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Alfonso Cuaron Defends Having Female Lead in Gravity

by Melissa Silverstein and Kerensa Cadenas
July 24, 2013 2:00 PM
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Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year and has been receiving major buzz since the release of its teaser trailer in May. But getting this potential Oscar vehicle made even with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was not easy.  

The film follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission with experienced astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) on his last mission before retiring. Disaster strikes and the pair find themselves alone, out in space and tethered to nothing but one another with seemingly no hope for rescue.

Gravity, with an estimated $80 million budget, was originally at Universal and moved to Warner Bros, where it went through multiple male and female leads before Sandra Bullock and George Clooney signed on. After filming began in May 2011, several details about the film have been released ranging from a rumored 17-20 minute long uninterrupted opening shot and how Cuaron had Bullock and Clooney wear no makeup during filming to the fact that Cuaron used new technology to make the film.

At Comic-Con, Cuaron opened up about another problem that came up when developing the film: people had problems that he had a female lead.

When I finished the script, there were voices that were saying, 'well, we should change it to a male lead.' Obviously they were not powerful enough voices, because we got away with it. But the sad thing is that there is still that tendency.

We hear lots of anecdotal remarks from female directors about the scripts they pitch with female leads and how they are asked to change the gender, but hearing this come from an A-List director is pretty rare. In the first place these guys don't make tons of movies about women, but Cuaron is a bit different. He made A Little Princess.  

And also, WTF?  Why is this still the conversation? I imagine they are happy at the studio now that Sandra Bullock is starring in the film, but this conversation is so disheartening. If Cuaron is getting shit for writing a woman, imagine what the rest of the people down the line are getting.

Science fiction, like the superhero genre is all about the guys to Hollywood though we know that is completely not the case. It's a genre that is ripe with potential for great female roles which Cuaron recognized. On occasion we get kick-ass, complex women like Alien's Ellen Ripley, Battlestar Galactica's Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace and The X-Files' Dana Scully that goes down in the record books as a great character regardless of gender.  But we need more.

On the panel, Bullock spoke about that she felt Cuaron was "brave" for making her character a woman and that she hoped that this would become the norm. 

The elephant in the room is that roles or women haven't been as vast and many as the men have. But I do feel that there is a definite shift that has happened. In the end it's about making money, and if studios see that a female can bring in audiences, they're going to make movies with that person, and hopefully that will become the norm.


will open the Venice Film Festival in August. It hits theaters on October 4th. Check out the newly released one-take trailer below.

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More: Sandra Bullock, Gravity

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  • Tamra | November 11, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    Applause for strong women who work, act, produce, create and show the world we have always had talent...of any color, class, religion, waist size, sexual orientation!!!

  • bl | October 7, 2013 11:17 PMReply

    Upon urther review. .I guess you didn't mean just blacks. Either way. .. like it or not. .. whites make up the majority of the US population... hence smarter choice for the studios.

  • Z D | October 6, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    A larger issue here is, would this movie even exist if Alfonso Cuaron made the protagonist a woman of color? Imagine the resistance the movie would face from studio executives. As much as I enjoyed this movie and applaud a white woman being in the lead role, it is annoying how this discussion does not address the intersection of racism and sexism at all. By describing Sandra Bullock's character as a "woman" (and not specifically a "white woman"), this article reinforces the logic that assumes white women are the norm for "women" (just like a white man is the norm for "man"). Yes, Hollywood is sexist, and white women are often marginalized and given limited roles, but women of color suffer a greater deal, as they have to navigate through sexism AND racism. It would have been really brave if a black woman, for example, was the lead character, especially in a monumental film like this.

    If I hear excuses like "Well, it wouldn't make money," then you are buying into the racist status quo. Filmmakers who work in Hollywood (including directors of color like Cuaron) need to break these barriers and not only hire more actors/actresses of color, but also give them more complex, dignified, and non-stereotypical roles.

