A significant part of what makes the drama Sicario an interesting project is the fact that its lead character is female. The film – directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Taylor Sheridan – is causing quite the critical and commercial stir with what has so far been a limited release, and would no doubt have been just as compelling if the lead role had been male. However, it is a female character that is the focus of the piece, and as such, this film immediately stands out from the crowded field of male-led action dramas. It is disappointing to find, then, that a sequel being developed by Lionsgate is set to focus on a male supporting character, as opposed to the female lead.
The female lead in question is FBI agent Kate Macer, played by Emily Blunt. She is characterized as idealistic, but has her outlook challenged when she is drafted in to a task force intended to join the war on drugs. In supporting roles are her morally questionable superior, Matt, played by Josh Brolin, and Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro. Each performer is receiving rave reviews of their work in the film, as is the writer, Sheridan, for creating such well-formed characters. However, it is the character played by Benicio Del Toro that is apparently driving forward the developing sequel for Lionsgate, as studio co-chair Patrick Wachsberger explained to Variety.
“Before the release of this movie, I was talking to Denis and I said, ‘What happened to this character? Where is Benicio going?’
“This movie has multiple Oscar potential – best movie, best director, best cinematography, best music and, of course, the actors. All of the characters feel real.[Blunt] is totally credible. You end the movie wondering what is going to happen. What happens to her character? Is she becoming a wolf?”
These comments are particularly telling with regard to both the story potential for Emily Blunt’s lead character (which the studio infamously asked to be rewritten as male in the first place), and for the way in which the output of Hollywood is determined, in such a way as to sideline female-led projects before they ever get off the ground.
Just as the general debate about a need for greater diversity in film is predicated upon the fact that audiences need to see main characters onscreen that they can identify with, so viewers instinctively ally themselves with the characters that reflect themselves in some way. This being the case, it can be argued that the lack of diverse roles on screen is directly related to the fact that the people doing the hiring are generally male, and white.
Patrick Wachsberger confirms the fact that it is the characters played by Blunt and Del Toro that leave the audience wanting more, and of those two characters, the men in charge of this sequel are likely to identify more closely with Del Toro than Blunt. In those terms, it logically follows that the studio would commission a film exploring the next chapter of the male character’s story, as opposed to any further chapters of the female’s.
But, Wachsberger also concedes that Blunt has created a performance worthy of Oscar consideration, and reflects on the interest in the future of her character in terms of a very clear arc. While Del Toro’s Alejandro is regarded as something of an enigma – which can certainly be intriguing – Blunt’s Macer has a much clearer development, simply by virtue of being the lead. In Sicario, she is challenged and undergoes fundamental change – and that is something that would continue to be compelling if explored in a sequel, or prequel.
It has to be said that Lionsgate is potentially missing a great opportunity here, as we move into an era in which female-led franchises could well come into their own. With The Hunger Games having blazed a trail, we are now seeing female superhero shaped lights at the end this tunnel of male-dominated movies. A Sicario action-drama film series led by Oscar worthy Emily Blunt could have been a hugely successful addition to that emerging landscape.