Ocean’s 8 came out in 2018. It hosts the performances of major celebrities—from Sandra Bullock to Rihanna to Mindy Kaling. Like any heist movie, we’re introduced to main characters at the beginning and love them because of their humor and cleverness; ultimately, we hope they’ll accomplish their goal of stealing what they’re after. In this movie, the lady squad makes the most out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Annual Gala to steal a six-pound Cartier diamond necklace…and all the royal jewels that are on display in an exhibition at the Met.
The general premise of the movie is nestled in issues with security. Isn’t that usually how it works? With camera blind spots, spam emails, an unplanned installation by Banksy, and removing the Cartier necklace from the vault for scanning, this movie plays on all the security nightmares. In order for the heist to go well, not only are there breeches in digital security, squad members are working the event, they’re on the property, and using its own resources and security protocols for their benefit. In other words, they make the organizations, namely the museum, seem incompetent to protect their visitors and the works entrusted to them (i.e. those on loan).
The plan is very sophisticated and requires a great deal of skill to pull off. The women who make it happen are badass and we can appreciate that. Sandra Bullock’s character, Debbie Ocean, notes that she only wants women for this heist, since women typically go unnoticed. The film’s success lies in its easy ability to entertain and its focus on feminist tropes in society and in the art world. A place that has so much social and industry capital and legitimacy should be an institution that is leading conversations about gender and race presentation in art and exhibitions. It’s interesting that instead, the Met is location for a movie that focuses on women, women in art, and women’s ability to go unnoticed all the while promoting beauty standards and putting celebrity on display as a fundraiser. The development team knows what it’s doing. While this movie makes us laugh, and we enjoy the sweet revenge that is had, Oceans 8 presents an interesting ethical dilemma for us museum folx. We don’t like that this is a heist movie and takes place in a museum. Things are on display for people to see and enjoy. Does that make a theft any less possible because it is in film? No. Thefts happen with far less sophistication, as we’ve discussed in our podcast. But as museum work has been called a “pink-collar” job, meaning that most museum workers are women, conversations about women should be happening in museums, change in societal norms that become reflected in museum work should be happening in museums.
Wonderful museum folx, we work to fix the wrongs of past generations of museum workers while preparing the future ones to continue evolving the field. There are so many layers to that, from gender and racial equality (in staff, in collections), methodologies in curation and education, repatriation, research—the list goes on.
So, are you seeing a change?
Sarah Hixson (she/her/hers) is an emerging museum curator and educator. If you have questions, comments, kind words of encouragement, please send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you as soon as she can.