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It's infuriating that in this day and age it needs to be said. But as Paul Feig felt the need to state on Twitter last night:
His comment appears to be in response to outcry from some that Ghostbusters 3 might just be centered around female folk who ain't afraid of no ghosts instead of male ones. Now some people are opposed to Ghostbusters 3 out a sheer distaste for reboots and sequels, especially long-delayed ones that have the original cast avoiding them like the plague. That I totally understand. But others have a specific brand of rage about this latest news, and it's sinister.
Cynics are suggesting that having female leads in Ghostbusters 3 is a gimmick. Perhaps this is because Feig, who is the frontrunner for the sequel's director's chair, is best-known for helming such comedy smash hits as The Heat and Bridesmaids, which starred women. Or maybe it's a snarky view at the rise of successful female-fronted films, like those and Lucy, The Hunger Games, Frozen and so on. Regardless, it's ludicrous to claim that fronting a movie with women is a gimmick.
First off, this news of female ghostbusters actually predates Feig's potential involvement by years. Back in 2011, Dan Aykroyd, who has at times been Ghostbusters 3's lone cheerleader, spoke about who he'd like to see cast in the film, and said:
"We're going to need... three guys and a young woman."
The script was reportedly revised following the death of Harold Ramis last February. Perhaps this is when one lone lady ghostbuster became several. But this might not in any way impact the established plot, which still remains a mystery. We need to stop believing that every movie role has a hard-fixed assigned gender from conception.
Recently it was rumored that Gwendoline Christie was cast in Star Wars: Episode VII for a role initially conceived for a man, potentially Benedict Cumberbatch. But you know what? Gender could have been in no way a defining element of the character. If you read the sentence, "a hulking bounty hunter entered the tavern, carrying a heavy gun pointed right at our hero!" is your first thought, "Does this bounty hunter have a penis? Or a vagina? I need to know for plot purposes!" I'm going to guess it was not.
Sometimes a role is written as a man. But a few minor tweaks can make it a fine female character. And the result can be awesome. The result can be Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. And as I said of the scripting of Guardians of the Galaxy, it's not about the genitals of the artist involved, it's about the art they can create given the opportunity. Maybe Feig has an ensemble in mind that's more promising in this instance because it allows for women as well.
Now let's consider the apparent bankability of female-led movies. When Bridesmaids and even The Heat opened, such movies were considered risky. But both proved to be major hits, and a slew have followed. The Sandra Bullock-led Gravity broke box office records. Frozen, which centered on two princesses, became a Disney juggernaut and the highest worldwide grossing film of 2013. Domestically, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire took the number one spot, beating out Iron Man 3. The Angelina Jolie-led Maleficent is proving a big-winner this year, already having pulled in $717 million, becoming its star's highest grossing release ever.
Have we swung so far the other way that some think casting a woman as a lead is equivalent to stunt casting? That it's just a fad? That, to me, is flat-out absurd. And speaks to discomfort in rising onscreen diversity in representation. Some insist it just won't feel right to have women taking on roles that "should" go to men! The implication is that it's bad enough to imagine Jonah Hill stepping into Dan Aykroyd's shoes, but to have Jenny Slate do it with her ovaries and all! EGADS!
In the past, I've written about representation, but I'll boil it down to its barest bones. You could turn literally hundreds, even thousands of formerly male characters--from Thor to Peter Venkman--into women for reboots. And males would still have millions of characters left who represent them, and in a million different ways. Women and people of color have nowhere near this luxury. So quit you're bellyaching when one beloved white guy gets subbed out for a woman or a person of color. The old versions aren't going to be burned, never to be seen again. And you still have plenty of other white male heroes to cling to. Count yourself lucky, and open yourself up to different brands of heroes.
I get not wanting there to be a Ghostbusters 3 altogether. The first two are great, and this clunky path to possible production does not inspire hope that the third could live up to their legacy. But the complaint of adding women to the Ghostbusters line-up is a gimmick is insulting. On one level, it overlooks actresses as bankable stars. It suggests that male heroes in these roles would have more integrity than female ones, which is insulting to women as a whole. It ignores the increasing demand from audiences for a grander representation in the media that expands beyond heaps upon heaps of white men. And it sneers at the creative process that has led to this decision.
I can't tell you at this point if Ghostbusters 3 will be better for having women at its center. It's hard to even speculate knowing so little about the movie's particulars. But my guess is that it'll be the screenwriters, performers, and the director who will define this movie for better or worse, not their gender identities.