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10 Characters Whose Genders Were Swapped in Production



In the movie version of The Lion King, Rafiki (‘friend’ in Swahili) was the weird, wise medicine man baboon character who gave Simba the guidance he needed. A godfather, if you will. But when The Lion King came to Broadway, Rafiki became a female.

Why? Well, before the show’s producer Julie Taymor got to ruining Spider-Man, she came up with a brilliant Broadway version of The Lion King. However, she felt that the story lacked a strong, prominent female character, so she switched Rafiki’s gender to female. (Simba’s mother Sarabi was pretty tough stuff and Nala was hardly submissive, plus the lionesses did all the hunting, but anyway …) So, Rafiki was now a wise, crone-type figure, still providing guidance, still bestowing wisdom, still kind of eccentric, but now taking on a slightly more prominent role onstage. Because now Rafiki sings “The Circle of Life” instead of a pleasant, disembodied voice.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s interesting that some of my all-time favorite female characters were envisioned as male (or in Ripley’s case, unisex). I think it’s because I like to think of myself that way – not bound by gender. They don’t spend their time thinking about their roles – they just do things.

    Love Toph.

  • Krystal

    This was a fun read – thanks, Mary Sue (& Susana Polo). Have I told you how happy I am to finally have a place that satisfies both my feminism and my nerdy fandom? Where have you been my whole life? ^_^

  • Widder Shinns

    Ok, anyone who calls Sokka “quiet” has obviously never seen the series.

  • hbm

    So glad you guys put Toph in there since that’s immediately who I thought of. Actually, I think I read once that Mai and Ty Lee didn’t exist in the original script either which is rather mind-boggling (going from five strong female characters by the end of the show to just two or three and one’s crazy? Yeah, glad that things turned out the way they did).

  • Anonymous

    Disney Nerd Nitpick: It’s Marlin, not Martin.

  • Anonymous

    Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was also given an awesome role on every Star Trek series subsequent to the first one – she was the voice of the ship’s computer. :D

  • JaneR

    I’ve seen Salt, and I loved it. But I went to see the movie mostly because I heard that Tom didn’t want it and Angelina got it instead. It was such a novelty for me, to have a woman replace a man in a role that’s left basically the same… It seemed huge and I had to witness it.

    This is trully a great list. but you might want to fix your links. They are clearly missing http:// and leading to nowhere.

  • Jakeaidan

    I didn’t object to the female starbuck character because of her gender. I objected because of the rewrite of the character. The original Starbuck was a hard drinking, hard smoking, and self destructive character because he was a fighter pilot. He figured that he was going to die in that viper, so no need to lead the clean life. The new Starbuck was tortured by her failure to train her lover as a viper pilot resulting in his death. She drank and destroyed herself as penance and to forget. To equate the two Starbucks seems a bit questionable. Their motivations were different.

  • Shard Aerliss

    “Oh hey, you know what would be controversial and awesome and make EVERYONE talk about our new show? Let’s make Starbuck a woman! Oh, but she can’t be allowed to be all grrr just because she’s ready and willing to look death in the face. No, that’d be too much, that’d be like… a real gender switch! Let’s make her all angsty alcoholic… yeah, that’ll soften the blow a bit.”

    Yes, I am THAT cynical.

  • Shard Aerliss

    So Han would have been running around with two whiny girls in A New Hope? Rule 34 >_>

  • Demosthenes

    Let’s add a few others:

    1. Kona from Hawaii Five-0 (genderbent from Kono in the original Hawaii Five-O)

  • Frank Bromley

    …I’m not sure that bit about Dirk Benedict is true since he actually met with her and officially christened her the new Starbuck by giving her a cigar

  • Shard Aerliss

    The thing I love about Hawaii Five-0 is that the two main Hawaiians are played by a Korean and an American of Korean decent. Still, it keeps Mr Kim on my TV screen.

  • yodalicious
  • demoncat_4

    i knew that originaly luke as suppose to be called star killer but did not know he would also originaly be a woman that that would have made Lei proably be Luke. Dirk actully wound up accepting the new star buck later . and figured tim and Lex got swtiched in jurrassic park due to holly wood having the habbit of being creative when adapting some thing into a movie.

