GI Jane is a crude, clumsy attempt to show a ‘woman’s perspective’ on being in the military, that ruined Demi Moore’s career as a leading lady. Little known until now is how the Pentagon negotiated with Ridley Scott to rewrite the script, and even though the film didn’t qualify for military support some of the script changes made their way into the finished movie.
I’m sure Scott and the others set out with good intentions – make a movie about a female Navy officer going through SEAL training, and suffering sexism both from her commanders and the female senator who put the project in motion. And GI Jane is not a badly-crafted movie – it looks good, the soundtrack is quite emotive, and I enjoyed the overall tone it created.
However, Demi Moore was a bad choice for the female lead, Jordan O’Neill. She does her best in transforming from an attractive intelligence officer into a salty, badass Navy SEAL but it never feels particularly convincing, especially when she tells her commanding officer ‘suck my dick!’. What is supposed to be a moment showing her integration into the trainee SEAL unit, and how she’s just as tough as the men, comes across to me like every time a woman apes macho behaviour – false and hollow.
Nonetheless I did enjoy how the Texan female senator who initially proposes that O’Neill undergo the training turns out to be a shallow, manipulative bitch who is using O’Neill for tokenistic political purposes. I liked how O’Neill eschews positive discrimination and insists on being judged by the same measures and metrics as the rest of the trainees. And there is some small charm to a woman in uniform.
The Pentagon’s file on GI Jane was held in the Suid archive for years and was recently copied by Roger Stahl as part of his research for our forthcoming documentary Theaters of Command. It includes a very detailed set of script notes issued by the Pentagon when Scott approached them about providing assistance on the movie. The notes include Scott’s handwritten comments next to each note, detailing which aspects he was willing to change and which he refused.
So what were the Pentagon’s objections?
They didn’t have any issue with the basic plot of a woman going through special forces training, but they did have a problem with almost everything else. One problem was that they didn’t want the training identified as being for the Navy SEALs, but wanted Scott to invent some fictional special unit that O’Neill was trying to get into.
A scene where a SEAL urinates in a foxhole in front of O’Neill had the DOD conceding that it addressed ‘issues related to the presence of women in front line combat roles’ but ‘carries no benefit to the US Navy’. They also didn’t like the sequence depicting SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) training, which sees the Master Chief imprisoning, waterboarding and beating up the trainees, including O’Neill.
Scott agreed to almost all the changes requested but even after he submitted a heavily-altered script the DOD still said no. This led to an amusing, but not unprecedented, incident where Demi Moore called up the White House and asked to talk to President Clinton, to try to get the decision overturned. The DOD file on GI Jane includes several press cuttings about this, all of which make sexy jokes. One begins ‘Don’t tell Hillary Clinton but…’ and another finishes by saying Clinton would be upset the call wasn’t put through to him, ‘particularly when he hears that she was in a diving uniform’.
In any case, this failed and the film was made without DOD support. It seems they were happy to help make a film about women in the military, as long as they didn’t include any of the problems faced by women in the military. So no inappropriate behaviour, no sexual harassment, no taking a piss in front of a woman (even one who has been trained to kill and probably isn’t going to be put off by the sight of someone taking a leak) and no women with their heads shaved.
Interestingly, while Scott put some of these scenes and dialogue back in after the DOD’s rejection, some of them do not appear in the film. Even when the DOD rejects a movie’s request for support they can still leverage some changes in the negotiation period that influence the finished product.