ocean's 8
The first all-female installment of the Ocean's franchise premieres June 8. (Image via Warner Bros)

‘Ocean’s 8’ Challenges the Narrative of Female Protagonists

The all-female cast of ‘Ocean’s 8’ subverts many of the common narratives surrounding female characters by being unapologetic criminals.

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ocean's 8

The all-female cast of ‘Ocean’s 8’ subverts many of the common narratives surrounding female characters by being unapologetic criminals.

“Ocean’s 8”, the spin-off of “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two sequels, debuts in theaters June 8. The movie centers around Debbie Ocean as she and her friends attempt to steal millions of dollars in jewelry from the famed Met Gala, for the sole purpose of making some money.

In addition to Debbie, a thief and heist mastermind, the group attempting to rob the gala includes a hacker (played by Rihanna), pickpocket (Awkwafina) and other similarly shady characters.

What makes “Ocean’s 8” different from the other movies in the franchise is that it is the first “Ocean’s” movie that features a predominantly female cast — in fact, it features an all-female ensemble. Yet what really stands out about the protagonists is that they are not the typical “likable” female protagonists that have dominated pop culture.

For the women of “Ocean’s 8,” there’s no tragic backstory to explain the desire to steal, no sense that there’s some greater purpose for these women to engage in criminal activities. And surprisingly, that’s very refreshing to see.

There seems to be an expectation that to be a likable female character, there are certain traits they have to possess. They have to be nice, play by the rules and if they do morally questionable things, it’s always for the greater good. There’s almost an expectation that there needs to be some form of justification for why female characters break the rules.

Take Hermione Granger, beloved secondary protagonist of the “Harry Potter” franchise. Now, I love Hermione deeply, but there were several instances in the books (and to a lesser extent, the movies) where she made morally questionable decisions.

In the “Goblet of Fire,” she discovers that gossip reporter Rita Skeeter is eavesdropping on her and Harry by transforming into a beetle. Hermione then captures and holds Skeeter hostage for a year, all under the pretense of protecting herself and her friends from Skeeter’s lies. Hermione literally kidnaps someone, and that is seemingly glossed over completely.

Ocean's 8
The star-studded cast of “Ocean’s 8” includes Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna. (Image via Time)

The women of “Ocean’s 8” do something completely different with their narratives. None of the necessarily need the money they’re stealing for anything. There doesn’t appear to be the indication that any of the women will be in any form of danger if they don’t steal and sell the jewels. They simply rob for the fun of it all.

Olivia Milch, co-producer of the movie, touched on this topic during an interview, saying: “This is really just a story about women who are excellent at their jobs, they just happen to be criminals. And I do think there is something about what women are and aren’t allowed to do when we’re talking about filmmaking and storytelling.”

“Women have kind of been left out of the ability to be in a movie that’s sort of just about fun and fantasy,” Milch continued. “And they don’t necessarily need the deep, dark, painful, crazy past to justify why they’re doing something. Sometimes women just want to steal shit.”

That’s what makes “Ocean’s 8” such a truly remarkable film. It isn’t that it features all-female protagonists, but that it features unapologetic women, doing what they want without feeling the need to justify their choices.

Writer Profile

Kate Maxwell

NC State University
Political Science


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