  • Cmjsrevihc

    NBC’s Harry’s Law was written for a male lead, but Kathy Bates got the role and wanted the character to be the same, and even kept the character name.

  • Snowy

    I was hoping Oerba Yun Fang would’ve made an appearance. Supposedly she was intended to be a man at first, then was switched to female and they transferred most of Lightning’s sex appeal over to her so that people would be able to take her seriously as a lead character.

  • Symbiote

    So does being attracted to some of these characters make me gay

  • K

    Not sure the title is “10 characters whose genders were swapped in productions and it turned out to be totally AWESOME!” Personally I would think a female Spock would have rocked so that gender switch was not a plus, but that’s not the point.

  • Lauren Tillman

    I have a girl crush on Fang… now it makes sense! lol :)

  • Amanda Cardon

    Toph wasn’t the only Avatar girl originally meant to be a boy–believe it or not, Azula was supposed to be a boy too!

  • Teresa Rebecca Cunningham

    But he also would have been married… to a Wookie. 

  • Justin Hilyard

    The thing about Number One in Star Trek has always been questionable, actually.  NBC has maintained ever since the 60s that that was adamantly not true, that it was because Majel simply wasn’t a very good actress, and was inappropriate for the role of Number One.  Circumstantial evidence backs up their claim more than Roddenberry’s too: at the time NBC was huge about promoting the gender and racial diversity on their shows whenever possible, and making large pushes to _increase_ the diversity where they could.  Given that, it’s very unlikely that the executives of the NBC of 1964 they would have acted to cut a female character simply because she was female.

    On top of that, Gene Roddenberry was always pretty well known for just making up anecdotes out of whole cloth that made him sound good; about his interactions with the studios, about his interactions with his writers, producers, and cast, even about his personal life and backstory.  And given that Majel was his mistress at the time, it’s not unreasonable to think he’d have invented that story to spare her pride.

  • AnneS

    (dusts off old thread) — one you missed: M from the Bond series. I love that they were willing to change the gender of the character and I love seeing dame Dench in an action film, but as much as changing Salt’s gender for Angelina Jolie resulted in a badass, thinking, female spy, changing M’s gender seems to have resulted in a far more passive, vulnerable M… and sadly in stereotypical ways, not in challenging ones. Maybe that’s why she’s not on the list.

  • electrasteph

     Yes, yes it does.

  • Nat

    The luke originally being a girl gives me a lot of feels and makes me look at Lucas in a new light. I DO NOT KNOW WHY I HAVE THESE FEELS

  • Sarah

    I might have to see Salt now…. and I definitely need to see Alien. 

  • Anonymous

    Alien was good for it’s time, but Aliens was the best, IMO.

    I might go see Salt now as well…

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I never thought of it like that. Thanks for your post Idan!

  • Anonymous

    Azula’s awesomeness would probably prevail no matter what her gender!

  • Anonymous

    Nah, it’s pretty normal. Few people actually totally and completely fit into the big Gender Binary (just check the Kinsey scale), leaving most to fill out a full spectrum of homo/hetero characteristics in between.

    As for me, I’d go Les for Azula any day of the week!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly my first thought!!!

  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late to the party, but another name to add to the list – I attended a Trek convention where Majel Barrett Roddenberry was discussing the upcoming Next Generation show that was in early pre-production, and she passed out (okay, sold) copies of the character descriptions – including Captain Jean-Paul Picard, and the ship’s Doctor, Beverly Crusher and her daughter, Leslie Crusher.

    Not sure when the young Crusher changed genders, but it would have been an interesting shift.

  • Feaky Snucker

    Gender =/= sex. The words are not interchangeable. Sex = genitalia. Gender = masculine/ feminine. 

  • Paige Halsey Warren

    I think it’s also mentioned on the A:tLA bonus features that Toph’s new female design was cinched because they were so wowed by Jessie Flower’s work as Meng in the episode “The Fortuneteller” that she was a shoe-in for the voice of Toph.

  • G-Max

    Ripley is not a gender-swap because she always could have been either one.

    Spock is also not an example. Spock had always been male. Being promoted to First Officer doesn’t count as a gender swap.

