Thinking Beyond Gender: Angelina Jolie in Salt

by Melissa Silverstein on July 13, 2010

in Actresses,Box Office

Angelina Jolie’s Salt is about to open and I think its going to be a massive hit.  One big reason is that she appeals to both men and women for different reasons.  Guys like her because she is hot and kicks ass.  Women like her because she lives with Brad Pitt, seems to be a great mom, spends her free time helping other people around the world…and also because she kicks ass.

The success of Salt will be good news for a number of reasons.  First, this is really Angelina’s first starring action role since the second Tomb Raider movie.  And honestly, she is a different person since then.  She was big then, but now…she is probably the biggest female film star on the planet.  The other action films she’s been in since then she was a co-star.  She co-starred with Brad Pitt in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and she co-starred with James McEvoy in Wanted.

In Salt she is the star.  The poster is her face and her name.

This is big.  I’m thinking (and hoping) that this could be the beginning of a female action franchise.  This could open up many doors to other types of female action films.  One thing I hope that doesn’t happen is for the studios to think that only one woman (Angelina) could front these films.  We have got to find other women who can be action stars.  We already got two tweens coming in action flicks. Chloe Moretz from Hit Girl is in Let Me In coming in October and Saoirse Ronan is in Hannah coming next spring.

The thing about Salt and Angelina is that it almost didn’t happen. It was written for Tom Cruise who passed because the role was too close to his Mission Impossible part. Good thing for us. Here’s what she said in the recent Vanity Fair about how the part got  gender switch from Edwin to Evelyn Salt.

It started with a call from Amy [Pascal]. She asked if I wanted to play a Bond girl. I said, No, I’m not comfortable with that, but I would like to play Bond. We laughed , and then, about a year later, she called back and said I think I’ve found it.

This point illustrates just how pigeonholed women are. Even Angelina Jolie gets a call asking her to play a Bond girl. Yuck. Good for her for saying no and good for Amy Pascal for thinking outside of the box and getting the right movie so she could be in business with Angelina Jolie. Would a guy have come up with that idea?

Another interesting point:

Writing for a man, then swapping gender, is, as it turns out, the best way to create an utterly liberated hero, a character with none of the tropes that writers, even if they don’t mean to, fall back on when creating a role for women.

Jolie goes on to say that they had to take the fact that the character had a child out of the script with the gender change:

…We realized that, as a woman, if you knew your life was at such risk, you’d never have a child.

I don’t know how much I believe that. So many people do risky and dangerous jobs everyday and have families.

The author describing Jolie:

In action movie after action movie, she has played against type, creating a new type in the process. Political without being political, she’s a stealth feminist, expanding gender roles from the inside, taking the blockbuster male lead and adding a vowel to the end of the character’s first name…In a larger sense, it’s less about gender than about power, control. It’s something Jolie seemed to understand from her earliest films: no one admired a lady in distress, no matter how beautiful. Domination is the thing, revenge, the sound of guns.

This sounds like a great thriller that will push the gender envelope. I’m all for that. Opens wide July 23rd.


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

JihadPunk77 July 13, 2010 at 10:38 AM

gosshhhhhhhh I love her so much. I like that she’s matured a lot over the years. Also, she’s significant because she’s over 30 and still gets leading roles in big movies. that’s a huge deal for women in Hollywood. how often does a leading role for a male A-list star gets re-written for a woman?

I was reading an article about her yesterday. This is what she said in an interview about action roles for women:

“Women in action movies, as I’ve done in the past, tend to either be fantasy or something very sexy-cool. They aren’t based in any kind of reality. This is the first one that I’ve tried to do that is not a cartoon. It’s not a fantasy. She is a good, solid character. It’s about the CIA. It’s today.”

(taken from

Chris Evans July 13, 2010 at 10:39 AM

“We realized that, as a woman, if you knew your life was at such risk, you’d never have a child”

Umm….how fucking ridiculous.

Also ridiculous that they would ask Angelina to play a Bond girl when she’s already an incredibly successful action star.

