When I heard a remake of Ghostbusters was coming out, I was intrigued. I hadn’t loved the original Ghostbusters, but it had been a good enough movie that a reboot could be awesome. So I watched the trailer with my wife.
And we both were like…seriously? It was terrible. I had a few friends see the movie, and they hated it too. Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t kind, and if you click the Top Critics vs. All Critics, it gets worse. IMDB was even less kind.
But the criticism of what is obviously a terrible movie suddenly exploded into charges of sexism. Obviously male audiences rated the movie poorly because it had female leads. Obviously, males are inherently sexist and can’t stand to have a strong woman in a film. The same critics conveniently tied in Donald Trump as the continued their rage on the internet.
If you need a perfect counter example, see the recent Star Wars films. Both Episode 7 and Rogue One have female lead characters, and have done outstanding. Episode 7 had Rey, General Leia and Captain Phasma, and while you could argue that the movie splits attention between Rey and two male characters, Rogue One’s Felicity Jones is definitely the star and main focus of the film.
So why the difference? Why did Star Wars, which has a cult following like Ghostbusters, do much better? Sexism can’t explain it, but I think I can, contrasting Ghostbusters with Rogue One.
Rogue One stayed true to what made previous movies great. People like Star Wars because it has space battles, blasters, aliens and the occasional Jedi with a lightsaber. Rogue One never broke from this. They then created characters (bad and good) and pitted them in a good vs. evil environment, adding a few twists to keep you on your toes (did I mention you need to see the movie yet?).
Ghostbusters was a hit because it was a comedy. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and the rest of the cast are funny people, and their dry sense of humor appealed to audiences in the 1980s. The new Ghostbusters, while they tried to make it funny, focused too much about the fact they had a female cast. They added social justice to a movie where people wanted to watch a team of four people fight ghosts and save New York City. When people blatantly saw this in the trailers, they immediately turned hostile (the YouTube trailer has over 1 million down thumbs so far).
Rogue One had a diverse cast. Besides the aliens, it featured lots of non-white actors and actresses. But it doesn’t shove that in your face. It lets you draw the conclusion that the Rebellion embraces diversity while the Empire looks more uniform. Letting people develop their own answers makes them more powerful in the end than providing the “obviously” right answer. In contrast, Ghostbusters gives you the answer, and treats you like an idiot if you don’t like it.
The last point is that Ghostbusters did a terrible job using stereotypes. In Ghostbusters, the stereotypes are connected to the actresses gender and color. Patty Tolan, played by Leslie Jones, is a loud mouth black female because apparently that is how black females are, or at least that’s the stereotype we use to judge her behavior in the movie. Contrast that with Ernie Hudson’s character, who played a pretty upstanding guy in the original movie. Rogue One ties stereotypes to the character, not the actor. Jyn plays a hardened rebel. She’s tough, hates the Empire and has no problem shooting Stormtroopers. There isn’t any mention of her being a woman. Again, letting the audience come to the conclusion that a female lead is awesome makes the message more powerful.
My advice to aspiring social justice warriors trying to champion a cause is to stop shoving things down people’s throats. If you want to champion diversity and women’s issues, look to the example set by Rogue One before you make another terrible movie.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, U.S. Government, Galactic Empire or the Emperor.
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