We’ve all heard the news and controversy surrounding Paul Feig’s 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters featuring an all-female cast, have we really explored what would come of this seemingly strategic casting job? Strong heroic women saving a city from supernatural forces – it sounds agreeable enough, superficially. But what is the motive behind this maneuver? An optimist might assert that studio executives actually trust female performers to carry what was historically a male-centric franchise. This writer, however, can’t help but suspect that it’s all merely a gimmick that producers are using out of desperation because the original cast members are either retired, dead, disinterested, or Dan Aykroyd.
In the 1984 original, a team of scientists, played by the ensemble of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, decide to become professional “ghostbusters” after losing their jobs at Columbia University in New York City. They create equipment to capture ghosts in the city where paranormal activity is rampant. They are sort of like exterminators, and the ghosts are sort of like vermin. The film culminates with a showdown between the ghostbusters and the infamous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. So what are these men capable of that women aren’t? It is evident that many people (almost exclusively men) are against this new movie, largely because of the gender of the cast. Now, there are some who cannot even fathom the feminist concept or even accurately define it, as demonstrated by these lovely gentlemen who are poisoning social media (bonus clip of Donald Trump visibly upset by the news), but is there any real foundation to be against reassigning male characters as female?
This isn’t the first time male characters have suddenly changed gender. We saw this when Marvel announced Thor would now be a woman or when it was announced that Dr. Watson would be played by ex-Charlie’s Angel Lucy Liu in the television show Elementary. But why the sudden changes to classic characters? Some thought these were gimmicks or stunts to gain attention, while some might have argued that overturning 110 years of flagrant misogyny in film is going to be an incremental process — that feminists have to advance by co-opting every popular literary or film character, so that maybe in another 110 years, there will be an entire canon of bizarro genderswap clones of every movie ever made.
Take an already popular character, one who has been loved and revered for years, and turn them into the opposite sex. Is it still the same character? Many don’t think so. There have actually been arguments stating that these changes undermine women — that a woman dressed up in a male costume is not an accurate portrayal of a strong female character. And there probably is some truth to that. How original is it if you just take, say, Indiana Jones and rewrite the movie scripts to make him a her? Not very. Some may say this would even be an insult to the story, and the feminist movement — assigned gender reassignments to characters without adding any additional depth.
On the other hand, there is an incredible amount of support for the recasting of Ghostbusters. Female figures are on the rise in the male-dominated film industry, and while it will take a long time for women to be equally represented on the production side of filmmaking, perhaps progress is being made. Some women have taken to Twitter to voice their opinions about the movie, stating their support for this all-female cast. Representation of women in the media has long since been an issue for feminists to contend with. Mainstream films commonly perpetuate the notion that women are stereotypically vapid, shallow, and only good for domestic chores, and only add narrative value when they are hypersexualized.
This is why Ghostbusters is (potentially) important to women, however dubious the intentions behind the casting decision may be. Actresses in the film industry are commonly pigeonholed. The Ghostbusters cast would take over previously male leads in a statement saying, “we can do this too!” And for that little girl, yearning to fight the supernatural and become a ghostbuster, they can finally believe it’s possible for them (theoretically, of course) .
And gender politics left aside, there is something kind of cool about all of this attention placed back on the original Ghostbusters, which is still one of the most popular comedies of all time and can be rented on Amazon and Google Play and is still regularly shown on television today (more info here). With the new film coming out, there is no doubt there would be crowds of people lining up to see it, even if for the sake of criticizing the cast. No matter the reason, this all-female Ghostbusters is sure to attract the attention of even the most skeptical of fans. And if Aykroyd himself is on board, shouldn’t we at least give it a shot?
So, who are you gonna call?