Scott Mendelson July 13, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Sounds nice and progressive, unless you caught this bit in the Entertainment Weekly Summer Movie Preview:

“In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt (the original male protagonist) saves his wife, who’s in danger,” says Noyce. “And what we found in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship.” In the end, Salt’s husband, played by German actor August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds), was made tough enough that he didn’t need saving, thank you much.”

So, hidden in an article centering around just how the making of Salt is oh-so empowering for female action heroes is this tidbit. To put it in plainer terms, the filmmakers believe that it was perfectly OK for the spouse to be rescued from mortal danger if said love-interest was a girl, but not if the spouse was a man. So it’s great if the action hero is a girl, as long as they don’t have to opportunity to one-up any male counterparts and/or reverse the oldest cliche in the action-film handbook. Saying that girls can be portrayed as helpless damsels in distress but boys can’t is about as old-school sexist as one can get.

Chris Evans July 13, 2010 at 12:33 PM

Scott I feel like I remember Melissa actually making a post about that a while back. Ugh.

Anika July 13, 2010 at 1:14 PM

The bit about not having a child reminds me of Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill deciding she needed to get out of the assassin business when she got pregnant. I think I get it, the maternal instinct Angelina and Uma/Quentin are talking about — while saying someone would “never have a child” is a bit much I understand the impulse to pause. It does not have to be maternal/gender-biased, however. For example, the USA series La Femme Nikita ends with super spy Michael quitting the business to raise his son.

sally July 13, 2010 at 1:44 PM

But do you know the real ending to Salt? So Salt gets knocked up by a slubby guy who she rejected previously because she is so uptight and career focused, what with all the killing and spy activities. She realizes that her life has been empty without pregnancy and slubby guy, so she quits the spy business and moves to a suburb in middle america where funny capers ensue where she tries to fit in to being a home maker. Trailer features girlish scream by Jolie as she tries to cook/clean/have a kids birthday party that goes haywire. Also, something about shoes and comments about her ass getting fat.

Of course, I’m kidding.

Alex July 13, 2010 at 1:55 PM

Brilliant Sally!! But keep it quiet, otherwise I’m afraid they’ll make that movie…

Emily Blake July 13, 2010 at 3:13 PM

No matter what, I really hope this makes money. It’s a spec and has a female action hero for a protagonist. If this makes money, female action heroes are back. If this tanks, you know what they’ll say: Oh people just don’t want to see women action heroes.

d July 13, 2010 at 5:09 PM

I am SO happy this film is coming out! :D

I do think the heavy-handedness of the comment was much, but however it happened , I, for one, am GLAD that the kid is taken out. Even if they don’t intend it, the film will have this twist, or this push to frame it in a motherhood fashion. A good example would be Aliens, where people like to describe the showdown bewteen Ripley and the alien as mother vs. mother. We already have so many films like that – both action and non-action that focus on that.

“Guys like her because she is hot and kicks ass. Women like her because she lives with Brad Pitt, seems to be a great mom, spends her free time helping other people around the world…and also because she kicks ass.”

Wow, is this true – I mean in terms of women? I couldn’t care at all that she is married to Brad Pitt and was actually dismayed when I first found out because it didn’t seem like a good choice for a variety of reasons. Being a good mom is great an all, and so is humanitarian efforts, but what does that have to do with being in good movies and making great performances? Maybe women should think less about someone’s personal life, and more about what they are bringing to the stage/screen. If not, then people who may live possibly sketchy lives, but could be awesome actors will not find their moments.

I also agree with the group that it’s sad that she couldn’t have saved his life. When I see this happen on screen – any screen – it’s something I relish, because it happens so rarely, and why shouldn’t a woman rescue the man she loves just as if she rescues anyone else she loves?

What I am trying to figure out is what is driving this – the studios or the audience; probably some combination. But women like to be the rescuers and the rescued – and I have met plenty of women who like when men recue women. But I have yet to meet a guy who likes and truly embraces being rescued by women. Now a whole slew of guys here could say sure (so then I’ve met you :)), but I wonder if it is not enough of an audience that could balance out the men who would no longer be interested (and even some women). So instead, they just dampen down the guy a little bit, to please both parties.

