What Ghostbusters says About Hollywood and Us as an Audience

Over the last few weeks, there’s been intense discussion around the remake/re-imagining of the Ghostbusters franchise starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The scrutiny started immediately upon the release of the trailer, and has surged well beyond opening weekend. Oddly enough, almost none of the conversation is focused on the quality of the actual film itself. What is it about this movie that has created so much hullabaloo?

Part One: Women and Hollywood
Women are terribly underrepresented in films. According to The Gina Davis Institute on Gender and Media, female roles are outnumbered by male roles 3 to 1 in media, and often they are portrayed as non-character physical eye-candy. In fact, women are three times as likely to be shown wearing intentionally sexy attire or partially nude in a film than a man. And that’s just in family films!

Once you get above a PG-13 rating, the divide becomes even more noticeable. Only 18% of films have women as two of the top three speaking parts. Of the 100 highest grossing global films of all time, only eight had a sole female protagonist. Half of those are the Hunger Games movies. Considering women make up half of the world’s population, that balance is considerably off.

So when you reflect on Ghostbusters, a summer blockbuster comedy helmed by not one, but four women, one of whom is black, and none of whom are scantily clad or chasing after a man in the trailer, suddenly you understand the immense pressure placed on what, on the surface anyway, should be a fun July flick. This is a movie that is defying convention, shattering the bare-minimum standard that is the Bechdel Test, and attempting to do so under the shadow of a franchise. In a recent discussion with Entertainment Weekly, Melissa McCarthy was asked about the scrutiny surrounding Ghostbusters and quipped, “If this doesn’t work, we go back and lose our vote... I’m talking pre-suffragette.”

She’s joking, of course, but the fact remains that the rarity of women tentpole movies means that each becomes subject to proving not just themselves and their merits as a film, but a proof of concept that women can helm major movies beyond Katniss and Rey.

Part Two:Hollywood and Race
If women in a leading role are rare, women of color in the opening credits are a goddamn unicorn. As such, every action and attribute of Leslie Jones’ character was called into question. Why isn’t she one of the scientists? If we could flip the gender of the Ghostbusters’ team, why not the race? Can we ever get beyond the “Sassy Black Best Friend” trope? Seeing a person of color on screen is a rare enough event, and, possibly because Leslie Jones in real life has a strong, no-nonsense personality, fans were hoping to see her portray a woman with more than a few taglines, but rather a full character with agency. Criticism started with the first trailer, months before the release, and created such a firestorm that the second trailer actually took on some of the internet ire.

Again, is it fair to place the weight of years of under-representation and stereotyping at one person’s feet? Of course not. But when so few opportunities are afforded a community within the Hollywood structure, the situational gravity presses mightily on whomever manages to break through. In this case, the burden falls on Leslie Jones. Which leads us to…

Part Three: Trolls Will be Trolls, Especially in an Election Cycle
You may have heard about Twitter banning an so-called tech writer for verbally abusing and harassing Leslie Jones, so much so that she eventually stepped away from the social media platform. (She has since returned after an outpouring of support.)

I’m not going to discuss the media-addict in question here, as like Beetlejuice, he thrives on hearing his own name. Suffice it to say, he is the consummate troll; one of many such sociopathic persons who equates vitriol with attention, and attention with power. These kinds of people will do anything and say anything that gets them eyes and ears pointed in their direction, no matter how hurtful, hateful, hyperbolic, or false. Personally, I find them to be the most boring of humans, since they never say anything that will truly surprise you. That aside, if you’re out of the loop and curious, writer Laurie Penny posted her own analysis of the situation on Medium, and tackles the topic of this individual far better than I can.

While the individual behind the trolling is unimportant, what we can learn from the situation is valuable. As a film, Ghostbusters had the audacity to not only defy the status-quo, but also to turn the norms on their head. Male roles are replaced with women. Stereotypically feminine roles, like the “brainless eye candy”, is filled by a man (receptionist Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth.) A black woman is given screen time, and isn’t spouting sassy-isms or playing a slave. The sort of individuals who prefer the whitewashed and male-dominated worldview will feel threatened. A cursory glance at any comments section regarding these issues will bear out this theory.

Put this version of Ghostbusters out any summer, and you’re bound to have some blowback from these small-but-noisy groups. But mix an election cycle filled with fear mongering that stirs up the sensibilities of hate groups, add a dash of un-moderated social media platforms, and a population already on edge due to world events, and … well, here we are.

What’s are the lessons to be learned? It isn’t to ignore the trolls. Ignoring trolls as a population or to deny hate groups exist, isn’t a solution; any more than ignoring the existence of termites will save your house. While they may be small, they can still crawl around in the dark places and damage a foundation. The comments they make hurt because there are still issues to be solved, foundations that need rebuilding. Which brings me to the second lesson.

