Earlier in the year it was announced that a reboot of the classic Ghostbusters movie was in production featuring an all-female cast for the trio of Ghostbusters. At the time, I didn’t really think a whole lot of it. Sure it was weird, but free expression and all that. Well now what were previously rumors have been confirmed. There is a reboot of Ocean’s 11 in the works featuring yet again an all-female cast, spearheaded by Sandra Bullock herself.
Now I’m starting to take issue with this.
I don’t necessarily have an issue with the fact that this is being done. Like I said, freedom of expression. Where I start having problems is with how this kind of thing is treated in the media. The news latches on to these stories and then these projects are hailed as some kind of progressive icon. But that just begs the question: are these movies actually being progressive? Or is there a more insidious undertone going on here, one that even the people spearheading these projects might not be aware of themselves?
Let me put it bluntly. If we encourage this, the implication becomes that there are no good roles for women. This isn’t progressiveness. If anything, it’s regression, taking us back to a time when women’s roles were heavily stereotyped as the caretaker of the house and children.
The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t good roles for women in movies. It’s that people don’t write them. Instead, they seem to want to take the lazy way out, recasting a role originally written for a man. And that’s exactly what’s happening with Ocean’s 11. It’s not a completely new movie. George Clooney himself opted to help recast his lead role for Sandra Bullock.
I’m not against the idea of an all-female heist movie. I think that would be great. But I don’t like the implication going on here. I hate that it feels like movie studios are trying to capitalize on the popularity of the gender equality and feminist movements. I hate that these movies are held up as a step forward, when it really feels like all we’re doing is taking a step back. Instead of recasting roles for women, we should be writing roles for women from the ground up.
And there are great female roles out there. Does anyone remember Ellen Ripley from Alien? Her character was credited with helping challenge gender norms, particularly in the science fiction and horror genres, and that was all the way back in the 1970’s. Here we had a female character who was tough as nails and carried the central action of the movie.
And what about Dana Scully from the X-Files? She’s another character who proved that she can be a fully fleshed out and tough character (even if she is sometimes obnoxiously skeptical of everything Mulder says). And continuing with that kind of trend, we have Olivia Dunham from Fringe, who is the only one of the central three characters who works in law enforcement and carries a gun on her nearly at all times. Fully fleshed out female characters are out there, even if they are admittedly not always as prevalent as male ones.
But that’s just the point. We shouldn’t be recasting men’s roles for women, because that doesn’t help us further along gender equality. I mean what’s next, a reboot of Mrs. Doubtfire where instead of a man dressing up as a women, we have a women dressing up as a man?
Besides, no one can replace Robin Williams. NO ONE.
I won’t automatically assume bad intentions on the part of those making these movies, because that would just be unfair of me, but even so they are responsible for the precedent they may be creating. There are only these two major examples so far, but if the trend continues, it will become a problem.
Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test, or Bechdel-Wallace test? It’s a test that asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women who talk to each other about something that isn’t just another man. The test has often been criticized because it doesn’t tell us if a film is a good model for gender equality or even if it has well-written, fleshed out female characters. It’s too limited in that regard. Walt Hickey from the polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight observed this about the test, but also wrote that, “it’s the best test on gender equity in film we have — and, perhaps more important …, the only test we have data on”. This indicates an issue surrounding the discourse on gender equality in movies.
A while back I wrote a post about Gamergate and female characters in video games. And in it, I remarked on how the issue isn’t always that female characters in video games are overtly sexualized or relegated to background roles, but rather that the criticism surrounding them seems to be a little nitpicky, taking things out of context. I feel like the same thing happens with the Bechdel test. It limits itself to such a strict set of criteria that it doesn’t give us a good sense for how well a movie deals with the different genders. And it doesn’t always take things in their proper context. Sure, a woman may be relegated to working in the kitchen in a certain movie, but if that movie takes place in the 1950’s then it makes sense for it to be that way because that was the reality of things back then.
So to sum things up, the issue to me isn’t that there aren’t good female roles, it’s that we either don’t know how to write them or we spend too much time trying to find issues where there might not be any. And if we keep looking in the wrong places, then we miss the problems that are in the right places.
And that’s all I have for you this time. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!