Hollywood can take an even bigger step in the right direction.
Let me start by saying that I don’t care about anyone’s fragile childhood memories.
I simply do not care about the delicate male souls, whose fond recollections of Bill Murray or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man will supposedly be ruined when a quartet of badass females revive and rejuvenate the Ghostbusters franchise in a month’s time. I just hope, for everyone’s sake, that those individuals consider seeking some help. If branded attachments at early ages are that imperative to them, and if a remake/reboot of a movie is all it takes to ruin childhoods, it seems to me that they have much bigger problems to worry about.
What I instead care about is how the term “all-female” – coined and speedily secured by the universe of pop-culture – is beginning to faintly sketch out a near-future for female-driven work in the long-overdue fight towards bringing gender equality to screens. What I care about is how these “all-female” reboots/remakes/spin-offs (however you choose to call them) are being positioned in media and what I observe about society’s perception of them. We obviously have the aforementioned Ghostbusters coming up. There is also an Ocean’s 11 remake in the works, starring Sandra Bullock (and Cate Blanchett , if the rumors are true), with Gary Ross attached to direct. So, I hope you just take this piece as a mild word of early caution, with which I’m hoping to encourage everyone to first support/celebrate these works surely, but also see and think beyond the “all-female” ghettoization. Because, it is beginning to feel like one even in the early days of this trend, where “male” is perceived as default, and “female” comes across as spinoff created within an existing male template. And I want us to aspire to having a lot more than a small sandbox in a whole playground.
Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t possibly be more excited about the prospect of watching Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon unite against the ghosts of New York City. If I suspected any paranormal activity in my Harlem apartment, they’d be the first ones I’d call, no question. I have no doubt that it will be funny as hell (taking a cue from Paul Feig’s earlier collaborations with Melissa McCarthy) and become a movie I will want to revisit multiple times. Furthermore, I have full confidence in the fact that the new Ghostbusters will smash the box office, once again taking a cue from previous Feig-McCarthy flicks. Remember that Spy made $236M, The Heat made $230M, and Bridesmaids, also starring Wiig, scored $289M and these worldwide grosses equate to approximately 4 to 9 times their respective production budgets. Similarly, sign me up for any female Ocean’s films starring Bullock forever. I just hope that this newish practice doesn’t become the only go-to norm, and translate into a future in which the making of big budget female-led works/franchises would solely depend on their previous existence in a male-oriented universe. I see a lot of value in and feel the excitement of re-imagining these works with women, and showing the world that women can be just as funny, savvy, influential in pop-culture and (if anyone still needs proof after last summer’s numbers) valuable at the Box Office. But again, I’d like us to look even beyond that. As film critic/writer and @FemaleFilmCritics’ Diana Drumm puts it, “we don’t need to conform to the notion of ‘women being created from Adam’s rib.’”
So what’s the alternative, or more accurately, the next step? I know it’s too naïve to ask, but creating (and expecting/advocating) original, female-led works that new generations can “grow up with” (without having to think of them under the gender-specific “all-female” label) could be a start. And perhaps we don’t need to look too far for inspiration: Why can’t The Heat, for instance, get sequels and become a contemporary buddy-cop comedy entity à la Lethal Weapon? Why can’t Spy be expanded to become the new norm for action/spy genre spoofs? I surely appreciate all the talk around ditching James Bond for a Jane. But how about an original action/thriller film instead? Think something between Bond and Bourne with longevity potential, starring Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s Rebecca Ferguson, (or Emily Blunt, or Scarlett Johansson as actors who more than proved their chops in action), where a female gets to globe-trot, fight crime in million-dollar looks and have guilt-free sex, just like James Bond. I know you can see it.
I realize I am reaching for the stars here, as Hollywood isn’t necessarily known to invest in originality for the sustainability of its future. It instead finds its inspirations (if you can call it that) in established brands, such as comics or franchises that have long proven their worth. But what I have briefly outlined above is hardly some outside-the-box, risky thinking. In lieu of giving us “familiar brand” sequels we didn’t necessarily ask for (think Alice Through The Looking Glass and Huntsman: Winter’s War recently), why not build upon original works that made money or concepts we’ve actively shown enthusiasm for, as a first step?
Again, I don’t intend to kill anyone’s joy or anticipation, as I’m proudly a member of the “The New Ghostbusters film can’t arrive fast enough” chorus. I am just taking note of being thrown the “All-Female” bone as a lazy remedy. Over at io9, Annalee Newitz already made a very insightful case for why we should stop calling Feig’s film “the all-female Ghostbusters.” What she eloquently outlines in her piece addresses a part of my frustration too. Though I can’t help but feel there is more to this narrative, that we are still being pigeon holed into a male mold.
I have a niece on the way, due to arrive to this world in November. On the eve of getting our first-ever female presidential nominee, I hope that she can grow up building her film-related childhood memories around original, female-driven works – franchises even – that doesn’t come with a gender-classifying prefix. Dare to dream…