My feminist credentials were fed to me with mother’s milk. My mom was the first woman in her family to go to college and instilled my equal worth and personhood as a woman. I wasn’t taught to see men as the enemy, but rather our partners in evolution. Radical feminist agendas are too full of vying for healthcare and basic human rights, with no room for subjugating the male gender. My brand of feminism means accepting the identity of an individual as the sole responsibility of them-self so we will all start to get along in a more pro-evolutionary way. Don’t let anyone tell you who to be. You can be a man, a woman, a person, a unicorn, a mermaid or… a Ghostbuster?
“Girls can’t be Ghostbusters!” The internet cried out in vain! The onslaught of media coverage over a remake of a 30-year-old comedy echoed the taunts of a playground bully. The arguments from both sides of the debate seemed to come to the same conclusion: “I know we spent three decades pleading for another Ghostbusters sequel, but WE HATE THIS!” Either the idea was too feminist or not feminist enough! Everyone seemed to be shitting on the girl Ghostbusters from the time the first still was released. The internet raged on, protesting the perceived ruination of its collective childhood.
Anti-feminists weren’t the only ones decrying the remake. A big part of the backlash had to do with male director Paul Feig. Most big-budget Hollywood directors are men. Women make up about 9% of directors in major Hollywood productions (higher at 28% of independent films). This inequality does need to be addressed by the industry by giving more directing opportunities and education to women, but that’s not even the point. To say that men cannot direct a feminist movie is saying that 91% of the films released by Hollywood cannot have a feminist message. If we want more empowered women, we need to give them more examples of powerful women in mass media. The industry is dominated by men and that means men need to take some of the responsibility for empowering women too.
A female director would have also been great. Could you imagine the theatrical paranormal extravaganza that Julie Taymor would have concocted? Regardless, Paul Feig is an excellently qualified director with credits in film and television that are chock full o’ feminism. This is a man who loves to put strong women in movies and facilitates brilliantly written female comedic roles. Men can absolutely direct feminist movies and if you don’t believe me, you haven’t seen Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott), Steel Magnolias (Herbert Ross), Fried Green Tomatoes (Jon Avnet), The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan) or The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg).
Another aspect of Ghostbusters 2016 which seemed to enrage internet trolls was the lack of the original cast. When Harold Ramis died in 2014, to fans of the franchise, it was comparable to the loss of John Lennon, when we lost one of the history’s greatest musicians and all hope of a Beatles reunion. By 2016, the original Ghostbusters seemed over it, long-since tired of living down a comedic cult franchise from the 80’s. Still proud of the cultural impact made by the original films, the creators held out for decades, resisting every attempt to revive the series. Remakes can leave hardcore fans gnashing their teeth and threatening to burn directors in effigy. Each of the surviving cast members gave their full support for the remake and made very significant cameos which alluded to the original characters taking different paths in the aftermath of the Ghostbusters phenomenon of the 80’s, as they did in real life. Even in death, Harold Ramis managed to make an appearance as the bronze bust of Egon Spengler within the first 10 minutes of the movie.
Spoiler alert! Bill Murray’s cameo was my favorite. Playing a famed ghost debunker (very possibly Peter Venkman under an assumed identity) who dies as he’s being proven wrong. The original Ghostbusters had scientists becoming action stars, inspiring a generation to live out every bizarre fantasy their googled-out minds could handle. Girls could absolutely be Ghostbusters. They didn’t need Peter Venkman. In fact, Peter Venkman turned into one of the bad guys, smug aloofness hung on his beleaguered visage… obliterated by proof of paranormal phenomenon… Bill’s message to anyone decrying the lack of the original cast members: “You don’t need me, I’m a dick! Kill me! You be who you want to be”. You read that in Bill Murray’s voice, huh?
Cries of stereotyping continued to tear down the remake. Since when is it illegal to help your audience identify with familiar archetypes when you’re trying to appeal to a worldwide audience and a rabid established fan base? Some fans were upset that Leslie Jones’s character, Patty- the MTA worker-turned-Ghostbuster, was the stereotype of the “Sassy-black lady”. Any fan of the Ghostbusters franchise will tell you that New York City is not only the location, but pretty much a character within the story*lines (almost literally in Ghostbusters 2 when the Statue of Liberty comes to life).
