Spooking out Male-Centric Hollywood Standards with Ghostbusters 3
It’s hard to believe that three decades have passed since the supernatural comedy film Ghostbusters and its “stuck-in-your-head-for-days-at-a-time” theme song took the entertainment industry by storm. In commemoration, the franchise is looking to make another comeback with Sony on its team. The planned Ghostbusters reappearance will be a full reboot. The biggest potential change: when you call Ghostbusters Inc., it won’t be three men responding to your ghoul-ridding needs. By all reports, the remake of our favorite 80’s film will include a full gender cast transformation.[i] Those men who previously toted proton packs to eradicate your home of ghostly infestations will now be…women. It’s so brilliant that even Bill Murray has given his seal of approval.[ii]
I confess that I’m no fan of remakes, but I tend to get overruled on my opinion: although nothing can best the original, Hollywood will not let franchises rest in peace. Such is the case with Ghostbusters and yet, given the Ghostbusters 3 casting rumors, I must admit that I’m looking forward to this remake and the cultural implications behind an all-girl ghost fighting team.
For starters, mainstream films remain decidedly male-centric, so it’s a big deal when any potentially big film boasts a female lead. Any idea how many major motion pictures last year had female leads? A ghostly 15%.[iii] Equally spooky is the fact that females accounted for a paltry 28% of speaking roles in 2012’s biggest movies (down 5% from five years ago).[iv] With the fantasy sub-genre in particular, the storylines are overwhelmingly male-centric with a supporting role for one lucky lady thrown in for good measure. [v] All this is why I’m hailing my Proton Gun to Sony: if they go through with this much-rumored reboot, female leads will be a bit less invisible in the fantasy franchise arena.
Ghostbusters is more than just fantasy, though; it is comedy as well — yet another franchise arena where female leads lack presence, notwithstanding great female comedies like Bridesmaids and The Heat. There is an interesting, nuanced difference between male-centric and female-driven comedies: more often than not, female-driven scripts include males and relationships between the women are conveyed through the context of a man. Storylines of female cast-driven comedies generally fit into the conventional notions of society; that of finding “the one” or exacting revenge on him. By contrast, dude-centric comedies have no issue playing with the absence of women. It happens with such frequency, most of us don’t give it a second thought. Females included.
Paul Feig, director of The Heat, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks, understands this phenomenon. His stated goal: “the place I’m trying to get is where guys stop being afraid to go to a comedy with a woman on the poster. I want them to look at a poster and say, ‘that’s a funny person’.”[vi] And that’s a good start. Even better: Feig has purportedly signed on to direct the all-female Ghostbusters 3.
In Hollywood’s defense, female-driven films have been around for a while. As a child, I remember watching Disney’s Mulan and Pocahontas, as well as Erin Brokovich and A League of Their Own. But as a young girl who preferred “guy humor” and ghost-busting, I was puzzled by the lack of females leading the way with humor and gusto. I had no Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, or Melissa McCarthy to look to for comedy. What I did have was an abundance of chick flicks about silly things with no substance — my opinion, of course. So, when a few female-centric films started trickling out, it was a big deal. When they didn’t flop, it was an even bigger deal.
It is curious that, even now, female-driven films that don’t flop are considered flukes and Tinseltown remains reluctant to support more of them. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin asserts that if there’s a sense that a film will make money, it will get made.[vii] These are fine words Mr. Sorkin, but what of all the male-driven films that were made and then flopped? More than some speculate that there is a double (paranormal) standard that female-driven film scripts must meet to move forward, but such speculation has done little good. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters3!
Hopes are high that a box-office success of an all-female cast in Ghostbusters 3 will be the beginning to the end of paranormal standards for female-driven films. A gang of ghost-busting girls in a successful remake would be significant on at least two major fronts: inclusion of female leads in genres where they lack palpable presence, and reassurance to viewers of all ages and genders that female role models of all types exist as much on screen as they do off screen.