The Oscar nominee plays Robyn McCall, taking over from Edward Woodward and Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall. Before the new series airs, we explore other characters who have swapped sexes…
By Laura Rutkowski, Staff Writer
“Black women have been equalising for years and years,” Queen Latifah tells TVLine. “From Hatshepsut to Stacey Abrams to Kamala Harris, to my mother and my grandmother, seeing a Black woman equalise is not a new thing to me.” What is new, however, is bringing it to TV once a week. “We don’t see that quite as frequently, and I think we need to see more of it, if anything,” she adds.
The equalising is done by The Equalizer, AKA Robyn – “the one you call when you can’t call 911”. The former CIA operative helps those who can’t help themselves. They might be victims of their circumstances, good people involved with bad people or just someone in need of help, like Jewel, a teenager who is being framed for murder by dangerous criminals.
When she’s not single-handedly fighting crime, Robyn is also a single mum raising her teenage daughter. This reboot gives the original series from the 80s and the films from 2014 and 2018 a run for their money, with Latifah carrying out some of her own stunts, dressed in all black and often riding a motorcycle. We love to see it! Executive producer Debra Martin Chase said in a video interview, “I have been trying for almost 20 years to bring a Black woman who kicks butt to the screen.”
Lorraine Toussaint (Concrete Cowboy), Adam Goldberg (A Beautiful Mind) and Chris Noth (Sex And The City) also star, with Laya DeLeon Hayes (Doc McStuffins) playing Robyn’s daughter Delilah.
The Equalizer certainly hasn’t been the last show (or film) to change a key character’s sex, so here we investigate a few other switcheroos. Interestingly, there actually aren’t that many instances of male characters who were originally female. However, Thor star Chris Hemsworth deserves a special shout-out for his hilarious portrayal of Kevin the secretary in the Ghostbusters reboot from 2016.
Allegra Dill in Briarpatch
Find it in On Demand > Box Sets
Played by: Rosario Dawson
Ross Thomas’ novel features detective Benjamin Dill, but creator Andy Greenwald wanted to turn him into a female character. The feisty Allegra was born and Dawson was more than up for the challenge of playing her. She intentionally didn’t read the book, so she could make the role truly her own.
Allegra’s very first line in the series was improvised by Dawson. When she’s picked up at the airport, her driver asks, “Miss Dill?” and she responds, “The one and only.” With Allegra’s mother dead and her sister recently killed in a car bombing, it is also tragically true. The series follows her as she returns home to San Bonifacio, Texas, to seek justice for her sister.
Cameron Kweller in He’s All That
Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix from Friday 27 August
Played by: Tanner Buchanan
While the 1999 film She’s All That is slightly – ahem – problematic for the modern age, there’s no denying that it was an instant classic at the time. This remake, in which the character of Laney Boggs is replaced by Cameron Kweller, seeks to right some of those wrongs. Influencer Padgett Sawyer (TikTok star Addison Rae), our new Zack Siler, agrees to turn Cameron, the school’s biggest loser, into prom king.
We’re sure the new messaging will be around loving yourself the way you are, rather than changing yourself to fit in. Also, as it turns out, Laney was before her time – overalls (extra points for paint-splattered ones) are very in right now.
The Thirteenth Doctor in Doctor Who
Find series 11 & 12 in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer
Played by: Jodie Whittaker
More than 50 years after Doctor Who hit screens, Jodie Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor, while Ruth (Jo Martin) turned out to be another incarnation of the Doctor, making her the first POC to play the role. Although Whittaker came up against some critics, Lucy Mangan said it best in The Guardian after the first episode aired: “If you’re reading this, the world did not end. No galaxies collapsed. No universes imploded. All is as it was – and, possibly, even a little better.”
When you think about it, for a Time Lord who is hundreds of years old, there’s no way that the Doctor wouldn’t have regenerated in female form. Not only was the shake-up needed, but the Thirteenth Doctor also came complete with a totally cool and very functional new outfit (complete with pockets, a given for men’s outfits, but not always for women’s). “Can you imagine not having pockets?” Whittaker mused in Vulture.
Ellen Ripley in Alien
Played by: Sigourney Weaver
Director Ridley Scott decided rather early on to change his hero to a heroine. He told The LA Times, “I think the idea actually came from Alan Ladd Jr… [then president of 20th Century Fox] who said, “Why can’t Ripley be a woman?” And there was a long pause, that at that moment I never thought about it. I thought, why not, it's a fresh direction... and away we went.”
