In case you missed it, there was an all-female remake of Ghostbusters this year.
Not that you did miss it. Nobody missed it. I don’t think there’s ever been such a vitriolic response to a movie before. You’d think the film had been remade as a piece of Nazi propaganda from how fiercely people hated it from the moment it was announced. Making the Ghostbusters into women? Absolutely criminal.
Next on the bandwagon is an all-female Ocean’s Eleven, designed as a companion story/sequel starring Danny Ocean’s sister. Maybe people will be less violently opposed to this one, because it’s not such a childhood movie, and it doesn’t replace the original in the timeline. This one does have a supremely cool-sounding cast, to the point that I might actually go see it, even those it’s not my usual sort of thing.
But as cool as the concept of all-female remakes might be, I’ve never been able to get particularly excited about them. I’m not a Ghostbusters or Ocean’s Eleven fan, so I’m going to imagine that someone planned to remake The Lord of the Rings with an all-female fellowship. The concept would be pretty cool, but I still don’t think I would be able to get genuinely excited about it. Because these “all-female remakes” aren’t badass feminism, even if that’s what their critics say. They’re gimmicks. “Super special edition” versions, like “it’s Sherlock Holmes, but with mice!” “It’s Ghostbusters, but with women!” It’s presented as something different, something a bit weird, something not normal.
On the plus side, this trend does allow girls to watch, for example, a Ghostbusters movie where they’re the heroes. After I’d already written the outline for this post, I stumbled across a Tumblr post that made me rethink this topic a lot, arguing that while adults might talk about, for example, Obama as the “first black president,” children just see him as the president, and that these are the people remakes are really for. Adults might see the Ghostbusters remake as the “female Ghostbusters,” but to a six-year-old, they’re just the Ghostbusters.
And perhaps this is what people are actually worried about when they say remakes are “destroying their childhood.” It’s not their childhood that’s being affected. It’s other people’s childhoods. New childhoods. Kids who won’t get the same all-male Ghostbuster experience that they had, but will instead see women in the roles. Boys, perhaps, who don’t get to see themselves as the new Ghostbusters, the way these people saw themselves in the 80s. That, I think, is what inspires so much vitriol.
But I don’t think they have to worry. Sometimes the reincarnation replaces the original in the public’s consciousness, like Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury or Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, but in those cases, it’s one more inclusive casting in a context of more traditional choices, and it doesn’t involve the main protagonist. Captain America and Iron Man are still white men. The character change is not the most noteworthy thing about the reboot. But every gender-swapped remake announcement basically confirms that the default is still all-male (or mostly male, one female), and that once you’ve told that story and had it be successful, then you can introduce an all-female story as a gimmicky remake version. The gender swap is the real thing that matters when selling this movie. And sure, they could be cool stories. But I want us to have our own stories too.
Of course, it’s really hard for groups of female characters to avoid that sense of being a “gimmick,” even if they’re in an original story. An all-male fantasy quest is normal, but an all-female fantasy quest would be seen as noteworthy at absolute best, a sign of the domination of women in society and the Fall of Men at worst. But I would love for a story to automatically, naturally have lots of female characters in it. A heist story that’s always about women, not remade to have some women. A superhero story about female superheroes, not male superheroes recast as female ones. There’s something to be said about having female stories from the start and allowing them to become iconic themselves. Like Katniss Everdeen. Like Rey (even though some would argue she is part of a remake).
But of course, it’s hard for these stories to get made, and hard for them to get recognized if they do get made. Star Wars had the benefit of being Star Wars, and The Hunger Games was already a best-selling book series, and even then it was romanced-up in the marketing for the first movie. An all-female remake is a way to get past the “female characters don’t sell” stigma — and even that might be shaky after the vitriolic reaction to Ghostbusters. So I’m not saying they’re a bad thing, or “anti-feminist,” or anything other than “cool but not quite there yet.” I’m still not sure we should heap on the praise for “it’s THIS popular thing, but with women!!” as the epitome of social change. Remakes can be fun. But original female genre stories would be better.