When the news of the Ghostbusters reboot broke, I worked at a company that has a notoriously terrifying comments section; in the entire history of my time there only one article required that comments be shut down: the announcement of an all female Ghostbusters. Contained within that comment section were some of the most violent assassinations of the female gender that I”ve ever seen. No one could have predicted the firestorm that would haunt this film. On the surface, Ghostbusters is merely a new addition to an old franchise that general audiences may — or may not — be familiar with. So how has this little comedy ignited an international firestorm?
I was one of those not much interested in a reboot, remake, or sequel in the franchise. Dan Aykroyd had been teasing the prospect for so many years that eventually it felt best to just leave well enough alone; we had Blues Brothers 2000 as an example of just how poorly a long-gestating sequel could go.
Having said that, as a film lover, I want all movies to be good and Sony has assembled a talented group of people for Ghostbusters. My introduction to director Paul Feig's work was the acclaimed and beloved Freaks and Geeks. Melissa McCarthy has delivered in every role I have seen her take on, including a quiet turn in St. Vincent. Kristen Wiig is a violently talented comedian and there are not enough words in the English language to describe what fellow SNL veterans Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones bring to the table. These are powerful players with an impressive body of work.
Yet they've each been faced with an avalanche of hateful tweets, comments, memes, and messages. Particularly McCarthy and Feig; though Jones faced a brutal onslaught that nearly drove her off Twitter following the release of the first trailer. To deny the misogynistic undertone is to be willfully ignorant. In my own witnessing, the animosity far predates the release of any marketing materials or even the announcement of the cast. Once the pieces were in place, the malice continued.
During production, the cast visited the children at a local hospital dressed in costume. A lovely gesture, yes? Well, apparently not for some. When the Tufts Medical Center posted images from the event, they were deluged by angry, profane, and threatening comments. Forcing the hospital to post this reminder:
Tufts Medical Center
Please remember our Facebook policy is that any comments with profanity will be deleted. Thank you.
You can read the full, rather disturbing story here. There”s example after example of outraged and outrageous responses to this lighthearted summer comedy.
Take a look at just one relatively tame, recent, and ironic, example of a Tweet about the film and cast:
When the first teaser was released it quickly became the most disliked movie trailer to ever appear on YouTube and is among YouTube”s 100 most disliked videos ever. It is also fat with comments such as “This movie is pure feminazi propaganda,” and “When are people going to learn that women aren't funny?” Let's not forget that the trailers for the critically reviled Grown Ups 2 and Fantastic Four also appear on YouTube with nowhere near the vitriolic response.
Frequently, the bias is subtle in nature. The toys for the new Ghostbusters have only boys on the box art, for example. It sounds like a small thing, but on a both a conscious and subconscious level the imagery delivers a fairly powerful message about who this material is made for. The merchandising issue becomes cyclical and ultimately impacts content, as we've seen recently.
During a Fatman on Batman podcast (via i09) television producer Paul Dini lamented that “executives are spurning female viewers” of animated superhero shows as they don't believe girls will purchase the toys. Additionally, Shane Black recently revealed that the Iron Man 3 villain was originally female, but Marvel executives forced him to switch the gender because they didn't believe a female action figure would sell. The result is that there are fewer female characters and thus a diminished quantity of available lady toys to sell or market to girls.
As Vulture reports, men are far more likely to deride franchises aimed at women than women are to rail against those targeted towards men.
“Whenever we would tabulate the likability scores for Vulture”s Most Valuable Stars list(furnished by market research group E-Poll),” the outlet revealed, “it was striking how poorly the surveyed men would rate any actor whose fanbase was primarily female. Stars like Zac Efron and Robert Pattinson received rock-bottom scores from men because of their pinup looks and female-targeted franchises, though women felt no need to react in kind to actors like Jason Statham and Vin Diesel, whose movies are marketed more to men.”
As to Ghostbusters, there are of course those so attached to the original that they reject any re-treading of that sacred ground. The team behind this new film surely knew they'd have to deal with some degree of backlash. A new Ghostbusters has a lot to live up to, particularly given that none of the follow-up attempts captured the magic of that initial movie. Having said that, in an industry driven by brand familiarity, a retread was simply inevitable.
I have to wonder if the novelty of female Ghostbusters wasn't an attempt to create distance from the original and avoid the aforementioned scrutiny. If that's the case, certainly it's had the opposite effect — at least on the Internet.
I'll confess that the result of the emotional reactivity surrounding this film is that I now find it challenging to view the material with objective eyes. There is some part of me that needs it to succeed — and that just isn't fair to the movie. I'll warrant that I wasn't blown away by that first trailer. I enjoyed the fan made offering and international teaser that followed far more. The second trailer, released this week, is stronger than the first.