    Park only halfway counts, as two characters were completely
    disintegrated and their component names, sexes, ages, and personalities
    were reconstituted into two effectively new characters.

    Author admits that X-Men didn’t count.

    Fail list is fail.

  • Mark Matson

    But those kinds of additional motivations and inner depth were added to every character, not just Starbuck. The original Adama was never wrong — the only one to see the Cylon attack coming, for example. The original, as much fun as it was at the time, was mostly made up of cardboard characters.

  • Anonymous

    Only seen about half those shows. Was most disappointed with Starbuck
    who started off as a strong female, and eventually devolved into
    stereotypical femaleness :(

  • Asha Stasia

    With Starbuck, it only made sense to make some of the cast women. If you have watched the original series, it is pretty much a sausage fest, other than Lieutenant Athena.
    It is supposed to be the future. There should be a reasonable share of women soldiers.

  • Ide Cyan

    Riddick from Pitch Black was originally supposed to be a woman, too.

  • Emily Elizabeth Fern

    Haha! I thought the same thing!

  • Anonymous

    Nope, there was no Leia role at that point. Solo and Starkiller were the male and female leads.

  • Isaiah Gilliland

    Sorry if this is being a bit too caring about details. But that was a Unix system. fsn was just a 3d file navigator that ran on Unix.

  • Dal.

    I think that Alien is better.. in Aliens there are some plot holes, it’s a good movie but in my opinion not the best of the series.. well who cares, they are beautiful movies no matter what’s the best

  • Dal.

    I’d never seen the original BSG series and I don’t know how it’s the first Starbuck but the femStarbuck’s such a great character. I don’t care if Dirk is unhappy.

  • M J D

    Yep, she’s been part of more Star Trek episodes than anyone else. And we can’t forget her “bit part” as Lwaxana Troi. :D

  • M J D

    ALL of the characters in the newer BSG were rewritten to make them less 2-dimensional, less simple. Nobody on the entire series was 100% bad OR 100% good (although some were closer to each end of the spectrum), and EVERYONE had issues. Issues on top of issues and then some more issues to go with that. It was very realistic in terms of character creation, and that’s what I liked best about the show. So the fact that new!Starbuck had some deeper scars? Good character development. The baggage they loaded on her would torment any military officer, and it worked.

  • you guys

    For those with any interest in the original female “Starkiller” protaganist of Star Wars, here’s an actual action figure produced of her based on Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art:

    And concept art of her dueling Vader can be seen in this slideshow:

  • Geekfurious Tweets

    Your analysis of the character is way off. Starbuck wasn’t tortured because she felt responsible for her lover’s death. She was tortured because she was tortured AND THAT LED TO HER LOVER’S DEATH.

  • Troy Vaughn

    Everyone seems to forget that Boomer was also originally a guy. The character went from a black guy to an asian chick. Although considering there were about a handful of female characters in the original series if they used the same characters as the original they would have been criticized for being sexist instead so either way they were gonna get complaints.

  • Scott Kester

    Spock’s gender was NOT changed. They simply changed his place in the ship’s line of command and eliminated the character of Number One. I don’t believe this listing should be on here.

  • Timothy A. Kramar

    I’m with Dirk Benedict on the Starbuck thing. In fact, I never even bothered to watch the remake for that very reason.

  • Bridget

    “bit part” indeed; Lwaxana would probably claim she was the star of the show xD

  • Sandra Snan

    fsn was popular on irix and irix is unix, so…

  • Brannon Sherry

    I’m so glad that they made Toph the way they made her. It was exactly that kind of writing that made me love Avatar. It’s all of those “wait, that’s not how they usually – ohhh, awesome!” Character moments in the series that made it even better than it would have been otherwise.

    Toph was my favorite character from the first episode I saw her in, and I loved watching her through the rest of the series. If they’d made her the way they were thinking of making her, it would have bored the crap out of me.

  • Anonymous

    “Angelina Jolie did not want to be a Bond girl — she wanted to be Bond.”
    I can totally relate.

  • mat catastrophe

    The first two entries in this list utterly fail to fulfill the title of the list. Why should I bother with reading any more?

  • Andrew

    I’m not sure why you’ve thought that M became more passive and vulnerable. I always considered the modern M as a prime example of a powerful active woman in her role as the leader of MI6. Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched all of the earlier Bond films, but I always thought that M was a forgettable assignment-giver rather than an important character.

