Last week’s announcement that the long-hyped Ghostbusters 3 would be re-cast with a full line-up of “hilarious women” elicited quite a bit of internet commentary . . . with the general consensus being that, if one had any objections to the news, one must be de facto a raging misogynist.
Since this raging feminist’s humble opinion is that the re-cast sounds like a disaster-in-the-making, I thought “Half-Way” should provide this post to all you dear readers — as a cogently-reasoned alternative to not-so-sage commentary the likes of this:
And, with that grammatically-problematic rant, let us begin.
For now, let’s leave aside the completely legitimate, (but mostly already covered) argument that is that, even if Hollywood is running out of new ideas (which it certainly seems that they are) there is no excuse for making a business strategy out of capitalizing on previous box-office successes. If we’re down the rabbit hole on remakes (which it certainly seems that we are), let’s begin to discuss the difference between what makes for a “good” remake and what makes for a “bad” one.
Red Flag #1: None of the original creative team is attached.
Dan Aykroyd had been “writing (and rewriting) the third script for three years” but has stepped down in favor of The Heat writer Katie Dippold, and director of the first two Ghostbusters films Ivan Reitman “removed himself from the director’s chair (of Ghostbusters 3) earlier this year.”
When the creators of your source material have either (a), been let go from the project forcibly or (b), so uninterested in your ‘homage’ that they can’t be bothered, something wicked this way comes.
Red Flag #2: You’re ‘dream-casting’ actresses before you’ve actually written their parts.
In her article, “‘Ghostbusters’ and the Slow Emancipation of Female-Driven Comedy,” Teo Bugbee calls out “Hollywood’s pathological fear of being political” as possible explanation for their glacial pace providing vehicles for non-white, non-male protagonists. However, in the case of Ghostbusters 3, I would argue that this is exactly what’s at work: politics. Specifically, identity politics.
‘Identity politics’ is a socio-political term that has been in use since the 1970s to signify the creation of sub-groups around aspects of identity (e.g. — sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation, etc.) with the understanding that these identities inform one’s needs and preferences when it comes to advocating for political change.
Clearly, since I identify (loudly and proudly!) as a feminist, I believe that the consciousness raising afforded to us by identity politics has a vital role to play in both our practical activism and our emotional sense of self.
But I likewise recognize the ability of movements such as these to be counter-productive. Feminism, as an ‘identity’ political movement, has historically come under fire for its essentialist exclusion of WOC, trans-gendered persons, and queer individuals.
So, though the use of identity politics is certainly not always problematic, the essentialism that is belied both by this practice of ‘dream-casting’ and Feig’s announcement itself (both of which assume characteristics of “female” comedy vs. “male” comedy) don’t give me confidence that this writer (especially a male writer) can navigate the nuances.
Red Flag #3: You can’t grasp why other female-centric comedies have been successful.
Let’s take an excerpt from Bugbee’s article again:
Hollywood’s path has not been without successes—1939’s all-lady divorce comedy The Women, the if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it gold-digger masterpiece Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the working woman’s well-earned paean to misandry 9 to 5, and of course 2011’s ode to diarrhea and depression, Paul Feig’s own Bridesmaids. Each of those films were resounding hits with the public, encapsulating their eras with friendly wit, but none seemed to inspire increased production for women-centered features.
Here’s the thing. These “women-centered features” were successes not because they simply starred women, but rather because they told what felt to us, as the audience, to be truly authentic stories.
Let’s think about how movies like the glorious 9 to 5 versus re-makes like Ghostbusters 3 could be summarized and pitched to audiences:
‘Are you trying to balance being taken seriously whilst climbing the career ladder and expressing your femininity whilst navigating sexual harassment in the workplace? Well, what if you could pretend for two hours that your boss was the one being tortured?!’
‘Did you love Ghostbusters? Well, get ready to love it even more . . . with vaginas!’
I’m a writer. More importantly, I’m a reader. I truly believe that, though they may be fictional, characters we create take on a certain meta-reality all their own. Because of this, I know that you can’t shoehorn a woman (or a POC, a LGBT-identified person, etc.) into any and all roles you create because it makes you seem like a better feminist, Liberal, inhabitant of planet Earth.
I absolutely do not believe in the old myth that women will read/watch/buy a piece of media starring a protagonist(s) of either gender, whereas men will only consume media that stars fellow males. Even if that was true, I hardly agree that we should reward such ignorant behavior by ‘ghetto-izing’ women’s fictional experiences to the pink-washed Chick Lit section.
‘Hilarious’ (and serious, and complex, and problematic) female protagonists should be, and can be, carrying their share of mainstream box-office successes. There is a serious problem with equality in gender representation in media that needs to be addressed.
But there is a bona fide difference between a female character and a character who just so happens to be female. And when you believe that you can ‘fix’ the problem of representation by having female comedians ride the coattails of their male predecessors in through the back door of success, you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the problem.