An Actress's Thoughts

New Campaign: #swaptheadjectives

Swap the Adjectives! A Test

A few days ago I rece ived a programme note from Real Film Berlin / Studio Hamburg, it was about the start of broadcasting a six-part “thriller series” on Netflix. This is called SLEEPING DOGS and is based on the Israeli series IKARON HAHACHLAFA עקרון ההחלפה by Noah Stollmann and Ori Weisbrod (2016), which can be roughly translated as “exchange principle”. The German scripts are by Christoph Darnstädt.

Now I didn’t think “Yay! Finally a new crime series!” or “Supes! Finally a remake of a successful Israeli series” (like for example HATUFIM חטופים / “The Abducted” and BETIPUL בטיפול / “In Treatment”, although I generally prefer the original versions, but that’s another topic).

No, I was struck by the brief sketching of the main characters, which does seem a bit annoying. It only became interesting once I swapped the descriptive adjectives of the female and male roles, and that’s what today’s proposal for a new campaign is about.


  • Are you a writer and developing a new material? Take a look at the short descriptions of your female and male leads and swap their adjectives.
    Admittedly, this is sometimes not so easy to do when there are more male than female characters. But it doesn’t have to stay that way – my method NEROPA, for example, can help.
  • You are an actor and have been offered a leading role? Take a look at the short descriptions of the female and male leads and exchange the adjectives.

  • You hold a position of responsibility in a film funding agency, at a broadcaster, in an editorial department / commissioning editor or the pre-jury of a festival , a production company or whathave, and you get an application or a pitch for a project on your desk? Then look at the short description, the synopsis, the synopsis or the description of the main roles, swap the adjectives of the female and male leading characters  and read the description again.

With #swaptheadjectives you can detect pale characters, gender stereotypes and discrimination more easily. With a little attention, they can be discovered as they are, #wwaptheadjectives just makes them more visible to the casual reader. And it is a small test, even less complicated than the Bechdel-Wallace test. I call it the ADJECTEST:


And this is how the characters are introduced in the aforementioned example, German tv series  SLEEPING DOGS  after #swaptheadjectives:

In addition to Luise von Finckh as a crashed top lawyer and Max Riemelt as young policeman Atlas, Peri Baumeister as his inscrutable partner Lenni and Carlo Ljubek as the compassionate fellow officer Luka Zaric are at the centre of the gripping crime series.

I just noticed that the lawyer has no name, the policeman and the partner at least have first names and the colleague even a first and last name. But that’s just by the way.

I could imagine that an actor offered a leading role as “you play a young policeman” would find that a bit poor. On the other hand, “crashed” and formerly very successful (= “top-“) directly stimulates the imagination. Even “inscrutable” doesn’t sound half bad and leaves room for creative acting.

In the case of the female leads, “young” or “compassionate” are unlikely to cause a flurry of joy. Still, they are leading parts! (Hopefully the leading ladies get paid en par with the leading men, but that’s another topic). And maybe the screenplay is more convincing and the female characters were written in a superb and multi-layered way. Only, why isn’t that conveyed via a telling adjective? We have more than 7,000 of them in the German language, so there must be more than “young” and “compassionate” available for female characters. Besides, young, is that a plot device or a trait, how am I supposed to play that?

I just thought of two or three other popular female adjectives. First and foremost, physical descriptions like “petite”, “slim” or “beuatiful”. As you can guess, #swaptheadjectives is not just something for the film industry, but also for publishers, literary houses, concert promoters, guest lists of  radio stations and talk shows, panels, newspaper interviews, PR agencies and many others.

Other Uses for the Adjectest

If you like, you can also swap the adjectives of other ‘pairs’. For example, what about young and old, rich and poor, with or without disabilities? Who is more likely to be described in regards to looks or via steretypes?

Have you ever heard “Tonight’s guests are a controversial wheelchair user and a brave author“?

SchspIN – Campaigns

Elsewhere in this blog (More Murders: German Top Cop Drama TATORT 2021), I had already listed the ‘initial deaths’ in TATORTs of the year 2021 and pointed out that the murdered women were disproportionately often young, dead and nameless, while the murdered men had lived longer, more often had a name and not infrequently had a profession and even character traits. That will soon be two and a half years ago, The February 2020 campaign was called #morethanCorpses, and it is still not obsolete. (Crime Fiction – Actresses can do more than play Victims).

By the way, an even older proposed campaign of mine was already about stereotypes: #OpenEyesStereotypes! from February 2017.

And now #swaptheadjectives. I’m happy if you join in and also start swapping adjectives. You are also welcome to send me your observations!

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