Fans divided over Ghostbusters all-women cast

The Ghostbusters are back — but this time they’re female! As fans feud over the gender reversal, is it time to repopulate the Hollywood hall of fame with a more diverse cast of characters?

With their khaki one-pieces, sci-fi rifles and satchels packed with bizarre machinery, the Ghostbusters are one of the most instantly recognisable ensembles in Hollywood history. But when they return next year, this classic image will have one striking difference: every one of the paranormal police force will be female.

The news that director Paul Feig has chosen to cast women in every major role for his Ghostbusters sequel has sent fans into a frenzy. Some reacted with horror, worried that playing with gender could distort the story. Others gleefully applauded the all-star cast of female comics, led by Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, both of Feig’s 2011 blockbuster Bridesmaids.

The original Ghostbusters cast is equally divided. One of its members, Bill Murray, said that McCarthy would make a ‘spectacular’ Ghostbuster and called Wiig ‘so funny’. But his co-star Ernie Hudson was less impressed, calling an all-female cast ‘a bad idea’ that ‘fans don’t want to see’.

Part of the reason that Feig's casting decisions have caused so much of a stir is that Hollywood has traditionally been dominated by men. A recent study found that only 15% of 2013’s top films starred women, and that the percentage of female speaking roles hasn’t increased much since the 1940s.

In 2012, it was reported by the LA Times that 77% of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the group of industry insiders and film professionals who vote in the Oscars, are male. The recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, where confidential data was released, didn’t help the film industry’s case either. One document revealed that the company was paying several women less than their male colleagues, despite the co-chair Amy Pascal, speaking out on Hollywood’s gender inequality.

But many hailed Bridesmaids, the 2011 film that Feig directed, as a watershed moment for female-led films. The film featured a female cast, and made over $150,000,000 profit.

Who you gonna cast?

Many have welcomed Ghostbusters’ gender reversal and called for other films to follow suit: ‘they should remake everything with a talented female cast’, one fan suggested on Twitter. Perhaps this is an opportunity to redress the gender imbalance in the Hollywood hall of fame: Jane Bond, Harriet Potter, a female Indiana Jones — it’s high time we injected some diversity into pop culture.

That’s all very well, say more sceptical critics, but relaunches like this are little more than gimmicks. Real equality will come only when movies led by women are as unexceptional as male-dominated films are now. As one journalist said, it’s ‘frustrating that diversity is still noteworthy’.

You Decide

  1. Imagine your favourite film was remade with the central character’s gender changed. Would you mind?
  2. Do film-makers have a responsibility to cast people from a diverse range of backgrounds?

Activities

  1. Choose a famous story (such as a fairytale) and rewrite it with the central character’s gender switched. You could also think about changing other aspects of their identity, such as ethnicity. What effect does it have on the story?
  2. Conduct a survey of the class, with each person naming the most recent film they saw and the gender of the main character. Are there more men than women?

Some People Say...

“Fictional heroes have to move with the times.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What makes Ghostbusters worthy of a headline?
It’s spectacularly successful and influential, for a start: when it came out it was the highest grossing comedy of all time. And comedy has traditionally been a particularly male-dominated genre, which makes Paul Feig’s decision particularly momentous. But this isn’t specifically about Ghostbusters — it’s an issue that applies to all of pop culture.
If you can change a character’s gender, could you change their ethnicity too?
Absolutely! In fact, it’s strongly rumoured that the next James Bond may be the acclaimed black British actor Idris Elba. But in general the trend so far has been to adjust the ethnicities of minor characters rather than that of the protagonist.

Word Watch

Bridesmaids
This anarchic comedy was considered a landmark when it was released because it was a rare example of a successful comedy led by a largely female cast. But the number of films that have followed suit since has been disappointingly small.
Industry insiders
The Oscars are the most prestigious award in the movie industry, but the process by which the winners are chosen has traditionally been somewhat mysterious. Recently, however, the Academy’s make-up has been revealed, and it is not a hugely diverse bunch: the vast majority of voters are over 50, and well over 90% are white.
Recent hack
In November, a deluge of private documents and emails from Sony employees flooded onto the internet after the company’s website was hacked. US officials concluded that the attack was carried out by the North Korean government in revenge for a film that depicted the murder of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Subjects

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