Within the past decade, Hollywood has been whizzing on the viewing public with a steady, pungent, yellow stream of lukewarm remakes. Often dubbed “reboots” or “re-imaginings,” the writers, producers, and whomever greenlights this hot garbage continue to underwhelm with their ability to take something that wasn’t broke and attempt to “fix” it by passing off someone else’s once-imaginative work as their own hackneyed reinterpretation.
The latest trend-within-a-trend is gender-swapping the leads in these remakes. This twist doesn’t make these rehashes any better or more creative in their execution. And when these films inevitably bomb at the box office, it’s not sexism or misogyny that’s to blame. It’s just the movie-going public issuing a very loud fart in the general direction of Hollywood giving them the same-old-same-old, just shoved into a dress.
Why The All-Female Ghostbusters Was a Bust
A recent article opined that the all-female version of Ghostbusters isn’t getting a sequel due to sexism, chalking up its potential $70 million loss to a sexist audience that had already decided that a gender-flipped version of the classic would suck. Having seen the film myself and possessed of two x-chromosomes and a vagina, I will argue that Ghostbusters was panned by a viewing public who recognized that not even four of Hollywood’s funniest comic actresses could rescue the reboot from bad writing and a weak plot.
Despite having a talented cast, these four ladies didn’t have much to work with. Their characters were not well-defined. Rather, the film relied upon negative gender and racial stereotypes to provide what passed as “humor.” The Ghostbusters remake was vaunted as some paragon of girl power, but the film was hardly empowering to women. The characters were written with little to distinguish their personalities from one another. You could tell each character apart based on the physical attributes of the actresses who played them, but you’d be hard pressed to describe each of them as people.
The original Ghostbusters relied upon broad archetypes to define the iconic characters: book-smart, yet socially awkward Egon Spengler; sarcastic douchebag Peter Venkman; naive intellectual Ray Stantz; and Winston Zeddemore, the skeptical everyman who doubts the paranormal until he sees it for himself.
These characters started out as broad archetypes, but sharp writing and acting made them come to life as something more than 2D characters. This isn’t something unique to male characters. Female-centric shows like The Golden Girls, Designing Women, and Sex and the City used similar archetypes as a basis for their main protagonists, but thoughtful writers gave them layers to create characters that audiences could relate to.
Sexist and Racial Stereotypes in the Ghostbusters Reboot
The rallying cry around the 2016 Ghostbusters remake was “dicks out for gender equality!” And while Hollywood does have a shortage of films with roles of substance for women, Ghostbusters did not fit that bill. If we’re going to start kvetching about gender equality, turning the tables and objectifying men isn’t going to eradicate misogyny.
In addition to the film’s main characters being portrayed as scatterbrained “girl scientists,” they flipped the script and had the Ghostbusters team take on a dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers male secretary, played by Chris Hemsworth. The stereotypical himbo couldn’t even answer phones, yet they kept him around as office eye-candy and because Kristin Wiig’s character had a crush on him.
If you reversed the roles and had a male character hiring an inept female secretary — on film or in real life — it would constitute as grounds for sexual harassment. So before we get our dicks out for gender equality, let’s acknowledge that “reverse sexism” (which is as stupid a phrase as “reverse racism”) is still sexism. Inappropriate behavior, such as objectifying someone based on their looks, is still inappropriate whether you have a schlong or a snapper. The same way that racism is racism whether you’re oppressing black people, white people, Asians, or Hispanics.
Which brings us to the way Leslie Jones’ character was written in the Ghostbusters remake. Leslie Jones — one of the hands-down funniest comedians out there today — got short-changed with a character who was written as broad racial stereotype. Contrast this with the original Ghostbusters‘ film, which had Winston Zeddemore, a character who happened to be portrayed by an actor who is black.
Played by Ernie Hudson, Winston’s character was not defined as “the black guy” on the Ghostbusters team. Rather, he was the guy who was able to take obtuse paranormal and scientific concepts and explain them in laymen’s terms to the everyday people of New York City that the Ghostbusters encountered. Winston was the buffer between scientists who may not have been able to relate to people without Ph.Ds in science and the paranormal.
On one hand, Jones’ character has similarities to Winston in that, as an MTA worker, she sees people at their best and their worst on public transportation. (As a faithful SEPTA rider, I know the feeling.) Whereas the rest of the new Ghostbusters squad were painfully out-of-touch with everyday New Yorkers and shrouded in the cocoon of academia, Jones’ character was there to help them relate to average joes and navigate the city itself. However, that’s where the character similarities stopped and the bad writing began.
The Real Issue
While a Ghostbusters sequel may or may not happen, Hollywood still has several gender-swapped remakes of classic films in the works. The upcoming remake-of-a-remake, Oceans 8, features an all-female cast includes Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, and Cate Blanchette as a gang of theives.
Rebel Wilson will star in a gender-swapped version of the Steve Martin / Michael Caine comedy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The actress has a co-producer credit alongside Roger Birnbaum, who has had his hand in several other Hollywood remakes, including RoboCop and Footloose.
Even ’80s movies with a female main character are receiving the gender-swap treatment, too. Channing Tatum is slated to star in a remake of Splash as a merman, taking over for Daryl Hannah’s iconic mermaid character.
Whether or not these retreads will be any good is up for debate until they hit theatres. But if they’re crap, then let’s just call them out for what they are. It’s not sexist to dislike a film because it can’t stand on its own merit.
And while we’re at it, let’s stop taking ourselves so damn seriously that we can’t laugh at our differences and use them to understand each other.
Every day, we are being divided further and further along the lines of gender and race. And an overly-PC culture is as guilty as breeding that division as the racist and sexist trolls, bullies, and douchebags who are becoming increasingly more vocal. Both sides are blind to their own double standards, failing to realize that if you swing a pendulum with significant force in one direction, it will swing back equally as hard in the opposite direction. That sentiment is as applicable to physics as it is people.
I realize that maybe it’s a little naive for us to stop defining each other by gender, race, religion, or any other denominator. In a perfect world, we would only have two classifications: “Is this person cool?” or “Is this person an asshole?” We might not be able to see an end overnight to discrimination against people based on neat little boxes we like to shove them into. But we can start having open, honest dialogues based on why we like or dislike something.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all consumers of pop culture and the media. And we are all manipulated by it in some way. There’s something to be said for establishing your own criteria, based on your own personal life experiences — whether you’re male or female, black or white. It’s important to be able to 1.) formulate your own opinion independent of someone trying to shame you into liking something or telling you whether it’s good or bad and 2.) articulate that opinion to others to better understand how they felt about a work of film, literature, or music.
Regardless of which gender is taking the lead in a remake or not, one thing that we can agree on is that there is a severe lack of original concepts that are making it to the big screen and that lack of imagination and ability to tell new stories is screwing us all as film-goers.