Friday, June 10, 2016

Is the All-Female Remake Trend a Problem? (Or Yet Another Frickin "Ghostbusters" Post)

The name is Bond.  Jane Bond.

While the impact of the female-led "Ghostbusters" on popular culture is still being hashed out, there have been rumblings of more gender-swapped versions of familiar films coming our way.  Gillian Anderson and Emilia Clarke have declared that if Daniel Craig is leaving the "007" franchise, they'd like a shot at the part.  There's also an all-female version of "Oceans 11" with Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence picking up steam, and Ronda Rousey is headlining the remake of "Road House."  A female-led "21 Jump Street" spinoff is being considered, and somehow the "Expendabelles" isn't totally dead yet.   As the studios continue to reboot or spin off every last property in their back catalogues, some are trying to rejigger previously male-led hits to be vehicles for female stars.  Changing the gender of the main character in a story is not a new idea, and not a one-way street (see Jerry Lewis's filmography), but some nervous moviegoers are treating the newest batch of gender-swapped projects like it's the end of the world.

Now, if you've been paying attention to the state of pop culture, colorblind and genderblind casting is becoming much more accepted for most roles.  Nobody bats an eye if Scarlett Johansson plays Kaa in the new "Jungle Book," or Lucy Liu plays Watson in "Elementary."  By all accounts, the representation of anyone who isn't a white male in movies and television could still use plenty of improvement, so this is a good thing.  Where much of the controversy tends to come into play, however, is when more popular properties consider blind casting for lead roles.  And it's the lead roles that are particularly vital when it comes to representation and visibility issues.  Before this latest "Jane Bond" conversation, there was the female "Doctor Who" conversation when Matt Smith retired.  And there was the very different, but related black Spider-man campaign before that.  Whatever your opinions are on whether these particular roles are appropriate for race-blind or gender-blind casting, the conversations have been important because they highlight how few prominent roles are available to anyone who isn't white and male.  

Consider this.  All I could think about when I was watching the new "Cloverfield" movies, was that Mary Elizabeth Winstead would make a fantastic, scrappy young female MacGuyver, or maybe she could take over the aging "Die Hard" franchise, where she already plays John McClane's daughter.  Of course, I'd also love to see her in something original - if there's another "Cloverfield" sequel, I certainly want her involved.  However, starring in a more established franchise would boost her to better parts and more exposure much more quickly.  The trouble is that female-led action franchises are very few and far between, so her options are more limited than if she were Chris Pratt or The Rock, who seem to be constantly being considered for every reboot under the sun.  Flipping genders opens up more roles for women, and also gives at least the surface impression that something new and interesting is being done with an otherwise played out property.  It should be a win-win decision, right?

Well, not according to many fans of the original properties.  Now, I am absolutely not suggesting that everyone who's been throwing vitriol at the new "Ghostbusters" is a misogynist.  However, I am suggesting that there is an awful lot bias involved.  No matt how awful it was, the reboot would not have created the same firestorm of controversy if it had been made with an all-male cast.  Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Rob Schenider, and Tyler Perry in aggregate couldn't have managed it.  However, something about the new Ghostbusters team being all women really touched a lot of nerves.  Also, I don't think an unaffiliated female ensemble comedy involving ghosts would have been an issue for these fans, but the fact that they were touted as the new "Ghostbusters" was.  Some have brought up the issue of fan entitlement, accusing the unhappy "Ghostbusters" fans of being too resistant to inevitable change.  I don't think that's quite it either.

I think it has to do with who the target audience of the new "Ghostbusters" movie is, and who people think the target audience of the new "Ghostbusters" movie is.  For much of the current moviegoing audience, the assumption is that a movie with four female leads is meant for women.  Meanwhile, a movie with four male leads can be for anyone because male leads are the status quo.  So even though "Ghostbusters" is clearly intended to be a four quadrant movie, it's pinging for many of the established fans as a "chick flick" simply because of the cast.  That's the disconnect.  That's why many male "Ghostbusters" fans feel like they've been abandoned by the franchise - they no longer appear to be part of the right audience for it.  And until that mentality changes, I think we're going to need more of these gender-swapped movies, not less.

I'm certain that a "Jane Bond" movie is not going to happen.  Bond's appeal is intrinsically linked to his status as an icon of British masculinity, so there is almost no chance that whoever replaces Daniel Craig in the role is going to be anything but a heterosexual white male for a long time.  However, this is still an important conversation to have.  And maybe it could put Gillian Anderson in contention for an original female spy movie that some studio is on the fence about making.  Maybe Emilia Clarke would be right for a Bond girl spinoff.  We can't know the answers to these questions if they're never asked.


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