This bugs me because it happens all the time, even in the same franchise. Buffy the movie has a Lois Lane-like character in Pike, a plucky, resourceful guy who clearly needed protection. But Buffy the series has Angel/Spike, strong vampires. Even in Firefly, Zoe’s character, for all her toughness, couldn’t save her husband. And Joss gives us some of the better female portrayals.

If they do go there, they seem to do it with a guy who is noticeably weakened (Weatherly’s character in Dark Angel), someone of slight build (the guy in In Plain Sight), or someone who’s personality seems pretty skittish (Wash from Firefly – or to dip into animation, the sidekick of Kim Possible).

Part of me feels like the heart of this is the idea that guys think gals are not interested in guys like that, so whenever you have a strong, action heroine you are creating a relationship for, I wonder if that comes into play.

As much as I like the Tombraider series it plays out there as well. You have a guy who is kind of pansy-ish, who she rescues but does not become truly romantically attached to, and one who is her equal that she starts to fall for again, but he makes an immoral choice, forcing her to eliminate him. But in either way she ends up alone in a way Bond or Jones never does (since Tombraider movies seems like a amalgam of the two franchises, content-wise).

All in all though, still a great step forward.

Chris Evans July 13, 2010 at 5:20 PM

“As much as I like the Tombraider series it plays out there as well. You have a guy who is kind of pansy-ish”

Pansy-ish? And what pray tell is that supposed to mean?

Amaka July 13, 2010 at 8:57 PM

I am so excited about this film. I am a huge Angelina fan and I will definitely go see it. I hope it does well so that more action movies with female leads can be made.

d July 13, 2010 at 10:23 PM

“Pansy-ish? And what pray tell is that supposed to mean?”

What type of answer do you want Chris? How detailed of an answer should I give? Heck, I haven’t seen the first one in a bit, so I can watch it again in the next few days, and break it down from the general to the specific, almost scene by scene if you like. Or, was that rhetorical, and just your way of saying you disagree? Or saying you didn’t like the word pansy?

I’m glad to answer, but I just wanted to flesh out your question a bit.


Faye July 14, 2010 at 1:46 AM

I adore this woman and can’t wait to buy my ticket for Salt. I’m just a fan and even I know that playing a Bond Girl is beneath her -skill and status wise. She’s formidable in her own right and has earned the right to be Bond or Salt in this case.

Andrew Jen July 14, 2010 at 4:53 AM

Great article, looking forward to the movie more now. Hope her hardwork pays off, seems like it’s gonna be a great experience.

Melissa Silverstein July 17, 2010 at 11:36 AM

I think that Angelina Jolie appeals to both men and women for some of the same reasons and some very different reasons. That’s why she gets paid $20 million. I don’t necessarily think that she appeals to the under 25 set anymore so I will be interested in seeing the age breakdown for the film. What I think this film will do is really allow both men and women to be equally excited. Guys don’t feel demeaned in seeing an action flick starring and chick and women will get to see an action film starring a chick and we will finally get to gloat a bit that girls can kick butt in movies and at the box office. It’s about fucking time.

Melissa Silverstein July 17, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Let’s pray for the big money or else we are so screwed.

greek chorus July 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Quoting Melissa’s comment on Angelina Jolie’s appeal to women: “she lives with Brad Pitt, seems to be a great mom, spends her free time helping other people around the world…”

I think she appeals to men and women for the SAME one reason — e.g. she’s “hot and kick ass” period.

Not all women think that living with Brad Pitt — as cool looking as he is — necessarily adds value to a woman’s appeal. And being a “great mom” etc … How does one define “great mom”? Having or adopting a number of children makes a “great mom”? Many women come under this category, Mia Farrow, and the “octo-mom”, for example, who has eight children and still wanting more pregnancies, and who underwent cosmetic procedures to acquire some AJ-like features.

I think that what adds value to AJ’s appeal — to both men and women — may have more to do with her not mincing words when she talked openly about her sexual prowess. She matter-of-factedly let it be known that her sexual ardor is not limited to gender. In other words, gender was not an obstacle. I think this titillates people who may not have the daring to express these thoughts in public.

Karen July 21, 2010 at 2:57 AM

Can’t wait for Salt!

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