I was thinking about a few ways to improve my blog and one of the ideas at the top of my list was featuring guest bloggers. There are several bloggers out there who’ve been doing this longer than me and who are certainly doing it better than me; so why not recruit some of that quality and add it to my blog? Wendell from Dell On Movies is one of my favourite bloggers and a person I’ve collaborated with in the past (in the form of blogathons). He has a terrific site which I suggest you visit (you’ll soon find yourself doing it regularly) and a voice that I have immense respect for when it comes to film. Without any further adieu, here’s his post on
Why We Need Ghostbusters To Be A Hit
The title of this post is not a question, but implies one. If I did my job correctly, you’ve asked it yourself by this point. “Why do we need the Ghostbusters remake to be a hit?” The reality is that there is a brief answer to this. Girls need heroes, too. You’re smart. You already knew this. You even know girls will need heroes for as long as there are girls. The most unfortunate part of this is how severe this need is in the twenty-first century. We’re supposed to be passed this by now. Men and women are supposed to be on equal footing in all areas of society, at least in countries we like to think of as enlightened. Then again, equality is a tricky beast to tame. We still haven’t quite figured it out. It bedevils us in regards to race, religion, sexual orientation, and yes, gender. Having more women in movies fit for young girls to look up to will not fix any of those problems, but it will continue our movement in the right direction.
You might be saying to yourself ‘there are plenty of heroic women in film right now.’ You would be right. We are firmly in the midst of an era in which “strong female character” is a buzzword. They’ve shown up all over the place in the last decade or so. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of them have played second fiddle to a male protagonist. This is especially true when we talk about Hollywood blockbusters. We are also in the midst of the golden age of superhero movies. These, and the other big action flicks that dominated the world’s multiplexes from mid-Spring to early fall are the films that show humanity at their most undeniably heroic. These are people that save the world, the galaxy, and even the entire universe.
We’ve reached a point where all of these people don’t have to be white males as they once did. Important characters of both genders and multiple ethnicities are larger than life on the screen in 3D and IMAX using their incredible abilities to protect us as we munch popcorn from the safety of our cushy seats. However, these diverse characters are almost always under the leadership of a Caucasian man. Think back through the summers. Sure, The Avengers were brought together by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, but he was always more of therapist to the group, massaging egos, and getting them to put differences aside for the greater good. The real leadership of that group is a shared venture between Iron Man and Captain America. There were plenty of other offenders, too. Guardians of the Galaxy. All those X-Men movies. The Fast and the Furious franchise. The Mission: Impossible flicks. The Star Trek series.
Women are second-class heroes in all of these movies. They generally serve as some combination of support for or love interest of the real hero. Even if not a love interest, they’re highly sexualized by being packed tightly into outfits more conducive to the wet dreams of pubescent boys than crime-fighting. When needed, she can also be damsel in distress. Tammy Wynette’s classic song “Stand by Your Man” would be a fitting theme song for any of them. Unfortunately, our strong ladies are not always allowed to stand by their men in one of the most important places in the world they’re saving: the toy section. At the tail end of 2015, and early in 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens ruled the world. It made roughly a gazillion dollars at the box office and admirably had a female for a protagonist. Yet, she was absent from much of the movie’s merchandising which was everywhere. She was completely excluded from a pack of action figures that included all of the other main characters. Of course, they were all male. The powers that be decided since the target audience for action figures is boys, she would be left out. After all, girls don’t play with action figures.
Sigh. By itself, this is a disappointing sentiment for any company to have. The disappointment doubles when you realize the powers that be in this case are the folks at Disney. That mouse may serve as the mascot and people call it “The House That Mickey Built,” but I’ve never seen that as accurate. Even if Mickey did build the house, it’s been maintained and upgraded thanks to labor of their stable of princesses. With movies such as Brave and, more recently, Frozen the way they represent girls onscreen is evolving. They’ve positioned themselves as the people who know little girls best. How is it no one at Disney saw the error in their thinking and flooded the market with as many Rey action figures as they did Kylo Ren? Thankfully, this was rectified and Rey indeed found her way into those big packs and was given more of a presence, but it took a public outcry for this to happen. That should not be the case.
The superhero properties have adopted similar philosophies in regard to their female characters. Black Widow has become a staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the screen. She remains in short supply on the retail aisles. Mystique and Storm of the X-Men flicks suffer a similar fate. This is especially troubling in the case of Mystique since the series has developed into a showcase for her story. Only Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy seems to share equal shelf space with her male teammates. The oddest part of all this is that the companies that control these properties seem to be willingly leaving money on the table by relying on antiquated notions. Don’t these companies employ people who do the type of research that surely proves the bottom line will be enhanced by selling toys to both boys and girls?
