feminism in film

Ghostbusters is Just Awesome Fun

I was witness to some pretty wonderful things this week, and some not so wonderful things. But that’s nothing new; between my outdoor excursions and having access to the internet, I’m exposed to a great deal of what humanity has to offer, which unfortunately includes some pretty disappointing things.  This week, I’m glad to say that Ghostbusters was not one of them. 

It’s hard to put aside personal feelings and expectations when seeing a highly publicized movie. The backlash began as soon as the all-female cast for the reboot of the 1984 and 1989 films was announced. This was unsurprising, considering the outrage over the direction and focus of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, an amazing reboot that won six Academy Awards and broke barriers in the film industry. An impressive feat of writing and cinematography (as well as every other aspect of the film), Mad Max: Fury Road did great things for the female audience. Misogynists came out of the woodwork again for Ghostbusters, this time throwing a fit even bigger than the ones they threw over Fury Road and The Force Awakens (I patiently await the epic Star Wars tantrum to continue after Rogue One releases in December). Although done in a completely different genre in a completely different way, Ghostbusters managed to give female movie-goers a taste of how females can be positively portrayed in movies as, to the shock of everyone, human beings. 

I know it sounds like I’m reaching, but let’s break this down. Given the usual movie tropes, what do we normally see out of female characters? The reason the Bechdel test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: female characters interacting with each other) and the Mako Mori Test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: a female character’s existence and development) are even a thing is that there are so few films that manage to produce female characters and stories that treat them as people with their own ambitions. The Ghostbusters reboot is exactly that – a reboot. It’s its own entity, and the mistake many members of the potential audience made going in was that it would be the female embodiment of the original. Instead of going that route, Sony produced a film that was fun, smart, and entertaining. It wasn’t as raunchy as some may have expected, which was a somewhat pleasant change of pace but may have been disappointing for some viewers, which is so far the only reasonable complaint I’ve heard of the movie as a whole. The most notable thing about the comedy in Ghostbusters was that it didn’t rely on exploiting female sexuality, jokes about the actresses sizes, or any of the other go-to devices used when targeting a male audience. Melissa McCarthy’s character Abby Yates doesn’t receive any jokes about her weight or eating food – a breath of fresh air that may seem like a little thing, but in a body-shaming culture where overweight women are the butt of jokes and are made to feel as if they can’t even eat in public without qualifying it, it really is a big deal. Patty Tolan, played by SNL’s Leslie Jones, isn’t subject to jokes about her size either – 6ft tall to McCarthy’s just over 5ft frame – and is valued for her knowledge of the city as well as her positive “let’s do this” attitude. Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert is a bit of an unfashionable and awkward academic, but ambitious and earnest. She’s the only one swooning over the idiotic eye-candy Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth, who the others don’t find attractive (looks aren’t everything – sorry fellas) and are reluctant to hire. Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann is phenomenal in every way, and gay (also representative of the phenomenal part). The women are smart and don’t qualify their intelligence by attributing to their fathers. They eat without talking about having to hit the gym later. There’s no romantic subplot (Erin’s attraction to Kevin is shown through awkward interaction that isn’t romantic – or rudely done). And the biggest sexual draw in the movie turns out to not be Hemsworth’s character Kevin, but McKinnon’s Holtzmann – the weirdly sexy engineer who in any other movie might just be “the young, cute, odd one”.

ghostbusters

Look at these nerds doin’ WORK.

The best part? None of this is shoved in the audience’s face. It’s just part of the story. Not once in the movie do you have to pause and digest the point being made – it’s simply integrated into the film. Amazing. Finally. In 2016.

