What’s the problem with women playing Ghostbusters?

Scott McMullon

Lover of literature, film and music living in Essex (no jokes please!). 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars' - Oscar Wilde

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Recently the news broke that we may see a reboot of popular movie Ghostbusters with an all-female roster including renowned funny women Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig. While I was personally very happy about the move, as a fan of these great comedy actors, I soon caught the twitterverse’s telltale mutterings of derision as people complained about the change to the classic team line-up.

More often than not these mutterings followed a pattern: people complaining about feminism gone mad, while others complained that producers should make sure the story keeps to its roots. Indeed, others drew parallels with the latest reimagining of Annie, which is set in contemporary New York with a young black actress taking on the central role. But as I found myself marvelling at the weird opinions that people share on Twitter, I have to wonder if we as a society are still a little bit too obsessed with classic gender roles in films – and I wonder why film is so behind in the race of equality in the wider world.

Films can be quite a conservative medium – especially the Hollywood movie machine. Like many kids of my generation, I grew up on a steady diet of Disney films. The staple of these films was always the ‘Disney Princess’ paradigm. Most of these fairy tale women were victims of some kind of evil who would have to be saved by a dashing young man. This exemplified traditional gender roles in fictional works – and calcified a precedent people struggle to get past, even now.

To its credit, even Disney has finally started to move with the times, and films such as Frozen, Brave and The Princess and the Frog have eschewed the idea of a princess being saved by a man and instead allowed these new entrants to the princess club to save themselves – or at the very least be saved by other women. Sure, sometimes they fall in love, but they know there’s more to life than the approval of their chosen beau.

While this may bode well for the development of future generations, the idea that heroes should always be men seems ingrained into our psyche. As a result, the idea of women taking the forefront is still, for some viewers, something of an alien concept outside of romantic comedies and TV dramas.

Let us take a look at the original Ghostbusters film. The whole idea of this action/comedy was about a group of scientists who investigated the paranormal, eventually forming a business as ghost hunters, or indeed ghost ‘busters’. This portmanteau combined the ideas of private investigators and exterminators with haunted house japes, and the comedy and story behind it went on to become an immediate fan favourite.

We even had the fantastic Sigourney Weaver (whose character in Alien and its sequels was deemed one of the most kick ass women in movie history) – although she did play a damsel in distress who was saved from possession. Apparently, Sigourney’s son will also feature in the film.

The film itself was well received and became a cult classic, and it even managed to produce a sequel. It attained widespread popularity and became a staple of bank holiday weekends, when normal television is suspended in favour of more ‘family friendly’ films. I get that fans are protective of franchises they see as ‘theirs’ – but why is it that the gender of a ghostbuster matters so much to the audience?

It’s important to remember that the original Ghostbusters movie was released in the mid 1980s – a time when private investigators, exterminators and even scientists were mostly men. Indeed a number of industries were still dominated by men as women were still fighting for equal rights across the world. Even now, experts bemoan the lack of positive women as role models in the workplace, with the classic ‘old boys network’ still seeming to rule the roost in a number of industries. This is an important thing to point out, since a new Ghostbusters film set in the present day would have to account for 30 years of change in social attitudes and norms.

Women have now won the legal right to do any job, and we’re finding more and more women rising to prominence in a number of professions. So why then are we still stalling at the idea of a female cast of ghostbusters?

Ultimately I think part of the reason is down to the audience and their ability (or inability) to identify with the hero of a film. Ghostbusters was far from the sort of grossout comedy you saw in the early noughties, but for many men it’s still considered something of a ‘boy’s film’. So perhaps the issue is that some men struggle to identify with a female lead unless she’s stripped down to her pants or being chased by a knife-wielding maniac?

But there are reasons why a Ghostbusters movie staffed by women is important (not least of all because these women are very, very funny)!

A new generation needs a new set of role models if we’re going to move past classic representations of gender roles. While the original Ghostbusters featured all-male leads, a new take on the movie, populated by women, could help cement the idea of empowered women to a mainstream audience – without necessarily beating them over the head with the oft-critiqued stick of feminism.

The idea of a female ghostbuster isn’t exactly new, either: the late 1990s spin-off cartoon Extreme Ghostbusters featured a woman ‘buster. Look at the success of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Women as heroes is hardly a new thing. So why can’t Wiig and McCarthy take on roles like this and help push the envelope for future generations?

Besides, I love the new Ghostbusters line-up and will be itching to see how the new film is presented. I do have to wonder if this will mean we will get a female Slimer too, though… I kind of hope so.

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