All of this brings me to Ghostbusters. If you’re just crawling out from under that rock you’ve been living under, it’s a remake of the 1984 classic that starred a team of four men taking on New York’s paranormal entities. This version replaces our heroes with heroines. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones will handle the ghostbusting. I know this isn’t the first action-comedy starring women ever made. The star of this very film, McCarthy, has several under her belt. However this is one of, if not the, first with a huge budget and major marketing campaign. Columbia Pictures really appears to be hitching its wagon to this one. They need it to be a hit, for financial reasons. That doesn’t make it any less important a film. To be honest, to make money is as good a reason as any to want a movie to succeed. In fact, that’s the main thing I want from it. If this thing comes bursting out of the gate and becomes a global phenomenon, the money people won’t be so hesitant about giving us more blockbusters with women in the lead. Girls will get more truly liberated women for heroes. Their parents will even be able to get their action figures everywhere. The world will become a better place.
More important than Ghostbusters being a huge hit, we really need for it not to be a box-office flop. When forging a new path in Hollywood, the decision-makers are easily scared off. There was a time in my life when superhero flicks were considered box-office poison. The problem was, in the 80s, other than the Superman flicks they weren’t making money. The same goes for the early and mid 90s with the Batman movies being the one money-maker. By late in the decade the Blade franchise began to pull the genre out the doldrums. 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man really set us on the fast track to where we are now. Superhero flicks about women weren’t far behind because it makes sense. At least it made sense until we actually got them.
We got Catwoman in 2004 and Elektra in 2005. Both movies flopped big time. Instead of chalking it up to them both being horrible films, which they were, the narrative that emerged among us studio heads seems to be “Girl superheroes don’t sell tickets.” Not surprisingly, we haven’t had one released by a major studio since, with the exception of 2006’s modestly budgeted and moderately successful romantic-comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend which was never high profile enough to matter. There were other movies such as Salt, Hanna, and the Resident Evil movies. These movies enjoyed varying degrees of success. None were a big enough hit to make the big wigs want to put out more. None of them registered on the all-important toy market. If Ghostbusters isn’t successful, it gives studio heads an excuse to not make big budget blockbusters featuring women. It helps that a few are already in the works so we’ll get at least a few more. Still, we don’t need a lull in the production of these films.
Despite all I’ve said, it’s not really about giving little girls more toys to play with. It’s about taking more steps towards having a truly inclusive society. It’s about our boys learning to see women as equals. It’s about our girls getting the boost in self-esteem that comes from seeing yourself represented in pop culture. To achieve this Ghostbusters doesn’t need to be a critical darling. It merely needs to be a fun popcorn flick worthy of a few bucks and a couple hours in the theater. The parts it needs to promote true femininity are already in place. If you’re at all familiar with the original, you know that this film will feature a group of women running their own business and saving the world without having to be strapped into quasi-dominatrix outfits. Any objectification done here will likely be of Chris Hemsworth who gets to play the eye-candy role of the film. Before anyone cries reverse sexism, this is perfectly okay because the overwhelming majority of movies do not objectify men in the same way as women. Having it go the other way a time or two won’t hurt.
There is at least one step for Ghostbusters to take on its own. It’s a simple step, but still seems difficult for many studios to take. It needs to make sure that it’s black character, handled by Leslie Jones, is a true equal to the rest of the women. Instead of just having her be the “loud black woman,” make her as deep and complex as the rest of the characters. If we’re going to be inclusive, let’s be all the way inclusive and give young women of color someone to look up to. They’ve been largely left out of the annual summer festivities. There was Catwoman, starring Halle Berry. We’ve already talked too much about that. There was also 2011’s Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana, which did fairly well. I can’t think of another that featured a woman of color as the protagonist. Within some of these other franchises we get a few Hispanics and blacks. In the case of the Hispanic women, they tend to be over-sexualized while black women have been largely asexual. Why that is or what that means is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say these women need to be afforded the same complexities as anyone else.
To this point, expectations appear to be mild for the new Ghostbusters. Reactions to the trailers that we’ve gotten over the last few weeks has been mixed. However, that hasn’t stopped the hype machine for it from rolling right along. Similarly to recent blockbusters Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, and the aforementioned Star Wars: The Force Awakens we’re being inundated with new information on Ghostbusters on a daily basis. It’s being positioned for a big opening weekend, but at this point, it doesn’t feel like a given. Before those other films that I mentioned, kids at the school where I work were all abuzz about them. When the trailers came out, these kids were all over them. Granted, we’re still over a month away from the release date, but I’m not hearing any Ghostbusters. I’m not terribly sure most of them even know it exists. Even in my own house where we are all Melissa McCarthy fans, there seems to be a rather ‘blah’ attitude about it.
My youngest daughter seems excited to see it while her older sister is dismissing it off-hand. As evidenced by this post, I’m looking forward to it, but my wife is rather apprehensive about it. She cites her love for the original as the reason. My recently into adulthood son is too cool for anything so whether he is really excited for it or out to avoid it entirely only musters a shrug of the shoulders so I can’t really tell with him. I hope that as we get closer to opening weekend anticipation will build and our newest paranormal experts will set records box-office records and merchandise for the film will fly off the shelves. If not, next year’s Wonder Woman will feel like a last-ditch effort to save women protagonists in blockbusters rather than the culmination of a triumphant journey to her very own big screen adventure with the fate of Marvel’s Captain Marvel hanging in the balance. I’m pulling for it.