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Fixing Hollywood sexism: Why Sandra Bullock is playing a role intended for George Clooney

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney at the premiere of “Our Brand Is Crisis.” (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

There has been a lot of (justified) griping lately about sexism in Hollywood. Objectifying and typecasting women, paying them less, not including them at all — if it’s an issue in the real world, it’s an issue in entertainment, too. So who are the people with the power to change it?

Sometimes, the very same people who have to deal with it. Actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney revealed this weekend that they played integral roles in making Bullock the leading lady of a film written for a man.

“Our Brand Is Crisis,” which hits theaters Oct. 30, is about a fiery political strategist behind a great presidential election upset in Bolivia in 2002. The film is based on a documentary of the same name, which chronicled the fight for the presidency between Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and socialist Evo Morales.

In 2007, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that Clooney and his production company partner Grant Heslov would make this upcoming version of “Crisis.” All signs pointed to the ever-popular actor taking the lead role — which was based on a man, James Carville.

There was no pressing reason to dramatically alter the script, even as it sat unfulfilled while Clooney was busy with other projects. But after Bullock had a look at it, that’s exactly what she had in mind.

“Sandy called and said she wanted to do the role that was originally developed for a man to do,” Clooney told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, according to Variety. “And once we realized that you could change it really easily, it made you realize that there are an awful lot of women’s roles that could be out there if people just started thinking in this way.”

And just like that, the screenplay was rewritten for a trenchcoat-rocking power lady, played by People Magazine’s “most beautiful woman” of 2015.

The ease of making their idea a reality can be attributed to the power held by Clooney and Bullock, two beloved and familiar big-screen actors. But they seemed aware that this single project could make a statement, and they were quick to point this out to the media as soon as reporter started asking Bullock about her hair.

Yes, the first question at the “Crisis” news conference was about the two-tone appearance of the character’s hair.

“It’s called root grow-out,” Bullock responded. “And all the women in this room know what that means.”

Ah, just one more sexist anecdote for her scrapbook. Though Bullock is an established movie frontwoman, she’s far from immune in an industry where a study showed that women made up just 30 percent of speaking and named roles during some of the peak years of their careers.

In a recent interview with E! News about being named “most beautiful,” Bullock said she feels as if it has become “open hunting season” on women.

“And it’s not because of who we are as people, it’s because of how we look or our age. I’m shocked, and maybe I was just naive, but I’m embarrassed by it.”

“Somebody with a very large hand and big voice needs to put a stop to it,” she continued.

With “Crisis,” Clooney became that somebody. Perhaps the treatment of his wife, top human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin), has opened his eyes.

She was recently referred to only as “actor’s wife” in a tweet from the Associated Press. Last year, Barbara Walters named her the “most fascinating person of 2014” because she managed to hitch a man who said he would never marry again. On her way to fight genocide-deniers in the European Court of Human Rights, she was asked what she was wearing.

Clooney and Bullock’s gender-shouldn’t-matter message will carry a little more heft if their film is well received, but the reviews have been mixed. Vanity Fair wrote that Bullock’s performance was befitting someone with an Oscar. Variety editor Ramin Setoodeh said the film was “less ‘Argo,’ more ‘Miss Congeniality 3’ set in Bolivia.” The Boston Globe’s critic called it a “dreadful mess.”

If the last collaboration of Bullock and Clooney, “Gravity,” is any indication, fans will come out in droves to see their favorite actress play a role meant for a man. And in the middle of it, they might see a glimpse of Clooney as a woman, in a scene where the main character flashes her butt out the window.

When a reporter asked Bullock whether it was her real derriere, Clooney jumped in.

“It was my ass,” he said. Bullock went on to explain. George is just less hairy, you see.

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