by Shane Thomas 

CONTENT NOTE: Some of the embedded links are NSFW

Rumours abound that Sandra Bullock is set to star in an all-woman remake of Ocean’s 11 (which was itself a remake). By pure coincidence, I recently spent a day at work pondering what an all-black cast of the film would look like[1].

I guess by now you’ve figured out where this piece is going. While I fully endorse an all-female remake, how about one that isn’t just all-woman, but all-woman of colour? This isn’t simply about picking eleven talented WoC actors, as there’s plenty. What I’ve tried to do is find actors who would be natural fits to portray the characteristics of the eleven:


Viola Davis (George Clooney):

If we’re actually making this movie, then the lead must have name recognition. A good actor alone isn’t enough. It has to be one who’s well known. Given her recent Emmy win, Viola Davis ticks the requisite boxes.

Equally germane is a woman with sufficient gravitas and presence to be the de facto leader of our crew.

Another reason why Viola would be a good fit is that Danny Ocean’s primary motivation isn’t to steal a fortune and look smooth doing it. It’s to win back the favour of his ex-wife. Simmering beneath Ocean’s cool is a desperation to restore his old life of wedded bliss. Viola has the sufficient range to portray polished control, while hinting at an overwrought angst. She’s broadened what a leading actor can be on television; she’s more than capable of doing the same in cinema.

Laverne Cox (Brad Pitt):

So now we have a general, we need a lieutenant. Someone with the verbal wit to joust with Viola, someone who can be her on-screen equal, someone who can deliver dialogue with real elan, and maybe even be the style-icon of the crew.

Brad Pitt’s character was my personal favourite in the remake. Absolved from the responsibility of anchoring the story, it allowed him to steal many of the movie’s scenes, often being the sharpest, smartest, and funniest one in the room.

This is not too dissimilar from what Cox already does in Orange is the New Black. She’s proven a lodestar for better televisual representation of trans characters. Given the chance, she could also do the same in movies.

Gina Rodriguez (Matt Damon):

Not going to lie, the notion of a character once played by Matt “let-me-explain-what-diversity-is” Damon now being taken by a WoC is a pretty delicious one.

One of the meta-pleasures of having so many A-listers in Ocean’s Eleven was watching the interaction between the actors, rather than the characters. In the scene where Clooney recruits Damon, it could be read as one Hollywood star giving his patronage to the next cab off the rank.

After her Golden Globe-winning turn in Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez has both the time and the talent to not just become a name, but one of the biggest names in the business. The same way that Damon went from this into the Bourne franchise, Rodriguez could use this role as a similar launching pad for bigger things.

Adrian Lester (Julia Roberts):

One of fiction’s most wearisome cliches is that of a man’s venery of an often passive woman. So a refreshing alternative would be for Viola Davis’s character to pursue a man.

While not getting a lot to do, Julia Roberts did some good work as Tess; her verbal sparring with Clooney a particular highlight. But it should be noted that Tess never stopped loving Danny. She’s just (understandably) angry with him.

If Viola Davis has to hint at an inner desperation, we need an actor opposite her who is equally adroit with words, but also hints at an inner anger and heartbreak. It’s for this reason I’ve chosen Adrian Lester. A man who’s long been a well regarded actor, without the recognition to match it. It’s about time that changed.

Tantoo Cardinal (Elliott Gould):

While probably the most well-known indigenous actor to come from North America, I expect Tantoo Cardinal is a name that will have many of you heading to Google. Opportunities for actors of Indigenous American and Canadian descent are scarce, so giving Cardinal a platform such as this could not only ensure a wider audience is aware of her work, but may also encourage studios to make Native actors a more regular part of the stories we see.

And when looking at the role played by Gould, recasting him as Cardinal is an obvious fit. Given that Gould played the venerable and sardonic figure of the crew, who formally owned a casino (before being usurped by an edacious white capitalist), it’s hardly a stretch to see Cardinal portraying identical qualities.

Pippa Bennett-Warner (Don Cheadle):

When Viola won that aforementioned Emmy, her wonderful speech included the line: “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.”

One of the potential boons from this hypothetical remake is that it can take lesser-known talent, and turn them into more familiar faces on our television and cinema screens[2].

Eagle-eyed readers of this column will be aware of the regard I hold Bennett-Warner in. She’s an actor that often leaves an impression, even with limited screen time. She’s given accomplished supporting turns in The Secrets and Doctor Who. And let’s be honest, as much as I like Don Cheadle, wouldn’t it be nice for this part to be played by someone who can actually pull off a working-class London accent?

Nazanin Boniadi (Eddie Jemison):

I confess I almost chose Archie Panjabi for this part. Both her and Boniadi are skilled actors, and would be more than adept at holding their own among their fellow cast members. While I worried about casting a South-Asian as the “techie” of the group, my reason for picking Boniadi is that her performance in Homeland (one of the few things to recommend in that show) required her to portray discernible nerves and indecisiveness.

This strongly correlates with the character of Livingston, the one member of the crew who is demonstrably uncool.

