My relationship with the new Ghostbusters film has been a bit of a roller coaster. Ghostbusters was the #1 movie at the box office the day I was born back in 1984 (though my parents decided to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom instead, which caused my mom to go into labor with me), and I’ve been a fan of the original and its sequel since the first time I saw them. As a longtime fan, I of course followed the various news about a potential third film over the last couple decades in the hopes of seeing the team reunited on the big screen. So when the new Ghostbusters was announced I was thrilled, even as it was clear that it would not star the original cast. I absolutely loved the idea of an all-female team, especially when we learned that Melissa McCarthy would be in it (of whom I’ve been a fan since the Gilmore Girls days). The early teases of the look and feel of the film, particularly its production design, got me even more excited, as did the news that Chris Hemsworth had been cast as the Ghostbusters’ receptionist in the new film, a great continuation of the gender reversal.
But I had plenty of misgivings as well. I didn’t understand why this film needed to be a remake/reboot instead of simply a third film in the franchise. Keep the cast and the crew, I thought, but let this movie take place in the same universe as the others. The stated reason for it being a remake was so that they’d have the opportunity to redesign the ghost busting technology without being beholden to the designs from the earlier movies, but that could easily have been addressed by a line or two of dialogue. I also wasn’t thrilled with Paul Feig as a director. I’m no fan of Bridesmaids, even if I appreciate the fact that it helped people realize that women are just as funny as men and capable of making the same kinds of movies and having those movies be successful. It’s just not my type of comedy, too crass and loud for my tastes. The last thing I wanted was a Bridesmaids-flavored Ghostbusters. And then the first trailer came out.
I never posted the trailer on my blog, because I was so conflicted by it. I loved seeing smart, strong women busting ghosts, I liked the look of the film from the new equipment to the style of the ghosts, and it was simply a joy to see ghost busting at all back on the screen. But it also made me concerned. The ghost vomit in the first scene (itself an homage to the opening of the original film) was too over-the-top for my tastes, as was the humor in general. It felt like it was trying too hard, to the point of being annoying. And the way Leslie Jones’ character was written/edited made me uncomfortable in the way it felt like a stereotype. In all, while I didn’t hate the trailer, it definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the film and confirmed some of my fears. The trailer made me more inclined to skip the new Ghostbusters film, not out of some nostalgia reflex that would claim my childhood is being ruined, but simply because the apparent style of humor in the new film doesn’t appeal to me. I generally don’t go see modern comedies for a reason, and combined with the sequel/reboot dilemma it was enough that I doubted I would buy a ticket for this version of Ghostbusters.
But then something happened that I did not expect. I rarely let public opinion sway me when it comes to what I see. I’ve regretted skipping movies in the past that I later discovered I love, and I have gone to see films I would otherwise have skipped, all because of the reviews or the general discussion surrounding them, so generally I make up my own mind about what to see. But the backlash against the new Ghostbusters has been so loud and so nasty that I have to confess it’s had a large impact on my desire to see the film, and probably not in the way that those doing the screaming intended. It’s no secret that many of the complaints online about the reboot come from a place of sexism and misogyny, to the level where it’s actually shocking to read some of the things that have been written. As a feminist my favorite aspect of this project has been the fact that the film features four strong female leads, yet this fact infuriated many male fans who felt it would “ruin” the franchise somehow, which is of course ridiculous. Perhaps the most insane aspect of this backlash was that it prompted Sony Pictures to start planning an all-male Ghostbusters film in response, presumably as a way to placate sexist fans by giving them another film that would be more “real” to them.
The truth is that this Ghostbusters is a big deal. While reboots are all the rage, with studios capitalizing on familiar names rather than investing hundreds of millions in new properties, those movies never feature all-women casts. Sometimes they don’t feature women stars at all. And while some long-awaited franchise follow-ups have had strong feminist characters and messages, like Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s often thanks to a director’s vision rather than studio choices. What’s more common is something like Jurassic World, in which one of the two leads is female but which is otherwise a step backward for representation. Where the first and second Jurassic Park gave us strong female scientists, Jurassic World gave us a stereotype of the modern “working woman”, too busy to spend time with her family and obsessed with her job, who wears high heels to traipse through the jungle and run from a T-rex. The new Ghostbusters could have gone the same way, adding a token female member to the team and reducing her to a stereotype. Instead they took a big budget and a beloved franchise and they gave it to some of the funniest women on the planet instead. That’s undeniably huge.
The sexist backlash to the film and its trailers fanned the flame of my enthusiasm, wanting to support the film and be sure to see it because of what it represents regardless of whether I think about its style of humor. It needs to succeed, if only to ensure that this is not a onetime fluke, that women continue to get the major roles in the major franchises that still continue to go almost exclusively to men. But what was especially infuriating to me personally was the way some of my concerns about the film were being used as a smokescreen for men to hide their sexism. The assumption is that if they use what might be considered “legitimate” concerns to criticize the film, that people won’t realize their fury and indignation come from a place of sexism. It leaves an awful taste in my mouth hearing words that sound very similar to those I’ve voiced used that way, and as a result I’ve generally stopped caring about the handful of things that were bothering me about this new Ghostbusters film. Not necessarily because my opinions have changed, but just because they’re so unimportant compared to the larger issues.
But the team behind Ghostbusters had already started winning me over on their own. The first trailer has been ubiquitous and inescapable, and the more times I see it the less I’m bothered by the tonal issues that were off-putting at first. And the second trailer was a remarkable improvement, much funnier and more subtle than the first and allowing the talented cast to shine. I now find myself excited for the film once again, eager to see this fresh, female take on a classic. My original enthusiasm has been renewed, in no small part thanks to the jackasses who can’t stand women in a previously male-dominated franchise. Their reaction has produced and equal but opposite reaction in me, and now I can’t wait to see it! My biggest hope is that Ghostbusters is a huge success, and that this kicks off a wave of female-centric remakes. Maybe even someday when they reboot the Indiana Jones series, Indy will be a woman!
What do you think? What was your initial reaction to the Ghostbusters remake? How important is it for women to star in films like this? Is there anything more ridiculous than promising a “guys only” version to placate the misogynists? Will we ever reach a point in society where big-budget action comedies based on beloved franchises routinely feature women, so that it’s no longer necessary to draw attention to it? Going forward, how do we get more movies like this made? What’s the next step? And, most importantly, how do we ensure that the fight for representation is all-inclusive, so that it’s not just women but people of color and those in the LGBT community can see themselves reflected onscreen as regularly as straight, white, cisgender men? Let me know (or just dismiss me as a Social Justice Warrior) in the comments!