Just as we’ll remember 2013 as the year Margot Robbie made her break-out as an actor in The Wolf of Wall Street, I have a good feeling we’ll look back on 2020 as the year Robbie broke big as a producer thanks to Birds of Prey. Robbie has a decade and some change under her belt as an actor, but has already re-shaped the narrative around how we perceive her as a star, moving from potential pigeonholing as just a pretty face to powerful creative voice behind the camera (via her LuckyChap Entertainment banner) as well as in front of it.
Since LuckyChap’s creation in 2014, Robbie’s work as producer (plus what she has lined up in the near future) represents what the next wave of female producers can accomplish through their influence behind the scenes. Robbie is making impactful strides on properties and genres which either are in desperate need of a non-male voice or have the potential to reach — and positively challenge — a younger demographic. In just a few short years, Robbie has established her voice as a producer with projects past, present, and future which indicate the stories she wants to help get told are specifically female and which demand to be seen.
Robbie’s number of credits thus far may be limited, but it’s the quality of her choices — especially as a producer — which suggest she is set on changing how women are depicted on screen, be it the stories they appear in, the relationships they have, or the way they are characterized. 2017’s I, Tonya, 2018’s Terminal, and 2019’s Dreamland and Hulu original series Dollface make up the first batch of Robbie’s credits as a producer which help illustrate where her sights are set as a creative influence. I, Tonya is a notable standout because it’s not only her first producing credit, it’s the movie which helped her lock in her first Oscar nomination. While Terminal and Dreamland will likely be remembered as second-tier features, they’re both rooted in specific genres (sci-fi film noir and historical drama, respectively) which Robbie frequently works in and which establish her comfort with working across a variety of styles. Hulu’s Dollface, which sees Kat Dennings as a newly single L.A. resident attempting to re-establish her sense of self and re-strengthen her female friendships, is Robbie’s first credits as a TV producer of any kind and, with I, Tonya, falls into a category of projects where Robbie is clearly valuing the female voice and perspective on every aspect of life and is working to help make those voices and perspectives seen and heard.
As Robbie’s “early” work as a producer sees her laying the foundation for her interests as a producer, focusing squarely on female-led and female-focused projects in a variety of genres, we arrive at Birds of Prey. Robbie has been an integral force in getting Birds of Prey made since she pitched it back in 2015 as a Harley Quinn spinoff ahead of the release of Suicide Squad, which served as the character’s introduction into the DCEU. Amidst the Birds of Prey development stage, Collider’s own Haleigh Foutch sat down with Robbie to talk about the project in May 2018. At the time, the actress revealed her thought process in pitching the movie, sharing in part, “I wasn’t seeing enough girl gangs on screen, especially in the action space. So that was always a big part of it.”
Robbie also shared with Collider just how important it was to secure a female director for the project. Cathy Yan was already pegged as the likely director by the time Robbie spoke to us, and the Birds of Prey powerhouse explained why Yan as the right choice: “Giving a female director the chance to do big budget stuff. They always get ‘Here’s the tiny little film’[…] I was like, ‘I love action. I love action films. I’m a girl. What, are we meant to only like a specific thing?’ So it was a hugely important to find a female director for this, if possible.”
Speaking with Rotten Tomatoes during the Birds of Prey press junket ahead of the film’s February 2020 release, Robbie again revealed her motivations as a producer to get the movie made.
“I really had a personal craving to work with more actresses. I really wanted to see a girl gang reflected on screen since I feel like I’ve always been a part of a girl gang, since I was four years old with my school friends, my American friends, my London friends. We always roll in a gang and I just never see that onscreen. I felt like there was a gap in the market. From a business point of view, I thought it would be a smart endeavor and from a personal point of view, I just wanted that. Harley is a girl’s girl and she’s definitely a people person. Watching Harley on her own would be like watching a kid play on a playground on their own; it’s just not as fun without other people populating it. So, I wanted that and I thought it’d be great for the character and I thought the industry needed a girl gang action film.”
The fruits of Robbie’s influence as a producer are very much felt in Birds of Prey. With Yan at the helm and a genuinely kick-ass team of female actors assembled to portray the titular girl gang — Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, and Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain — Birds of Prey is a breath of fresh air in a male-dominated field. The first reviews honed in on what makes this DCEU flick so unique: the attention to detail when it comes to the fighting styles of each female character (hair ties included!), Harley’s emancipation from her toxic, shitty ex-boyfriend and her attraction to a group of like-minded women who she can genuinely see as friends, the nuanced way in which the movie depicts traditional masculinity and femininity while toying with our conceptions of strength and weakness — especially when it comes to comic book heroes and villains. Birds of Prey is unapologetically feminist, devoid of a lecherous or problematic male gaze so frequently utilized in movies of its ilk, and acts as a shot of life so necessary to the DCEU. It’s the genre-specific entry which expands the extended universe it lives in and makes said extended universe even more progressive. It’s essential to mention Robbie’s influence as a producer isn’t the only reason Birds of Prey absolutely fucking rips (in my opinion), but it’s hard to deny her passion for the project didn’t play a significant role.
Through every role she takes or project she signs on to produce, Robbie remains fascinating to watch. She is actively and explicitly eschewing predictability as a performer and producer, which makes her arguably one of the most exciting figures working in Hollywood today. Even though she follows in the footsteps of many an actor who has started a production company as a means of expanding her brand, she is quickly positioning herself as an influential force to be reckoned with and a necessary creative voice at this point in time and in genre-specific filmmaking. Robbie has an equally intriguing range of producing credits lined up: Promising Young Woman, Tank Girl, Barbie. All projects which will tackle female voices and perspectives so valued to Robbie but which we can only hope are just as paradigm-shifting as Birds of Prey. If Robbie can change the narrative around her star persona in just a few years, who’s to say she can’t change the narrative around how we watch women onscreen from here on out?
Birds of Prey is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital.