According to Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for the Bumblebee movie to have a female human lead. Spielberg has been an executive producer on all five live-action Transformers films released to date. However, he has left most of the creative decisions on the franchise in director Michael Bay's hands since the release of the first Transformers in 2007. Many people further credit Spielberg for being a big reason why the original movie remains the best-received entry in the series under Bay's watch.
Of course, Spielberg was no stranger to stories about young humans befriending fantasy creatures before the first Transformers. He had directed the sci-fi classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 25 years earlier and produced films like We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story after. Two years ago, Spielberg returned to that story template with The BFG, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel about the friendship between a young girl and a giant. It turns out he was also the creative who pushed for Bumblebee to change up the Transformers formula and incorporate a young female lead into the mix.
The marketing for last year's Transformers: The Last Knight made it seem like Isabela Moner's character, Izabella, would serve as the film's co-lead. Unfortunately, the movie's trailers wound up being misleading in that sense. That won't be the case with Bumblebee, which features Hailee Steinfeld as a young mechanic who befriends the titular Autobot in the 1980s. As Bonaventura revealed to EW:
“Steven [Spielberg] had always had an idea that a young girl and Bumblebee would be a great combination, so we headed in that direction."
Hollywood blockbusters in general are starting to feature more female leads at long last, as Bonaventura later noted in the same interview:
“It’s nice it’s changing. When we were debating it, the idea of a young girl seemed to us to be a real change in our direction.”
Franchises varying from Star Wars to Mad Max and Ocean's Eleven have begun to include female protagonists in their most recent films. DC's Wonder Woman became the first modern female superhero movie last year and Marvel Studios will follow suit with Captain Marvel next year (after Evangeline Lilly co-headlines next month's Ant-Man and the Wasp). The Transformers movies are finally joining that movement with Bumblebee - though Steinfeld is already an established star, thanks to her work on films like True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen. Bonaventura praised her during his talk with EW, saying:
“I’m just amazed at how talented she is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor never miss a beat for the entire shoot. It was crazy. We ended up ahead of schedule because she was just so on it all the time. We could move quicker.”
Hollywood still has a very long way to go when it comes to onscreen representation for women and especially women of color. Progress is still progress and it comes at a good time for the Transformers movies. The Last Knight performed well below expectations at the box office last year, so the series could use a creative infusion to get it back on track. Based on the reactions to the Bumblebee teaser trailer alone, Steinfeld's film may end up being just what the doctor ordered. That Bumblebee was also written by a woman (see: Christina Hodson) makes that news all the more encouraging.
- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018