The Ghostbusters trailer was released yesterday, and once again, the internet is up in arms. Having read a lot of the comments, I’ve decided to break down and discuss the general themes I’ve derived from social media on the topic.
Ghostbusters should be men
The overwhelming issue with the modern reboot is the gender swap element. Where the original 80s Ghostbusters movie featured an all-male cast, with Sigourney Weaver playing both the supporting role and romantic interest of main protagonist Bill Murray, the problem with the reboot lies in the fact that all four lead characters are female and the supporting role is reserved for Chris Hemsworth – or rather, super masculine manly man, Thor. Honestly, I understand the issues that a lot of critics are facing: it’s new and, ultimately, confusing territory for a large portion of the audience – critique and backlash is to be expected – we are but human, after all.
Cinematic tradition dictates that, for a movie to be considered a success, it should include both male and female demographics as their target audience. It should also follow the traditional cinematic formats that adhere, not only to pre-defined gender stereotypes, but the well-established roles that both genders play within this tradition, i.e. men play the lead and women play the support and, ultimately, romantic interest. Anything that wavers from this, borders ‘the uncanny’* and becomes a film that targets the female demographic only, thus excluding any male audiences. In most movies, this would not be an issue, but in a franchise such as Ghostbusters, that was initially marinated in the heady scent of testosterone, it becomes a pretty big issue, for example, the film is already being discredited by a large portion of the intended demographic.
* ‘The uncanny’ is the Freudian concept of something being strangely familiar, rather than just mysterious. However, with regards to female leads in movies, I was thinking more along the lines of Barbara Creed’s ‘The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis’ which discusses the seven traditional archetypes of the ‘monstrous feminine’ within cinema. I think in the case of the Ghostbusters reboot, we now have an eighth archetype, which lies in the fear of the unknown (an all-female led cast, with male support) and what happens when we as an audience begin to explore beyond our natural limits: i.e. a male audience acknowledging, understanding and appreciating a female-led movie, thus discarding established traditions within the industry.
Women aren’t funny
In spite of each female lead having their own extensive career in comedy – including rather permanent spots on Saturday Night Live, America’s general platform for emerging comedic talent – there’s an overwhelming amount of backlash that suggest the Ghostbusters reboot won’t be funny. Even Paul Feig, who has featured both McCarthy and Wiig in his films before (Bridesmaids and The Heat) is coming under his own scrutiny, even though he has celebrated general box office success with both movies.
Comments such as these, ultimately, uncover a much bigger problem within the industry, rather than with whether Ghostbusters will be good or not (because let’s face it, it might be terrible, we can’t ascertain that from a trailer, really). The problem lies in the fact that there is a huge diversity problem in Hollywood – the lack of diversity within the scope of female roles, to name but a few – meaning that, the fact that a female-led reboot, such as the pending Ghostbusters revivial, can receive the level of diatribe and controversy that it has, before the trailer was even released, is largely indicative of the lack of understanding we as the audience have in considering moving beyond the traditional roles set in stone for women in the industry – i.e. as romantic interests and/or sexual objects.
Tim Rothman, head of Sony had the following to say in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
Everybody says I’m making the female Ghostbusters, but I say, ‘no, we’re making the funny Ghostbusters.’ Yes, it happens to be four women. It’s original. You get pissing and moaning on the Internet – sexist comments – but you know, fuck ‘em.
An interesting quote, sure, but personally, I don’t think that the dismissal of the comedic factor within any movie, never mind Ghostbusters can be blamed on sexism alone, but rather, the well-established separatism that female-led comedies have faced previously – namely with regards to how they have been marketed, and to which demographic. Let’s face it, when a movie is released featuring predominantly women, marketing teams focus on promoting the movie solely towards a female demographic. Let’s take a look at the posters for both Bridesmaids and The Heat as examples:
The overwhelming theme from the images is the colour ‘pink’ – meaning both marketing teams adhered towards traditional gender stereotypes – pink is for girls, blue is for boys – therefore, there is pink in the advertisement, meaning that the above are girly films, for girls, and there’s no room for a male audience here; which again, returns our point to the uncanny in relation to the pending Ghostbusters movie. It may seem like an infantile concept, but let’s face it, Hollywood is an infantile concept.
Unfortunately, a lot of the comments seen have been about the appearances of the actresses playing the lead Ghostbuster roles. One of my favourites was a comment that went viral about the women not even smiling in a promotional picture of the movie, which was soon followed by a promotional photo of the original Ghostbusters line up doing the same thing:
The inspiration thereof being:
Again, this intertwines with other themes mentioned in the post, encompassing the overall negativity toward the reboot. This includes the perceptions of women in films, based on traditional gender roles that are archetypally in place within Hollywood – meaning, women should be sexy!
Original Ghostbuster, Ernie Hudson, stated in an interview with The Telegraph that the movie, if it has to feature women, should at least feature ‘sexy’ women: a notion that a lot of critics have also seemingly gotten on board with. After all, this is what tradition ultimately dictates, and this is what has been seen in the Ghostbuster franchise so far – to move away from that, disrupts the status quo, as far as both cinematic traditions go, as well as audience expectations of the franchise.
I think, ultimately, what is also potentially confusing for future audiences when regarding the Ghostbusters reboot, is the concept of the male gaze. Now, for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s not a concept that suggests that all men are perverts – far from it, as this is also a concept that female audiences are conditioned to accept, traditionally. It’s a concept coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey, and it refers to the manner in which ‘visual arts’ are structured around a masculine viewer. So, in the case of movies, it describes the tendencies in which directors depict the world – and indeed, women – from a masculine point of view, in terms of assumptions of the male attitude.
So, from a visual perspective Ghostbusters already seems like a let-down, because it doesn’t focus on the traditions in place with regards to female characters in movies; their sexuality isn’t relied upon to propel them from beginning to end, and this is an ultimately bizarre concept for audiences to swallow: if we don’t rely on the male gaze in the Ghostbusters reboot, what are we supposed to rely on?
I guess my suggestion would be to regard the movie in the same manner in which we rely on male-fronted comedies, but that remains to be seen…
Advice when considering the uproar surrounding the new Ghostbusters reboot:
The Ghostbusters reboot doesn’t follow the archetypal structures set in place within Hollywood movies, particularly those featuring an all-female cast; it’s not a film that is out to challenge the patriarchy, nor does it make any bold political statements regarding women being better or greater than men in any way. It’s a film that ultimately challenges the archetypes set in stone within cinematic tradition, and aims to re-establish what we view as normative within our viewings, by taking a well-established concept and attempting to build on that, not only with reference to gender equality within cinematic constraints, but to redefine the perceptions behind what is expected of female actresses when it comes to their craft.