On Wednesday, the all-female stars of the summer reboot of “Ghostbusters” appeared on the same episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” as Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, and the confluence of gender politics and the cultural zeitgeist was not lost on the show’s host.
“Get your Woman Cards ready,” DeGeneres tweeted in anticipation of the show, while an apparent Clinton supporter shared an image of the presidential contender dressed in a Ghostbusters uniform, with her likely Republican rival Donald Trump cast as the gluttonous apparition “Slimer.”
Trump — like many, mostly male, critics — has already expressed skepticism over the new film, a $150 million production helmed by “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig. ”They’re remaking Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford, you can’t do that,” he said in an Instagram video early last year. “And now they’re making ‘Ghostbusters’ with only women. What’s going on?!”
What’s going on is a massive backlash. After just two trailers and a few commercial spots, legions of fanboys have taken to comment sections to lambaste the project. Its first trailer, released in March, set a record for most dislikes on YouTube and prompted one popular online critic to refuse to even review it. Complaints range from criticism of the CGI-heavy special effects, the replacement of the original cast (although some stars of the original films, including Bill Murray, are expected to make cameos), the lack of solid laughs and the commercial motivations for making it in the first place. But underneath it all, some see an unabashed undercurrent of sexism.
“The backlash is like they’re remaking the Bible with Lady Jesus,” stand-up comedian Elise Valderrama told MSNBC on Wednesday. “A small group of trolls are either angry or trying to make people angry.”
Valderrama, a five-year veteran in comedy, is supportive of the project and attributes some of the opposition to people’s general antipathy towards remakes and childhood nostalgia for the originals. Still, she thinks if the movie under-performs with critics and at the box office, it could have a net negative effect on women in her field.
“I feel like we established ourselves as funny a long time ago,” she said. “Women in comedy are having to re-prove ourselves over and over again. To a certain extent every comedian has to win over an audience, but if I was a mediocre white male comic, I could probably slide by a lot more.”
The new “Ghosbusters” film boasts some heavy hitters: In addition to “Saturday Night Live” stars Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, the film stars Melissa McCarthy, one of the most bankable comedy stars in Hollywood, male or female. And it still faces an uphill battle.
“Anytime a movie [starring], directed or written by a woman does well they kind of brush that under the rug,” comedian and vlogger Marie Faustin told MSNBC on Tuesday. “As soon as a female-led anything does badly, that’s all that they focus on.”
And in an industry where female-driven projects are still surprisingly rare — 20th Century Fox doesn’t have a female director attached to a film until 2018 and director Shane Black recently admitted a scripted female villain in “Iron Man 3” was scrapped when toy makers protested that her likeness wouldn’t sell — there is a lot riding on this film.
“If the movie sucks they’re probably not going to put a woman in a movie for the next 75 years,” joked Faustin.
By any measure, the film’s initial rollout has been rocky at best. Before the ongoing gripes about the mediocrity of the trailer and arguments over whether the project is trying to promote political correctness, the new “Ghostbusters” was knocked for making its only African-American star, Jones, the lone non-scientist in the line-up. The film’s director, stars and producers have vehemently pushed back against the negative buzz, pleading with audiences to wait and see the movie first before drawing conclusions.
“I don’t even talk about it. We had such a good time filming it. The movie’s really good,” McCarthy recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “The four of us talk constantly, and are always sending each other dumb notes. I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. [“Ghostbusters”] was a blast making, it was really fun and the movie’s going to be amazing.”
Faustin, an African-American with Haitian roots, who wasn’t even born yet when the original film came out, is sick and tired of race and gender being used as an excuse to marginalize movies.
“As a black woman, it’s twofold for us,” she said. “[We’re told] ‘well, black leads or black women don’t do well internationally.’ Some of the top comedians today are black men … hip-hop culture is basically pop now. It’s not that having a black led anything won’t sell, it’s that they anticipate that it’s not going to sell so they don’t try.”
“Jennifer Lawrence is cast in every movie that Bradley Cooper even thinks about,” she added. “We can’t work if there are no opportunities.”
Hillary Clinton has made “breaking down barriers” a recurring theme of her campaign, but her message has been overwhelmed to some degree by her likely general election opponent, who has attacked her for everything from being an “enabler” of her husband’s extramarital affairs, to possibly being involved in the death of one of her closest allies.
There does appear to be a gendered appeal in many of Trump’s attacks, and Valderrama sees a parallel in the way movies are marketed.
“Everything in TV and media has historically been sold to young males,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of big budget movies because I don’t think they’re meant for me.” Still, Valderrama is not entirely discouraged by the industry’s stubborn reliance on action spectacles, and thinks the new “Ghostbusters” film, at the very least, is a sign that change is happening whether the status quo likes it or not.
“We’re not taking ‘no’ anymore. We have so many things to talk about and so many stories to tell, and I think there’s an audience for that,” she continued.
“Ghostbusters are made up — if there were ghosts and guys were hunting them, there’d be plenty of women who’d be like ‘I’d like to that job as well,’” added Faustin. “Let it happen and I think gradually this conversation is going to stop happening.”