Sandra Bullock has a cool (but flawed) approach to closing Hollywood’s gender gap

It’s no great secret that aside from a small handful of silver screen legends, Hollywood is not a place where older women thrive. There have been a slew of complaints about a lack of roles for older actresses — and in Hollywood, “older” often means “not in your 20s,” even for actresses like Anne Hathaway — a battle cry that has been growing in recent years.

our-brand-is-crisis-trailerWhile some (like Russell Crowe) say the fault is with the actresses, not the scripts, studies show that in Hollywood, men talk and women show skin. Vulture also took a look at some films and found that in general, men age but their love interests do not.

Sandra Bullock has developed a pretty good tactic for getting good roles even if they’re not being written for her, though. It’s a flawed tactic, but it’s a start.

Basically, she looks for good roles written for men and tries to get them. From Entertainment Weekly, talking about the upcoming film Our Brand is Crisis:

Referencing how Sandra Bullock’s leading role was originally written for a man, [George Clooney] said, “There’s a lot more [roles] out there if people just started thinking.”

The film sees Bullock as political strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who enlists with a foreign campaign. After reaching out to Clooney to express interest in the project, those involved decided to gender-swap the role.

“About two-and-a-half years ago I put out feelers saying, ‘I’m not reading anything I’m excited about,’ ” Bullock told EW of the film. “‘Are there any male roles out there that [the filmmakers] don’t mind switching to female?’ ”

It’s a solid tactic, and one George Clooney encourages. Just gender swap some roles, and boom, you have some strong female roles that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.

It’s also a flawed tactic, though, because if all screenwriters are doing is scratching out “Christopher” and replacing it with “Christine,” we’ll still be getting characters that were written with the perspective of a male. They’ll be portrayed by women, sure, but the things that make them tick will be decidedly male.

This isn’t always a problem. There are many roles where it just doesn’t matter whether they are portrayed by a man or a woman, maybe gender swaps quick and easy.

But if you want real, honest, substantive roles for women in Hollywood, those roles must be written for women. That means writing them for women from the very start.

Bullock’s tactic is a start, though, and if it gets screenwriters (and more importantly, Hollywood bean counters) to realize that women of any age can carry a film without needing to play second fiddle to a leading man, they’ll start writing better roles for women, especially older women.

And hey, as much as I enjoy looking at gorgeous young starlets, it’s nice for movies to do a better job of reflecting society at large and to give us characters who represent a much broader array of experiences, isn’t it?

I sure think so.