Published On: Mon, Aug 24th, 2020

Did a Female-Led ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Movie Get the Go Ahead?

The first ever female-fronted Pirates of the Caribbean movie is reportedly in the works at Disney. Actresses like Margot Robbie and Karen Gillan are rumoured to star in the new film. Captain Jack Sparrow, as portrayed by Johnny Depp, has been the leading man for Pirates of the Caribbean since the series began in 2003. However, many fans say it’s time for a change. 

Pirates of the Caribbean has so far had a mixed bag of female characters. Fans love Elizabeth and Carina for their strength and character development, but other characters don’t fall as high on the rankings. Female characters like Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz, are almost universally hated by fans—she exists only to be a daughter or a love interest for Pirate Jack, instead of standing on her own.

Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Swann is often revered as one of the rare strong female characters of the 2000s. She starred in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies and developed exponentially throughout them—from a pirate-loving girl of privilege to a strong woman who fights for herself. Some fans, however, say that this isn’t enough.

Other film franchises are beginning to diversify and feminize their casts. Sony rebooted the Ghostbusters franchise in 2016 with the aptly titled, Ghostbusters. This remake starred famous female comedians of the time, mostly of Saturday Night Live fame, such as Kristen Wig and Leslie Jones. It was however an objectively bad movie and received uncountable bad reviews. 

The female-led Ghostbusters film kept the concept, design, and costumes of the original movie. However, the humour was different, and many fans argued that the magic was gone without the original cast and tone. Despite Sony’s efforts to create a fun and feminist film, it was a flop. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is set to come out in 2021, and is reportedly much more promising.

Historically, female-led reboots of beloved films aren’t well received by male fans, like Ghostbusters above or Oceans 8. Charlie’s Angels was also remade in recent years, and the community disliked it almost universally. Does this mean female-led films are always bad?

Some say it’s not the fault of the stars of these movies, but the writing and production. Margot Robbie’s new Pirates of the Caribbean film is reportedly being written by Christina Hodson, who wrote Birds of Prey. Hopefully this new film will mark a new string of female-led movies that viewers actually like.

So far, Christina Hodson’s movie seems like it won’t repeat the mistakes of past films. The new movie will not be a spinoff or remake, but a new story within the beloved Pirates of the Caribbean universe. Hopefully a new storyline will include not only women but other diverse demographics like people of colour, people with disabilities, or LGBT+ characters. The pirate community doesn’t seem to discriminate, as it’s historically made up of minorities.

In 2017, after the release of Dead Men Tell No Tales, Hypable investigated the topic of diversity in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. They point out that yes, Pirates has strong female characters—but very few. It falls into the one-and-done diversity trap: one person in each minority, whether Black, female, queer, etcetera, and no more than that. Elizabeth is a strong female character, but there are very few others in the movies she leads.

Hypable also referenced a blog post by a screenwriter who worked on the first few movies: Terry Rossio. He said that writers were considering including a female villain for the first time, but Johnny Depp vetoed the idea. Besides Elizabeth, the only female characters in the first movies were prostitutes.

As well, there’s an important historical issue with much of the franchise. Despite being set in the Caribbean, there are very few people of colour—the pirate lifestyle historically appealed to minorities because they were already being pushed out of society. The whiteness of the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean is both unrealistic as well as oppressive. The only Caribbean characters in the series were sidelined or ignored in comparison to Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Pirates of the Caribbean has some explaining to do—the new female-led movie is doing one thing for the franchise and the recent jump in diversity in new movies, but still has more to go. The casting for the new movie is unclear, but hopefully it includes more people of Caribbean descent, as well as other oppressed minorities that were previously ignored. Feminist is one step, but intersectionality should be the next.

Due to COVID-19, the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie won’t be in production for a while, and it’ll be even longer before it’s in theatres. However, this excess of time might prove helpful for good planning and writing. Hopes are high for this film.

Author: Razili Nelson

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