Paul Feig is a one-man marketing machine for his new Ghostbusters movie. Actually, so are most social media-savvy directors of blockbuster movies these days, particularly Bryan Singer’s on-going use of Instagram to share photos from the set of X-Men: Apocalypse. Feig has followed suit, using Twitter to give us our first official looks at the new Ecto-1, proton packs and costumes in his Ghostbusters reboot/quasi-remake starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.
Each time Feig releases a new photo it’s an opportunity for every pop culture site to re-post the image, and then watch as their comments section devolves into the same old arguments about whether or not this movie should even exist:
How dare they trample on my childhood like this! / Ah, screw your childhood. The 1984 Ghostbusters will still be there when this is over, and it will continue being a classic. Can’t a new generation get their own Ghostbusters?
But why does it have to be an all-female cast? / What, are you saying women can’t be funny?
Somewhere along the way everyone at least agreed what to call this movie: the “All Female Ghostbusters.” I’ve used that phrase in multiple headlines on this site. Two days ago, io9’s Annalee Newitz called people like me out. In fact, she called out her own site, pledging that io9 will no longer call the new Ghostbusters the “All Female Ghostbusters.” Why?
This is not some special girl-themed version of Ghostbusters where the fact that our characters are women matters. It’s not a chick flick. It’s just straight-up the new Ghostbusters movie, about lovable, entrepreneurial mad scientists with giant, bizarre energy weapons, a pimped-out jalopy, and a burning desire to rid the world of evil spirits. Only this time the actors happen to be female. There’s no reason they couldn’t be guys. Likewise, there’s no reason the first crew of ghostbusting weirdos had to be guys. They just had to be dorks, and be funny […] So why are we calling this movie ‘all female,’ as if it’s some lesser spinoff from the ‘real’ series, which features dudes?
It’s worth pointing out that this movie doesn’t come out for another year. None of us have actually seen a finished scene yet, regardless of whatever shaky cell phone footage of Melissa McCarthy running around Boston might be out there. We’re months away from a trailer because Paul Feig and crew are literally months away from completing their shooting schedule. I’d say it’s way too early to speak with any kind of authority about a perceived gender neutrality of the new Ghostbusters characters. In fact, Feig’s work in Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy is quite frequently dependent upon the fact that his leads are women, be it the hyper-specific facets of female friendship in Bridesmaids, the physical comedy with Sandra Bullock’s spanx in The Heat or just about everything in Spy. That’s his brand of comedy, and I don’t really expect anything different in his Ghostbusters.
However, I understand Newitz’ point, as she summarized below:
What I’m saying is that having a new Ghostbusters movie with four female leads is a step toward gender equality. But having an ‘all female Ghostbusters’ is like going back to the days when we talked about girl bands or lady doctors or soldierettes. It puts women in a subcategory, and makes men into the unlabeled default. Who wants to live in a world where ‘ghostbuster’ means male unless stated otherwise? Fuck that world.
I agree with her on one condition: If you’ve never seen or heard of the original Ghostbusters movies then there’s no reason to affix an all-female label to the new one. It should just be considered a horror comedy from the same exact film crew that made Spy. However, if you have seen the original movies or at least know of them then there need not be any sexist subtext to referring to the quasi-remake as “All Female.” In this case, men are the “unlabeled default” definition of Ghostbusters because the first two movies happened to only feature male Ghostbusters. Janine, their secretary, took up the proton pack and jumpsuit in multiple episodes of the animated series, but in the live action movies it was only ever Ray, Egon, Peter, Winston and eventually Lewis. In the new one, it will be Erin, Abby, Jillian and Patty, according to a character breakdown leaked earlier this year. I’m sorry, but that is quite literally an all female team of Ghostbusters in a world where there had only ever been male Ghostbusters.
And that’s this movie’s gimmick. It will be a gender-switched reboot/quasi-remake of the original. In 1984, the Ghostbusters consisted of three white guys, a black guy and a sarcastic female secretary from Brooklyn, and their primary villain initially appeared to them in a female form (before becoming the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man). In 2016, the new Ghostbusters will consist of three white women, a black woman and a dimwitted male secretary (Chris Hemsworth), and their primary villain will be played by a guy (Neal Casey). From a marketing standpoint, their “hook” seems crystal clear to me, and I have gotten past the “Don’t ruin my childhood” phase to really looking forward to this.
However, Feig has been fighting back against the idea of his movie being a gimmick since day one, telling EW last October:
Some people accused it of kind of being a gimmick and it’s like, it would be a gimmick if I wasn’t somebody whose brain doesn’t automatically go to like, I want to just do more stuff with women. I just find funny women so great. For me it’s just more of a no-brainer. I just go, what would make me excited to do it? I go: four female Ghostbusters to me is really fun. I want to see that dynamic. I want to see that energy and that type of comedy and them going up against these ghosts and going up against human detractors and rivals and that kind of thing. When people accuse it of being a gimmick I go, why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?
When The Mary Sue re-posted that quote at the time, they merely replied with an emphatic “YESSSSSSSSSS!” However, I think Feig is too quick to throw himself on the feminist altar. In a very general sense, gender equality in movies means a time when the composition of the cast requires no specific labels or inspires pointed commentary. Movies we now call “female-led” will just be considered normal movie the same way male-led movies have since, well, forever. And Feig’s Ghostbusters has certainly touched a nerve on what exactly we mean when we use gendered descriptions of movies. However, to answer Feig’s question, a movie starring women is considered a gimmick when that movie is a reboot/quasi-remake of a well-known classic that primarily starred men, with all due respect to Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts. Gender quite clearly happens to be the thing that’s most notably different from the original.
All of this has been complicated by the rumors of Channing Tatum developing a guy-centric Ghostbusters project. How do we keep them straight? Well, one of them is the all female version and the other is going to be primarily made up of dudes, if it ever gets made. The last we heard, Tatum wasn’t so sure about it anymore.
To sum up, “Gimmick” carries with it such a negative connotation. It recalls Smell-0-Vision and the early days of 3-D, i.e., the things which made otherwise average-to-terrible movies notable. It was once the domain of people who were better marketers than they were filmmakers, ingenious showmen who were like modern day carnies greeting audiences with an insistent, “Step right up! Step right up, folks!” As such, to use “gimmick” in reference to Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters seems inherently negative just as someone like Annalee Newitz finds the phrase “All Female Ghostbusters” offensive. However, there’s a part of me that looks at all of this and simply thinks, “But that’s what this literally is – the All Female Ghostbusters reboot. Isn’t that just an accurate description of the movie?” Of course, technically it’s not – “All Female Ghostbusters” is only 100% accurate if every single character in the movie is female. So, maybe we should start calling it the Female-Led Ghostbusters? Or maybe Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters? Or the New Ghostbusters? Sure, in an ideal world we would simply call it Ghostbusters, but that was used by a movie already.
Whatever we choose to call it, I expect it to be pretty good since I really liked The Heat and Spy.
What do you think? Am I a sexist pig for not being offended by “All Female Ghostbusters”? Do you think that it’s becoming far too easy to politicize this movie and fold it into the larger conversation about the state of gender inequality in film? Or could you not care less what the heck we call the movie since the most important part is whether or not it will be any good?
The new Ghostbusters is due out July 22, 2016.