Ripley is constantly featured in best film heroes/characters lists and the role earned Weaver her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in the sequel Aliens. In the science fiction/horror space, female leads are rare (with female characters usually killed off pretty sharpish), so when Ripley BURST (tee-hee) on to the scene, it was a welcome departure from stale male tropes.
Dr Joan Watson in Elementary
Played by: Lucy Liu
When writer Robert Doherty brought Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective to the streets of modern-day New York, he chose to swap Sherlock Holmes’ injured, former army medic Dr John Watson for the stern and, more importantly, completely sober surgeon, Dr Joan Watson. See what they did there?
The move was initially met with some very mixed responses, to say the least. However, fans and critics have come to love Lucy Liu’s brilliant portrayal of the character. There was also an added twist, as Watson proved to be one of two gender-swapping legendary Holmes characters. But you’ll have to watch the series from the start to find out who!
M in GoldenEye
Played by: Judi Dench
It takes a strong personality to keep James Bond in check. That said, it takes a stronger personality to look Dame Judi Dench in the eye as she glares at you from across a desk.
That particularly daunting task fell to a fresh-faced Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye. While the film gave us the first taste of Brosnan’s Bond, an equally refreshing new take on the character of M sat across from him. Not only was it Dench’s first time playing the role, it was also the first time in its 40-year history that the character had been female. Scary as she might have been, both Bond and fans warmed to her interpretation, and wept when, 17 years later, she made her departure.
The Ancient One in Doctor Strange
Played by: Tilda Swinton
From playing a dishevelled archangel Gabriel in 2005’s Constantine to a tanned, glamorous magazine editor in Trainwreck, few would be surprised if it was announced that Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton was to play Arnold Schwarzenegger in a biopic!
Director Scott Derrickson was clearly enticed by Swinton’s legendary versatility, choosing to cast and write the role of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange entirely around her. A strange choice, one might say, given that the character in the comics was in fact an elderly Tibetan man. Despite the shift, Swinton chose to portray the character as androgynous, adding another interesting layer to one of the more fascinating castings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Shadow King in Legion
Played by: Aubrey Plaza
When is a king not a king? When, despite still being a king, she’s a queen, of course.
The infamous entity known as the Shadow King appears in numerous guises and forms throughout the first season of Noah Hawley’s acclaimed X-Men spin-off. It possesses countless people, royally messing with the already thoroughly messed-with mind of David Haller (Dan Stevens). But the most fascinating iteration by far is the possession of foul-mouthed Lenny Busker (Parks And Recreation's Aubrey Plaza). And here’s something else to wrap your mind around: the role of Busker was originally written for a middle-aged man!
Angela Burr in The Night Manager
Find it in Apps & Games > Prime Video
Played by: Olivia Colman
In a miniseries rife with explosions, punch-ups, testosterone-fuelled tension and lashings of intrigue, Olivia Colman (Fleabag) more than held her own as she channelled her inner Dench to brilliantly portray intelligence agent Angela Burr – originally Leonard Burr in the John Le Carré novel.
Though she may have lacked Dench’s intimidating, steely-eyed stare, Colman more than made up for it with her unnerving, authoritative outbursts, often causing the countless men around her to cower as she barked instructions and thinly veiled threats. Even more impressive was Colman’s ability to work around her (entirely real) baby bump, with Burr seen doing some surprisingly spritely stuff in the last few episodes.
Jeri Hogarth in Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Find seasons 1-3 in Apps & Games > Netflix
Played by: Carrie-Anne Moss
Throughout the vast and versatile cast of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was a Jeryn Hogarth-shaped hole that Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix Trilogy) was more than happy to fill.
While turning the male lawyer for the Heroes for Hire into the fierce (and female) Jeri Hogarth raised eyebrows, Moss and fans found themselves more interested in another aspect of the character’s background. Namely, that she’s the first openly gay recurring character in the comic book giant’s ground-breaking multiverse. She’s also had suitably punchy appearances in Iron Fist, Luke Cage and The Defenders.
When is Sky Witness’s The Equalizer on TV?
The Equalizer airs on Sky Witness/HD (CH 112/111) on Tuesdays at 9pm, with the first episode screening on 3 August. It is also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > Sky Witness.
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Image credits: The Night Manager © The Ink Factory – Photographer: Des Willie
Doctor Who © BBC / BBC Studios / Ben Blackall
Briarpatch © 2019 USA Network Media, LLC / Photo by: Ursula Coyote/USA Network