Any frequent rider of the MTA system will tell you that NYC subways function thanks to Patty’s. You can’t take the subway in NYC without the help of a sassy black lady and you can’t truly experience NYC without taking the subway. That profession deserves respect and having a major role in a summer blockbuster filled with a Patty- a smart and tough “reader of nonfiction”, excited and unafraid to pursue a dangerous career in a much maligned field of paranormal science… Harmful stereotype? I think not.
I love that Patty approaches the Ghostbusters for a job and fights to convince them of her worth as a team member. “Patty comes with benefits!” This was the best example of a parallel to the original Ghostbusters, updated with a feminist message. While Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddmore accepts “Ah, if there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say”, Patty has to convince them of her value. The message to young women: Sometimes you’ll have to fight for what men reluctantly accept.
As for the claims of “fat girl”, or “girl nerd” stereotypes, go fuck yourselves too. Let’s look at the stereotypes broken in the movie and weigh them against the stereotypes promoted. Blockbuster summer comedies with four female leads often have white women with bourgeois problems a la “Sex in the City”. The leads in Ghostbusters 2016 are from comedy backgrounds and each woman breaks at least one of the definitive qualities of Hollywood starlets: being too fat, too short, too tall, too weird, too smart, too dedicated and too unwilling to put up with your bullshit. Rather than parade out an assembly line fresh conga of couture-clad Barbie dolls, this movie gives you four female scientists in jumpsuits and says “Here, Hollywood audiences, watch these badass women be funny!”. There are several seemingly nonsensical dance-break scenes as if to say, “Yep, they can be sexy too, fuck you!”
More stereotypes broken: Nerds make terrible action stars? Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann, runs through a field of lasers and ghosts, firing ghost-fighting guns she made with science. This image will be emblazoned on the memories of every little girl whose parents love her enough to take her to see this movie. The hot guy is always a wealthy genius love-interest? I give you Chris Hemsworth as their secretary Kevin, who was either mentally delayed or too-hipster-to-function and simple enough to be easily possessed by a malevolent spirit. The one of the best parts about Ghostbusters 2016, aside from Kristen Wiig’s character Erin’s repressed nerdish flirtation, a male-centered romance is not the focus of the plot. Has a comedic movie with four female leads and NO love story ever been made before? Has the Bechdel test been annihilated?
“BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME!” The internet continued to whine. Then go download the original? Why do you want to see the same movie twice? Gus Van Sant produced a shot-for-shot remake Hitchcock’s Psycho, go see that. Re-making a classic movie does not have to be about obsessively replicating every detail and that’s already been done. There was a solid reference to the original films at least every 10-20 minutes in Ghostbusters 2016, any more than that and it would have been tedious and unoriginal. Thanks to Reaganomics, it is economically impossible to make a 1984 movie in 2016. The scene that perfectly mocks this idea is when the real estate agent shows them a firehouse like the one from the 1984 version and at the request of “$21,000 a month”. Erin responds “Burn in hell…” and they end up above a Chinese restaurant. They get the firehouse back at the end, setting up for a sequel, which I really hope will take them less than 30 years to make.
Good remakes (see also: Cape Fear) only owe reverence to the original within the approval of the creator. Melissa McCarthy does an excellent job of taking over creator Dan Aykroyd’s character, showing that women often go through the same struggles as men when revolutionary ideas are at stake. Abby is a mad scientist, overworked, underpaid and underappreciated for startlingly inventive research practices, making this one of the best lessons for young women to be found in this update. “We pretty much get shit on all the time”. That applies to successful women in many fields, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
The last scene has NYC lit up with the letters “GB” in appreciation. Although the media and the government will try to smear or steal your glory, keep doing what you’re doing if you know what you’re doing is right. Conspiracy theorists should be holding this remake up as a gospel of truth, subtly revealing the flawed system which blinds us, keeps us fighting each other so we’re not fighting them. Don’t buy into the rabble rousing and the fascist indoctrination telling you how to think, who to be. Break the stereotypes. Bust the rules.
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