    While not exactly field ready (as I expect few CIA/MI6 leaders to be), I’m just not seeing it. Can you help me understand your view?

  • (author) Paul West

    Thank you!

  • (author) Paul West

    I think it’s a bit of both. She was obviously a fraked up character as of being responsible for Lee’s brother’s death; I think that how she handled that situation, both before and after, was a symptom of her general difficulty dealing with things. I agree that part of her nihilistic/meathead personality was related to the ‘I could die at any moment’ aspect of being a fighter pilot–but it was also related to the childhood we saw in those flashbacks, of her mom trying to toughen her up. Related to the above comment, that ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are far too often conflated: Starbuck was an abusive, macho alcoholic, and the fact that they left those aspects intact certainly contributes to the idea that neither gender corners the market on those or any other attributes. Also interesting is Lee, whose pining after a lover who verbally belittles him, cheats on him with impunity, and constantly impugns his authority, is more stereotypically how female characters have been portrayed. Before this turns into a full-blown essay, I’ll say that I agree with the poster who noted that BSG’s characters are generally more nuanced, and counter to stereotype, than those of the original; this, among many things, is why I love the show so much.

    One more thing: it’s worth contemplating that a battle(ship)star is generally a ‘masculine’ environment, where ‘masculine’ traits are both favored and considered required for survival (please note my above comment that ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are NOT the same, which is why I put these terms in quotation marks). As such, the setting kind of facilitates departure from ‘old’ gender stereotypes..though again, the show is much more nuanced than the setting implies, and its treatment of society at a multitude of levels is one of the things that I love about it so much.
    I could go on all day, so I’ll stop here. I certainly don’t agree with everything on Mary Sue, but I sure am glad I found it, and I sure am glad for the proliferation of open female geekery (I tend to contend that the phenomenon is not nearly as new as its publicity, but this is another long tangent)…

    p.s. Star Wars is a damn spaghetti western in space, and the gender of its characters concerns me far less than the fact that the whole damn Star Wars phenomenon is overrated, simplistic nonsense. Well crafted, yes, but I think it set back the perception of science fiction by twenty years.

    This is officially a rant. Sorry :)

  • (author) Paul West

    p.p.s. Ripley in the Alien franchise is pretty frakin’ dope…and legitimately groundbreaking…

  • Anonymous

    Making Toph a girl was the best decision any writer ever made.

  • ZeonChar

    I thought the same thing!

  • Nick Rowland

    I’m kind of surprised that Fate/Stay Night didn’t end up on the list.

  • Guest

    Also, Wesley Crusher was originally going to be a girl called Lesley.

  • Kalli Procopio

    Actually this looks exactly like unix. During production of the movie, Spielberg made a visit to Silicon Graphics, the company that manufactured the computers that were used for the CGI in the movie. While there he saw a demo of a prototype GUI interface for the unix OS. He put it in the movie. For a time, that GUI was actually available on some versions of SGI Irix operating system. On the hardware of the time, it was slow, cumbersome and pretty much unusuable. But was a neat concept.

  • DeafPants

    Ahem.. Jean-Luc :-)

  • DeafPants

    Toph is the reason why I started watching Avatar!!

  • DeafPants

    @Feaky Snucker I’m all for educating, but the words ARE interchangeable. What you are talking about is the newer PC version. Can you imagine reading an article title that talks about movie roles being switched based on genitalia?

  • Neville Ross

    She’s called Kono, not Kona.

  • Powers

    Wesley Crusher

  • Clare Wilson

    I have found one of the more profound gender swaps to be in Camelot 3000, in which Sir Tristan is reincarnated as a woman, but that doesn’t stop the love story with Isolde.

  • Anonymous

    Prescriptively speaking, gender applies only to nouns, whereas sex applies to people. Descriptively speaking, no one makes the distinction between “gender” and “sex’ any more. Your usage may be au current in some circles, but hasn’t yet gained wide acceptance.

  • Anonymous

    I still will not watch the newer Battlestar Galactica for two reason. One, no one wears ties and suits on an interstellar spacecraft, and Two, Starbuck is a man. You can’t change some things.