Gina Torres (Carl Reiner):

Along with Gould, Carl Reiner added a safe pair of hands to the cast. Hence the inclusion of Gina Torres, who is an ideal choice for a character at ease with fast dialogue, and the world of duplicity. Anyone who’s seen her in action – especially in Suits – will know what I’m talking about.

What I find particularly interesting about this role for Torres, is that it’s about someone who returns to the life of criminal deception, having left it all behind. One could draw an allegory with Torres’s absence from the world of genre-fiction, where she made her name. In addition, playing two roles would give her a chance to show an acting range she seldom gets the opportunity to display.

Pia Glenn (Bernie Mac):

Similar to my selection of Pippa Bennett-Warner, the inclusion of Pia Glenn is a way to take an actor that you may not yet know, but should get to know.

One of my personal delights for much of last year was watching her web series, Black Weekend Update, where she humourously chronicled the week’s news, playing both herself and a series of additional characters.

While not at the forefront of the story, the much missed Bernie Mac was positioned to be a scene-stealer in the movie, and the thought of Pia in an alternate version of the “might as well call it whitejack” scene makes this piece of recasting a no-brainer.

Katie Leung and Jessica Henwick (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck):

Katie Leung is best known to many as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter films, while Henwick – who I previously pegged for success – features in both Game of Thrones, and the imminent Star Wars movie.

What’s required here are two promising young actors. Their role is to essentially be the Wilykat and Wilykit of the crew: spry; mischievous; irritating; but essential members of the eleven.

Gabby Douglas (Shaobo Qin):

I struggled with this one, and was helped out by a Twitter follow (thanks Jo!). I know Gabby Douglas isn’t an actor, but hear me out.

When casting Shaobo Qin, he also wasn’t an actor, but a professional acrobat. All this part requires is someone who is gymnastically proficient, as the dialogue they would have to perform is minimal. And Douglas knows a thing or two about being gymnastically proficient.

Charlize Theron (Andy Garcia):

Finally, we need a villain. While Theron just played an iconic feminist role in Mad Max: Fury Road, she has an underrated ability to be contemptible, as shown in her unheralded performance in the film Young Adult.

I’ve kept this role for a white actor, because let’s be real, who isn’t rooting for a rich, unscrupulous white person to lose all their money to our WoC heroes?

As with any list, I’m sure you won’t agree with some – or all – of my choices, so I fully encourage you to suggest your own favourites in our comments below.

[1] – Tfw you hope your bosses don’t read this.

[2] – For the one wrestling fan reading this, this remake could essentially be the movie equivalent of NXT.

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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing Pop culture to sport, and back again“ Shortlisted for EI Arts, Culture and Entertainment commentator of the year

Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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5 thoughts on “Ocean’s Eleven: The Women Of Colour Cast

  1. I think this would be a wonderful cast if this was actually to be done! For the past few weeks we have heard about women in Hollywood making a stance and fighting for more equality. This came when Jennifer Lawrence brought up the gender gap in her checks compared to her male co-stars. Soon it started to catch on that Hollywood was taking a stand to sexism by casting an all female cast for the remake of the ghostbusters and having Sandra take the lead in her new movie, which was originally casted for a man. This is all great to hear, but there has yet to be major talks about WoC getting casted in movies that were created for a majority male or white cast. I hope that women of color in the industry can come together and create an epic change, so we can actually see a Hollywood blockbuster featuring a cast full of PoC.


  2. Darn, my comment was eaten by the internet! So, less eloquent version:

    Yes, please! My mind-canon had Gina Torres & Sophie Okonedo for the leads – because they star in almost everything according to my inner-casting-director, but I cannot argue with Davis/Cox.

    And a BIG YES to Pippa Bennett-Warner, please! She’s talented, charismatic & has the ability to make me very protective of her the moment she’s onscreen.

    An added bonus to Charlize Theron in the Andy Garcia role is that it would be a nice counter to that… incredible… Oscar roundtable with Ms. Davis & George Clooney. The one where Viola Davis tried to explain about the dearth of roles on offer for women of colour & Charlize interrupted her to tell her how ‘hot’ she was. [She was trying to be supportive when Ms. Davis was saying that there aren’t a lot of roles out there even for women who look like Halle Berry, but Charlize just had to interject, & thus silence what was being said on the topic by an actual WOC! If I remember correctly it somehow segued into George Clooney’s opinion on the topic. So, Davis taking his role would taste even sweeter.]

    So, yeah – can you cast this? And maybe find a juicy role for Sophie Okonedo in it? ; )


    1. Your Torres/Okonedo suggestion is also a good one. There’s plenty of talented WoC that could work in these roles. When I first started pondering this, I’d penciled Okonedo in for the Brad Pitt part, but giving it to a trans black woman in Cox – who is also a great fit – would work even better imo.

      I remember the Oscar roundtable you mention. It’s the kind of thing one imagines the movie’s marketing team would leverage for the promotion of the film. Not to create actual conflict between Davis and Theron, but just to add something extra to the hype surrounding it.


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