We need more diversity in Hollywood. The only reason Ghostbusters has undergone this kind of examination is because the cast is “unusual.” If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that I haven’t even once in this discussion covered whether or not Ghostbusters is even a good movie. We can’t move on to emphasizing the script, or plot holes, or quality of visual effects until features like this are the norm rather than the exception. If we build the entertainment industry out of stories featuring humans of all genders and colors, the destructive commentary of the hateful internet troll will garner just as much attention as termites gnawing on a solid steel foundation. Get on it, Hollywood. I’ll even spring for the popcorn.

griptail's picture

You're one of those people who overanalyzes the situation and yet understands none of it. His name is milo yiannopoulos. he's a conservative gay dude. and he's awesome. In an era where we HAVE to support females over the quality of the film people like him can thrive. You people constantly try to silence any meanness cause you're weak, you're bloodline is weak, and you'll never survive the winter. He didn't even bull her or harrass her in anyway. You need to stop being one of those people who is getting all your information from 2ndhand accounts. That's how you become a feminist, by believing other people when you didn't experience it

PS i love how you talked about the fact ghostbusters was a sexist movie, just against men, which makes you a sexist for supporting it. i'll be reporting you to your editor because he shouldn't support your bigotry. get a life and stop genderbending anything because men have overpowered you your whole life.

Jonasandezekiel's picture

I would have respected their efforts a WHOLE LOT more, if the creators of this rip-off didn't try to replace the sexism they despise with more sexism. In addition, intentionally blowing up such a venerable comedy that is near and dear to many of us males' hearts is not only unoriginal, it's extremely nasty too. (Great comments by the way from griptail)

Jonasandezekiel's picture

And by the way...
I have to hard facts to support this, (although I'm sure they're available) but I'll bet that television is just the opposite to the under representation that women experience on the big screen. I can't think of one show where men are protagonists, and are depicted as strong and in a positive manner. I'm sure there a couple, but women seem to be far out front on the small screen.

ssmike's picture

Would you like some cheese to go with that whine Lauren. Unbelievable, if you want to write about politics go work somewhere else, this is sound and vision not cnn. People read this publication to stay current with audio and video not to listen to the self loathing of a narrow minded, free speech disrespecting person such as yourself. Perhaps you could articulate the sound of a pair of speakers instead of burdening these readers with your sophomoric rhetoric. Maybe you should mention the casual way a male was thrown out a window and that Chris hemsworths character was painfully stupid, but I guess that wouldn't fit in your preachy sexist narrative now would it? Take it somewhere else Lauren, it doesn't belong here and perhaps you and your editor don't either.

MatthewWeflen's picture

First of all, wow. Based on the other comments here, you have my sympathy, Lauren.

Secondly, fair or not, I do think there is a fair bit riding on this movie with respect to female-helmed actioners. Hollywood studios are businesses, first and foremost. They do boatloads of audience research to determine their wisest investments. This does, of course, lead to criticism of endless, samey, creatively moribund male-oriented action vehicles. But they do make money.

I hope this movie and Wonder Woman do gangbusters business, because casting diversity (not to mention genre and theme diversity) will follow the money, not the other way around.

hk2000's picture

Let me guess: Someone badly offended you on a different forum and you wanted to vent somewhere, so you pretended to write a review? I'm not even attempting to give my personal opinion on your political rants, but, as another person mentioned, this is a tech review site, not a political forum!!!

Jonasandezekiel's picture

Hk2000...have been reading some of the rogue reviews on here lately?? They're journalists for Pete's sake. They cant help themselves it seems. And politics has seeped into everything.

MrLarry's picture

When commenters on an A/V site say that reporters shouldn't be covering the industry that provides most of the content you view on your home theatres then it's all gone a bit crazy, right??

And by slinging vitriol at the female author, do you not see that you are actually confirming her point of view?

It is true that prior to its release the Ghostbusters remake got a lot of people upset online and they were spouting off a lot of negative commentary based solely on the fact that there were women in the key roles (it started the day of the announcement). When the preview came out (which I didn't think was a good preview) there were more people jumping in saying "I told you so". And when people watch the film they say it ruined their childhood.


Judging a movie on cast alone is stupid (remember when Hugh Jackman got Wolverine?? What about when Heath Ledger got The Joker?? People were up in arms). Your childhood still exists. This movie will not change it. If you think it will, don't see the movie.

I love the original but I still went to see this version and I thought it was a good movie for what it wanted to achieve. A fun family flick that entertained but didn't necessarily enlighten (which is exactly what the original was too). There were things I didn't like about it (should have been a continuation of the original. Had too many cameos from old cast) but it was fun, funny and entertaining.

I think there are actual good reasons why Hollywood has a gender imbalance in lead roles. First and foremost, the majority of blockbuster films where studios get their main income from are action films. Women can be great in action films (Aliens. Kill Bill. Long Kiss Goodnight. Salt) but women in general prefer to discuss points of difference and find common ground rather than bash heads together like men do (and the comments on here show just how trigger happy men can be).

I don't think that a woman should get a part just because she is a woman any more than I think a man should get the part because he is a man. If the role suits either gender then let the best person win (Salt is a great example of this where the role was written for a man initially but they realised it didn't matter and actually improved the film when they made the character female).

The way all you commenters feel about the sexism portrayed by Chris Hemsworth's character (which I thought was hilarious) in the Ghostbusters remake is how women feel about the majority of characters played by women. That they are just there because they are hot and dumb and subservient and they don't progress the plot at all.

Do you feel that anger about his role? Women feel that about most movies.

BoloMKXXVIII's picture

Gee, movies that star a leading lady that were popular. How about Aliens, Resident Evil, Underworld? All were so popular that they had multiple sequels.

drewdlz's picture

reading these sad people's sad comments.

Thanks for the article and don't pay attention to sad people.

jmilton7043's picture

Calling Hillary a "media addict" is just irresponsible...IMHO.