  • Anonymous

    There was. They were all killed.

  • Anonymous

    Read the books. M is Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy. Not that wimpy lady they put in his place.

  • Anonymous

    SALT had to be gender swapped or it would have been another Jason Bourne movie.

  • Leonard Andrew Spencer

    Yes, but when you compare him to a guy who sees things by screaming at them…

  • Stephen MacDougall

    Grace Park should have been mentioned, as she has played 2 roles that were males in previous versions. She played Boomer on Galactica, and Kono on Hawaii Five-O. She has flipped the gender beautifully and engagingly both times.

  • Courtney Anne Meeker

    ….Professor “Javier”? …..I dunno if anyone else noticed this…but…it’s supposed to be Xavier…

  • Anonymous

    In “1602″ the character’s name is Charles Javier.

  • Aaron Potter

    IMHO, they’re really different movies. Alien is more suspense, Aliens is more of a horror movie.

  • James Alexander

    The female M was a far more complex character than the guy that just told Bond where to go at the start of each movie.

  • James Alexander

    The idea of a male Azula and Toph feels even more wrong to me than a male Starbuck at this point.

  • Anonymous

    Fun fact: The boy earthbending during the “Water, Earth, Fire, Air” part in the show’s intro is Toph’s original design.

  • Anonymous

    Allen Dean Foster wrote the “novelization” of the film script. You’ve put the cart before the horse.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, and then he turned around and talked serious shit about her, the character, and the show in an essay/rant called “Starbuck: Lost in Castration.”

  • Anonymous

    That Salt was originally a male role was obvious to me on first viewing – to be precise, the moment her husband gets kidnapped and treated to a gratuitous and pointless death, in which the depth of her conviction is supposedly shown by her badass doing nothing to save him even though she’s clearly able to and gains no advantage whatsoever from her failure.

    Sadly, that made it immediately obvious that the husband role was originally a woman. Because when a spouse is sacrificed for no good reason whatsoever just to add a bonus revenge motive, you can _bet_ it’s the female spouse who dies. Thanks, Hollywood.

  • Jeff Baker

    Gong back a ways Dark Shadows’ Dr. Julia Hoffman was intended to be Jules, but a slip of the typing finger effected the sex-change. Good news for actress Grayson Hall who played the repressed love for the vampiric Barnabas and made the show a sensation. (Jules Hoffman was scheduled to be killed off and so, originally, was Barnabas!). And the comic strip Little Orphan Annie was intended to feature a boy but the creator had a change of heart and re-named “him” after the James Whitcom Reilly poem.

  • Oldhairold

    If they could only have their stories on one page, I would read them.

  • Emma Taylor-Brill

    Wow, Spock was going to be a girl? Mind – blown

  • Anonymous

    }}} And then, in the second movie, she dusted off her inherent maternal instincts while simultaneously walking into the war that was the showdown with the Alien. Would a man have done the same? Sure. But is there something different about how a man views a child and how a woman does? It certainly seems to when we watch Ripley.

    This is a critical part of the movie, though — Ripley has been adrift in space for over 50 YEARS. She’s got nothing, no one — all of her friends, all of her family, GONE. The only thing that remains are the grandchildren of relatives, who were born after she spaced, and to whom she’s a mere echo of a past life.

    So she’s alone as very few humans have ever been. And that’s why she decides to go on the trip, to get back at the things that robbed her of her life.

    And then she meets Newt, and bonds with her, which gives her a new focus around which to build a life.

    And that, BTW, is why A3 sucked, it starts out immediately with Newt dead, and Ripley back on her own. So everything she did in A2 was pretty much for naught. As with T3, the idiots in Hollywood really did not grasp ANYTHING that Cameron was saying and doing with his film.

  • Anonymous

    Not exactly. The Spock character was already in the first pilot, but in a lesser role, of “Science officer”. The “Number One” character — the XO — was to be female (played by Majel Barret, aka “Nurse Chapel”, who later married Roddenberry and voiced the computers in all subsequent shows, as well as Deanna Troi’s mother in both STNG and DS9). So no, Spock was not to be female, the ROLE was to be a female.

  • Anonymous

    }}} that no woman who leads such a risky lifestyle would become a mother. Really? I think that’s open to debate.