In the end, Ghostbusters is a fun movie perfect for the end of summer, full of cameos from original cast members and nods to the original films while creating something new. Unfortunately the innovative aspect of realistic comedic storytelling the script provides will go unnoticed to those who don’t experience misrepresentation or marginalization. Bottom line: the film doesn’t deserve any of the hate it has received. Ironically, the loudest outcries against well-written female content come the same people who already have decades of well-written representation in media – and are vehemently against anyone pointing it out. Outspoken fans of female-driven media are sent hate through social media, threatened with doxxing, rape, or death, and recently actress Leslie Jones was besieged with racist and misogynistic tweets that caused her to take a break from social media. It seems that this Ghostbusters reboot is necessary, not only to organically show the audience what they’re saying about women in film in terms of presenting how female characters can be written in comedy, but also to reveal the vicious nature of misogynistic fan culture. Maybe it’s fitting that the villains in the most bitched about films with female characters (Fury Road, The Force Awakens, and Ghostbusters) are all power hungry white dudes who, oh so shockingly, get really pissed when women stand up to them (#NotAllWhiteMaleVillains). 

Whether it turns out to break even in the international box office market or not (numbers watched carefully by those who are excited to call the movie a failure), Ghostbusters is a fun movie worth your time and money. Especially if you have kids. The hate that has hovered over this movie since the beginning has been unnecessary, with added complaints ranging from ruining someone’s childhood to crying reverse-sexism with Kevin’s dumb-blonde inept secretarial character. Feels like I’ve seen that before though…. It seems like some salty fans and critics just need to go pet a dog. Or actually just settle in and enjoy a movie instead of looking for every reason to tear it down.

Mad Max, Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road kills the Oscars

While the Oscars predilection for genre films, let alone science fiction, has been non-existent, last night George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road performed exceptionally well. One of two sci-fi film nominees for Best Picture, Fury Road (alongside The Martian) joins only a handful of films of this genre to have been recognized by the Academy. The film didn’t win the arguably deserved Best Picture despite a worldwide box office of over $370 million, but it did take home awards for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Production Design, Makeup, and Costume Design – more awards than any other film nominated this year.

But why was its nomination for Best Picture so important? Take a look at the cast and the so-called controversy surrounding the film. As soon as the film was described as a feminist, the backlash began. Max doesn’t speak much during the film, but that makes his presence and actions even more pronounced, and Tom Hardy‘s performance was outstanding. The women featured prominently in the film include an amputee as well as actresses from different nationalities/racial backgrounds and various ages. Charlize Theron commands respect brings the importance of the overall plot to the audience through her character, Imperator Furiosa. The women at the center of the film (portrayed by Zoë KravitzRosie Huntington-WhiteleyRiley KeoughAbbey Lee, and Courtney Eatonare sex slaves escaping the Citadel and the nightmare of Immortan Joe (Mad Max alum Hugh Keays-Byrne). The War Boys that work alongside Furiosa trust her in a way that regards her position with a tremendous trust prior to her betrayal that isn’t overtly obvious to the audience – and that’s the point.

In the end, the arguments of why the film isn’t feminist are unsurprisingly reasons why the film is feminist. The chastity belts the women have locked around them are toothed, threatening to put any potential rapist in peril – but these were placed by a man who wanted to save the raping privileges for himself. The women are owned, kept captive, raped, and called “breeders”, and this denotation is purposeful in the storytelling as the mantra of the movie is We Are Not Things. The weak arguments of a feminist story being shoved down the throats of the Mad Max franchise’s fans doesn’t hold up, and the efforts Miller made in creating a story that was compelling and included female narratives was deserving of the Best Picture nomination – not because there were women, but because it was a great film. The movies, while centered around Max, have always been about the people he interacts with more so than him specifically, and the continuity of specific moments over the course of the films such as Max trying to retrieve his belongings (jacket, boot, his iconic V8 Interceptor) and the fallible shotgun shells and weapons jams were perfection. The War Boys and their worshiping the V8 was a great addition, and Nicholas Hoult‘s Nux was an interesting and wonderful character for the Mad Max universe. The story, visuals, editing, choreography, special and physical effects, and the sound were all outstanding, and the Academy served the film well with the nominations and awards it received. If only it could have received the award it deserved – Best Picture.