In a recent interview with The Sun, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg acknowledged that the fifth film in the “Indiana Jones” movie franchise will most likely be the last one to star Harrison Ford, and left room for the idea that future films in the franchise could cast a female lead. “We’d have to change the name from Jones to Joan. And there would be nothing wrong with that,” he said in response to an interviewer’s question.
For so many of us who strive to see a more diverse range of women’s stories on screen, that the question of having a woman play Indie was even asked, and that the legendary director didn’t dismiss it, is a huge sign of progress. By casting a woman in his most famous leading role, Spielberg would be joining a recent trend, one that has a growing track record of both artistic and economic success.
Fans have embraced movies with women in lead roles. In 2017, “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, broke box office records, making more than $600 million worldwide and becoming the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman ever. Women want to see themselves on screen, as superheroes or otherwise, and “Wonder Woman” proved women are an untapped audience waiting to see female leads on the big screen ― and are willing to pay to do so. Before “Wonder Woman,” in 2015 J. J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had a female lead and made $936.7 million in the North American box office.
In television, the BBC announced in July 2017 that for the cult classic British TV series “Doctor Who,” the Thirteenth Doctor would for the first time be a woman and played by English actress Jodie Whittaker. The reception by fans and actors involved with the “Doctor Who” television show was generally positive.
In my experience as someone who attends fan conventions throughout the country, I’ve noticed more women who are fans of “Doctor Who” than men, even before the announcement of Whittaker’s casting. After seeing so many women dressed up as their favorite female companions and seeing so many skirts, dresses, and jewelry accessories made in the image of the Tardis, it’s no surprise that “Doctor Who” fans were enthusiastic about the news of a female time traveler.
In a Facebook study, self-identified comic fans grew to a new high of over 24 million in the United States. Of those, women account for 47 percent. The comic book medium covers the gamut from properties like “Star Wars,” “The Avengers” and “Doctor Who.” And, as sales trend upward, more and more female fans are demanding to see themselves in the fandoms they love and financially support.
There will always be people who aren’t receptive to strong female leads. One of the most vitriolic and antagonistic responses to a male-to-female reboot followed the 2016 film “Ghostbusters.” The movie trailer release was inundated with downvotes on YouTube, and shortly thereafter, Leslie Jones, one of the film’s stars, became the target of online trolls.
Even movies that haven’t been released yet have received their fair share of negative comments, including the all-female reboot of “Ocean’s Eleven,” which will premiere this summer under the title “Ocean’s 8.” Sandra Bullock, one of the leading actresses in the reboot, told Entertainment Weekly, in response to negative comments: “I’ll tell you, we’ve got some feisty women that will fight right back.”
Of course, there are some legitimate questions about gender-swapping roles, and authenticity should be taken into consideration. While the idea of having women playing traditionally male roles from well-known film franchises seems to some a great rallying cry for representation, for others it does feel like pandering. An essay in Vanity Fair on why “The Lord of the Flies” remake shouldn’t be recast with women gave some examples of why this at times can come across as problematic. The theme of both the book and film is toxic masculinity, and how barbaric men in an isolated society can become. Further puzzling is the fact that the remake of the film is being written and directed by two men.
Fans have embraced movies with women in lead roles.
This raises the issue: If a film is gender-swapped with an all-female cast, shouldn’t there also be a gender-swapped production team? If we can give women more opportunities in front the camera, the same should be true for behind the camera. The remakes of “Ghostbusters,” “Oceans 8” and prospectively, “Indiana Jones,” are all projects directed by men.
For his part, former “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T Davies admitted he’s “grown up” after having concerns about casting a female Doctor. “Okay, look, I know, some of us might be worried about the changes to come,” he wrote in the most recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine. “I worried, out loud, in print, once or twice, back in the old days, about the reaction to a female Doctor. But d’you know what? That was 13 years ago. 13 long years. I’ve grown up, and learnt, and I hope I know better, and the world has grown up too.”
The world has grown up. And so has Hollywood. But there’s still a long way to go. There’s power in every fandom, and even though I’m not too thrilled myself with the name “Indiana Joan” ― I’m not sure if Spielberg was being snarky with the suggestion ― just as Wonder Woman and Doctor Who are inspiring little girls to imagine themselves as heroines, perhaps girls will one day be inspired to grow up to become skilled archaeologists like Indiana Jones.
Jamie Broadnax is the editor-in-chief and creator of the online community for black women called Black Girl Nerds.