventura, when it came out at the box office, it was panned. There are so many amazing classic films over the course of cinema history, that when they were released, they were not accepted, nor were they understood. And it’s only in retrospect..."
Awkwafina: “I mean, look at The Room.”
C.B.: “Not that I’m comparing this to L’Avventura, but I’m saying that box office isn’t the only measure of a film’s merit. There are so many ways you can consume a film. I do hope people aren’t going to watch it on their mobile phone, but…"
Awkwafina: “Well, I will. That’s the only way I watch something. But yeah, women in cinema should not be dependent on this movie, and the same with Crazy Rich Asians [which Awkwafina will star in later this summer] — Asian Americans in movies shouldn’t be dependent on the success of that.
C.B.: “It’s not going to be the only one ever made.”
Awkwafina: “Right. That’s just not how you should measure diversity in film.”
And no one sees a bad movie with a male lead, and goes: ‘That’s it, we’re never making a movie about men again!’
Awkwafina: “Man movies suck!! [Gesturing at a crewmember behind us] That sound guy sucks!! No, sorry you’ve been great.”
Ocean's 8 is out in cinemas on June 18