  • bl | October 7, 2013 11:11 PM

    Larger issue? Lol. Why not a Latino woman or an Indian woman or a Asian woman? African Americans are what. .. 12 percent of the USA population? Baby steps young Rosa Parks.... just be thankful a lady was given the role before you preach from your black rights pedestal. There are other races besides black and white. ... but just two sexes. So the bigger issue is sexism... not racism.

  • NoMinorChords | July 31, 2013 6:30 PMReply

    Ripley (Alien) was originally written as a male role. It was Alan Ladd Jr. at Fox who asked writers Ron Shusett and Dan O'Bannon what they'd have to change to make the lead a female. They looked through the script and answered, "Nothing."

  • nooner | July 30, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    1- Cuaron is not an A-list director.
    2- The "industry" isn't sexist. It's a business. And the numbers they care about support Male leads over Female leads. Now we can argue that it's a vicious circle, the studios cast bankable male leads because that is traditionally what the audience pays to see, so the studio keeps casting male leads and the audience keeps paying to see them. What is needed is a couple of female stars that can supplant a couple of the current male crop. For every Angelina Jolie there is a Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Tom Cruise. For every Sandra Bullock there is a Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. For every... well this is the rest of hollywoods "A-list" female are; Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, and ? There is hope with Jennifer Lawerence booming right now, and there are always Natalie Portmans and Scarlett Johnasons who could reach the top of the hill, but they seem content to do a strange combo of Art House on year supporting role in a super hero movie the next year.

  • gw | August 7, 2013 1:15 PM

    "traditionally what the audience pays to see"

    Not me, not anymore. I'm bored. Give us some variety, please.

  • Neil | July 31, 2013 5:44 PM

    As a long reader of science fiction I have seen a trend these last 25 years to having more and more female protagonists. Perhaps those responsible for making science fiction films should take note. They might even attract many of us skeptical readers long used to filmakers who "don't get it".

  • Laurie Mann | July 29, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    I can't wait to see Gravity. It looks amazing, and I'm really happy there's a female lead in a science fiction movie for a change.

    Cuaron's Children of Men is one of my favorite flicks.

  • AA | July 29, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    It's Kara Thrace, not Thrice, by the way.

  • Stuart Barr | July 28, 2013 8:10 AMReply

    Headlines shouting that Cuaron has to 'defend' this are part of the problem. How about Cuaron 'fights for' female lead?

  • James | July 26, 2013 7:55 AMReply

    This looks great and though I'm not a huge Bullock fan, it makes sense they went with her. She's a hugely bankable and capable star, albeit not a great actress.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 25, 2013 8:04 PMReply

    Ripley has got to be in the top ten of greatest film protagonists of all time.

  • doomandgloom | July 25, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    What he should be defending (and I suspect he secretely is) is having a washed up chick flick icon as a female lead.

  • Patrick | August 1, 2013 11:42 AM

    Ms. Bullock is nearly 20 years on from Speed which was her breakout role. She's approaching 50 and in three of the last four film in which she has had the lead, she's proved very bankable.

    The Proposal, with a $40M production budget, pulled in a domestic gross of about $165M with another $150M in overseas box.

    The Blind Side, with a $29M production budget, raked in just over $255M in the domestic market and another $50M overseas in a film centered around American football.

    The Heat is sitting at $141M in domestic box office receipts and after 5 weeks in release is still pulling in a respectable $2900 per screen. Production costs? $43M.

    You can dismiss her talent, but to call her "washed up" is simply not supported by the data that studios pay attention to...dollars.

  • Philip Bennett | July 25, 2013 2:09 AMReply

    The focus centered on a scared woman who was helpless till the man told her what to do. God, I miss Ripley!

  • Z | July 25, 2013 2:01 AMReply

    Ugh. Seriously? A director still has to "defend" a female lead?

    Go watch Alien/s, you studio dipsh*ts


  • Juniper | July 24, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    You had me until 'irregardless'.

  • Jules | July 24, 2013 4:37 PM

    You had me until "aloud" :p

  • Carol | July 24, 2013 3:52 PM

    It's an actual word, though yes - it bothers many. I'm not aloud to post the link here, but just remove the space: www.merriam-webster. com/dictionary/irregardless

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