Ami Nisa discusses the politics of privilege and femininity in the in the all-women heist re-make Ocean’s 8
[CONTAINS SPOILERS] Ocean’s 8 (2018) is a satisfying, light-hearted film that follows the formula of its predecessors; Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean puts together a crack team to pull of a jewel heist at the Met Gala. Only this time, the team is all women, including three women of colour. Like the rest of the internet, I was ecstatic when the initial promo images came out showing a cast that included Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, and not forgetting my own personal idol Sandra Bullock. Although I was excited about the film, I felt some trepidation before going to see it. I was disappointed by Ghostbusters (2016) and felt cynical over the trend for gender-switching films, as a way for Hollywood to rehash old franchises and not invest in new stories. I still largely stick by this view, but Ocean’s 8 has affected me in such a way that I haven’t experienced in many years at the cinema – as a brown woman, it recognised the racial politics of my everyday experience, whilst also bringing me joy.
When looking through a list of contenders to join the Ocean’s 8 team, Debbie vetoes Lou’s (Cate Blanchett) suggestion of a qualified man because he’s ‘too visible’. At the crux of Ocean’s 8, is the message that it is women’s invisibility that enables them to succeed in the con. As Nine Ball (Rihanna) highlights in her disguise as a janitor – who is more invisible than working-class black women? The all-white board do not see her as a threat when she interrupts their highly confidential meeting to plant her recording device. Amita (Mindy Kaling) and Constance (Awkwafina) seamlessly blend into their roles as a waitress, personal assistant, and pot-washer because we are accustomed to seeing non-white bodies embody these lower socio-economic spaces. In the meantime, Lou and Tammy (Sarah Paulson) are able to move in the whiter, managerial roles. The old adage, of working twice as hard to get half as far, rang true in Oceans.
Ocean’s 8 isn’t revolutionary in its representations of these women, instead it shows the ways in which they subvert their own specific stereotypes and act on their known privileges in order to succeed in their mission. There’s no rebuttal to the notion of classed, white female privilege here, as Debbie waltzes into a department store and effortlessly picks out the cosmetics she needs.
She is able to live out her con like socialite and faux art luminary Anna Delvey because of her perceived, high, status. In the same vein Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter) plays upon the notion of the white female kooky artist, to stretch out her viewing of the Toussaint necklace, whilst Amita is the assistant who us tasked with the practicalities of the role.
Ocean’s 8 can be criticised for centring around the Met Ball, because it codes a certain type of capitalist aesthetic with femininity, yet it is undeniably a joyful experience to see these women just present at an A-list event in such an elitist institution. Much like Beyonce and Jay-Z’s recent video for Apeshit, the effect of seeing these glamourous women of colour exiting the Metropolitan Museum smuggling the diamonds in plain sight, is euphoric. You take those, most-likely-stolen-from-the-global-south-in-the-first-place, jewels back! As a brown woman, there was an inexplicable triumphant feeling to see women of colour allowed to exist in a mainstream Hollywood film without violence and trauma inflicted upon their bodies. Without having to be the sexualised vessel upon which filmmakers express their othering desires. These characters are allowed to exist as simply women, which is not a luxury usually afforded to women of colour. Due to the diversity of the cast, the women of colour do not end up holding the burden of being the only non-white face. These women are allowed to be multi-dimensional characters and not hold the weight of all representation on their shoulders. They can be hackers, they can be romantic diamond experts, skateboarders, and have happy endings, which is something I’m yet to see in mainstream cinema.
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Ami Nisa works at an independent cinema in the North East of England and is soon to embark on a PhD in American Horror Film. Her interests include intersectional feminism, trashy tv, and Sandra Bullock. You can find her on twitter @_aminisa.
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One thought on “Ocean’s 8 recognises everyday racial politics”
I found the movie racist. It was the white women who were the brains behind it all, and thus the racism. It may have looked like teamwork, but it was too much white women in power for me. And, of course, just the white women get the romance, and the Asian woman is sexless, another stereotype.
And the men are stupid or clueless, and thus the movie is sexist.
I found the movie boring because the action was just plodding along, and though the women were good to look at, it would have been more pro-women if they had not all been so perfect. It does not move women forward if they all have to be glamorous.