Having said that, Feig's work often doesn't translate well in marketing releases. The trailers for both Spy and Bridesmaids failed to capture the humor in either film, as much of his comedy sings in context. And as we all know, there are a multitude of examples of good trailers for bad movies and bad trailers for good movies.
What strikes me about the build up towards the movie's release is that it has become a lightning rod for two oppositional camps online. Those who would say, “Why does it NEED to be women?” and those who would counter, “Why shouldn't it be?” First, whenever you ask the question, “Why does this character need to be a woman, black, Asian, gay, etc.?” you make the assumption that straight white male is the baseline and anything outside of that is outlier. In terms of the make-up of most Hollywood films you”d be right. In terms of our global reality, not so much.
What”s unfortunate for both Ghostbusters and cinema as a whole is that the perception of this film is that it carries the weight of somehow categorically proving that certain kinds of films either will or will not work. It's an unfair amount of pressure for any one movie and, frankly, a ridiculous premise. There are a number of factors that contribute to the success or failure of a film.
There's an alchemy to moviemaking that the original Ghostbusters demonstrates. Because in many respects it was a chaotic production and just shouldn't have worked. Yet it did. There are a variety of factors that go into a film's outcome, many of which are outside of the director and actors' control. As just one example, Feig is likely dealing with a level of studio involvement that wasn”t present in his previous projects.
Yet if Ghostbusters fails will there be those who attribute it to the gender of the cast? In a word: yes. After the initial uproar surrounding the film, Sony demonstrated a frustrating lack of faith in Feig”s movie by announcing the development of a shared Ghostbusters universe under the guidance of Ivan Reitman and teasing a separate Ghostbusters vehicle with and for Channing Tatum.
During an interview I did with him a few years ago, producer Adi Shankar (Dredd, The Grey) was remarkably direct about the struggles he faced as he tried to get a female-led action movie off the ground. He revealed that executives frequently used anecdotal data to assert that female-centered movies don”t work, citing attempts such as Catwoman, which was simply a bad film regardless of gender. Yet, as he told Crave in a separate interview, those same executives would take the success of Lucy and claim that was the exception to the rule and due only to Scarlett Johansson”s popularity. So it becomes a double-bind. If they work it”s a fluke, if they don”t it”s because they can”t.
Most human beings have beliefs are so ingrained that we”re often unaware that we”re operating with a bias. It takes a great deal of effort to first become conscious of them and then make a change. That”s equally true for a society and its prevailing tendencies.
When Geena Davis first started her institute on gender in media she took several meetings with studio executives asking if they realized how imbalanced the ratio of male to female characters was in content for children. As she tells Jesse Thorn in an interview for Bullseye, the inevitable answer was a sincere denial. The leaders of the entertainment industry truly believed that wasn”t so, which is when she decided to gather the data. In family films there”s only one female character for every three males. As Davis noted, the ratio is far more imbalanced in background sequences. The actress recalled that when she was in production on Stuart Little that there was a scene featuring a model boat race and she watched as the assistant director gave every control to a young boy background player and placed a girl behind him. Davis approached the A.D. and said, “Can you please give half of the controls to girls?” At which point he smacked his head, shocked at his own choice and said, “Of course! I don”t know why I did that.”
It wasn”t a malicious move on the assistant director”s part. He was acting unconsciously, and had Davis not taken the time to point it out, then the subconscious message of that scene would have been: “boys control machines, girls sit behind them.” Again, not venomous nor intentional, yet there”s an impact. Over time, these types of messages create the status quo, which feels “natural” and comfortable for most members of society and when the status quo is challenged, it can create a great deal of discomfort and resistance. Sometimes rage-filled resistance, and that, I believe is the core of what we”re seeing in terms of the response to Ghostbusters.
I”ll confess that I'm pulling for Ghostbusters to work both creatively and financially, because I fear that its relative success or failure will be taken as evidence about the viability of female-led movies. It's unfortunate, because it's clear that I, as a result of this “controversy,” now have a bias in favor of this film. I'd rather just go in objectively, but I can't honestly say that it's possible any longer.
In the most recent trailer, seen below, the team behind the film make some meta references to the Internet battlefield.
“No one should have to encounter that kind of evil…Except you girls, I think you can handle it.” The lady Ghostbusters are advised in the trailer's opening moments.
Later, a newscaster asks, “What do we think of these Ghostbusters? Are they to be taken seriously?”
In the broader context of the film, yes and no.
Wouldn't it be miraculous if we could take this light comedy for what it is?
In the video above or below Roth Cornet and Chris Eggertsen talk about the reaction to the all female Ghostbusters movie and ask the question: Why is everyone insane?
Take a look and let us know what you think here or on Twitter.