    Until she’s retired, one would hope not. I don’t like the idea of a child without a father, but a child without a mother is not a good thing. And I’m very much a supporter of paternal rights.

    Plus she, and the child, would be at risk for about a year during the pregnancy and right afterwards, so she’s GOT to stop living a dangerous lifestyle, AND that puts her off for a year or more of the kind of strict physical regimen that would also be expected of ANY Bond type actor (as in spy, not the person playing one). So another year or so getting back up to full speed.

    THEN she has missions where she has to be away for a long time, and, during infancy, this is kind of relevant to the child’s development. Yes, you can hire nannies, but there’s a reason that rich parents who abandon their kids to nanny-rearing are sneered at. The same SHOULD be true of a female spy who went off gallivanting around to do Great Deeds.

    Sorry, feminists, despite what they say, you CANNOT have EVERYTHING.
    You have to make trade-offs in life. Men do it all the time.

  • Anonymous

    what Cheryl answered I’m stunned that any
    body able to get paid $6440 in one month on the internet. why not try these out

  • Amy Morse

    Katee Sackhoff was AMAZING in Gallactica – without her, it just wouldn’t have been as good

  • E.a. Solinas

    My first thought. Seriously, Sokka QUIET? The guy who got high on cactus juice and snake-crawled around the desert? The guy who shouts in theatres?

  • E.a. Solinas

    So ALL the female soldiers were killed, leaving only the manly men? Well, that has some unfortunate implications.

  • E.a. Solinas

    I think the name was originally different.

  • E.a. Solinas

    Well put. He was originally on the same ship as Number One.

  • E.a. Solinas

    Wow, a Vin Diesel character as a woman… that brings to mind some odd images.

  • Anonymous

    I just read that short Dirk Benedict piece and I’ve come to the conclusion that the guy is just an asshole, probably pissed that he is no longer relevant, and that the character of Starbuck now belongs to Katee Sackhoff.

    Also Toph is perfect as is. The thought of a genderswapped Toph is … offensive.

  • Steve Bshaw

    Chicks trying to portray Starbuck, Luke Skywalker, a James Bond clone, and logical military commanders. That’s just funny. Oh wait, it’s fiction.

  • Anonymous

    The sci-fi universe would be lessened without everyone’s favorite Romulan: Starbuck.

  • Ivan

    So say we all.

  • Ivan

    What’s wrong with “stereotypical femaleness”? You have an issue with femininity?

  • Anonymous

    People always forget about Boomer. In the original Galactica, he was a large black man. In the remake, he became a small asian female. Not as successful a transition as Starbuck, simply because Grace Park is an awful actress.

  • LW

    fsn. Part of IRIX. Which is UNIX.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    Right. So Spock became a synthesis of the two characters. In fact, Number 1′s personality was so much of what Spock became known for, I think that’s close enough to make the list.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    There were parts from the original that were re-cast but followed basically the same template (the adventurous young captain, the crusty doctor/confidant). Even the younger female officer was essentially re-cast as Yeoman Rand. But the idea of a senior female officer was dropped altogether, so I don’t think it was just a casting issue. Nurses, secretaries, switchboard operators, and social scientist guests of the week from then on.

    It’s not likely that NBC executives are any more trustworthy than Roddenberry on this point; there’s plenty of embarrassment to go around.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    In Skyfall, compare the way future M Ralph Fiennes is portrayed compared to Judi Dench’s M cowering under a desk. Yes, I know age is a factor, but I do not agree that it’s the only factor.

    From then on, M is carted around by 007, including his stupid plan of retreat to Skyfall that gets M killed. Thus, female M gets to join the ranks of female allies that Bond has lead to their deaths.

  • Backslap_Bob

    “Gender roles aren’t so rigidly defined as they once were, and thank goodness for that.”

    Evil statement above.

  • Minyassa

    Still won’t ever forgive them for making Starbuck–my very first pre-adolescent geek crush–a woman. I refused to watch the entire series because of that, and I don’t regret that decision. Apparently Hollywood thinks that male geeks are only in it for the boobs, and female geeks will stomp their little feet and sulk off to go polish their nails without enough girls in the cast.