The all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ could be the biggest feminist film franchise in history, says Chitra Ramaswamy
It’s an opener as impossible to resist as a giant Marshmallow man in a sailor hat. So, here goes. If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood… Who you gonna call? AN ALL-WOMEN TEAM OF GHOSTBUSTERS!
As in spirit exterminators of the female persuasion. Women who can cross the streams of their proton packs with all the power, heroism, and comic timing of men. Women who also happen to be four of the funniest comics in America. Three of whom are over 40, one of whom is black, and another of whom is a lesbian. And none of whom is afraid of no ghost.
Basically, the remake of Ghostbusters is an even rarer sight in Hollywood than finding Slimer in your local Manhattan hot dog cart. Something weird in the neighbourhood indeed.
Last week director Paul Feig confirmed the cast of his Ghostbusters remake on Twitter. And what a group of X chromosomes he has selected. Stepping into the shoes of the most charming and goofy vapour botherers in cinematic history – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson – are Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. The first two found fame in the consistently hilarious Bridesmaids – also directed by Feig, and a film that rewrote the rules of what a romantic comedy about and for women could be. The last two are lesser known outside America but established comedy performers on Saturday Night Live. Basically, if he casts Amy Poehler as Rick Moranis’s ultimate dufus Louis and Tina Fey as Gozo we have on our hands the greatest feminist franchise in history.
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I must have been about 12 when I first saw Ghostbusters. Young enough to find the iconic opening scene in which a librarian is spooked by a vaporising bookworm a little bit scary. Old enough to realise Bill Murray was an absolute legend.
It quickly became one of my favourite films: among the chosen few battered vids that would get shoved into our VHS at least seven times a week. Ghostbusters does everything a film of the Eighties should do. It’s funny, geeky, silly, and all heart. It features completely unbelievable science. A theme tune that makes you smile each time you press your memory’s play button.
It also has a female character – Sigourney Weaver as Dana – who does so much more than be the girlfriend. As in she gets sucked into her own fridge, levitates above her bed, and pants like a dog plastered in rock chick make up and the remains of a slinky dress. Inspiring stuff, and a cut above the majority of roles we see for women in the mainstream Hollywood movies of today.
Imagine if that impressionable 12-year-old girl, surrounded as she was by the confusion of Thatcherism, Barbies, Working Girl, power dressing, and rampant sexism that plagued the Eighties, had seen women in the leads? Four kickass heroines running around Manhattan in boiler suits, depositing ghosts in containment units, flicking ectoplasm from their bouffy hair, and making love to men invaded by the spirit of Zuul on the roofs of Manhattan apartments. I think it would have blown my mind. I think I would have loved it.
This remake has been a long time coming, following more than 30 years on from the original Eighties classic. Expectations are high. After all, we’re talking about a film that is loved so deeply you still find the odd fan of indiscriminate age sporting a homemade proton pack at Halloween.
As ever, some will be disappointed. There are those who say casting women is nothing more than a gimmick, as though a film about men is completely normal but one about women can’t possibly be taken seriously. Ernie Hudson, who appeared in the original Ghostbusters, was unimpressed. “I love females,” he said, supposedly to reassure. “But all-female … would be a bad idea. I don’t think the fans want to see that.”
To which the best response must go to the tweeter who posted last week: “An all-female Ghostbusters? What’s next, an all-male hierarchy perpetuated throughout thousands of years of recorded history?” Well, quite.
The fact is, the mere thought of these four women saving the Big Apple from “a disaster of biblical proportions” is enough to make me wet myself. It’s just really, really funny. Go on. Picture it. Kristen Wiig saying, with a withering Venkman look, ‘This man has no dick’. Melissa MacCarthy screaming ‘this chick is toast!’ before pointing her laser.
Feig could basically reshoot Ghostbusters scene for scene as a straight-up homage with his all-female cast and it would be genius. Apparently this is not on the cards and he’s going to completely reboot the franchise.
But one can still dare to dream, because what we have here is something rare and precious: a feminist rewriting of a beloved piece of popular culture. The effect of simply switching the roles of men and women will have no less of an impact than going to see an all female Julius Caesar or a woman playing Hamlet. In fact the impact will be greater because everyone knows Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters is for everyone. It’s one of the biggest franchises around. And reimagining women in any roles that have for the last few hundred years been created and canonised by men – both on and off screen – is nothing short of radical. I for one am going to start making my proton pack.