An Open Letter to the So-Called Ghostbros

By  · Published on July 11th, 2016

With the Ghostbusters Embargo Lifted, It’s Time to Start the Healing Process.

Listen. This whole thing about the new Ghostbusters movie has gotten way, way out of control. What started out as an earnest conversation – at least for some of us – has devolved into a string of insults and an across-the-board refusal to entertain any opposing viewpoint. So I thought this might be a good time to walk the rhetoric back a couple of paces and try to find some common ground. True, I haven’t seen the new Ghostbusters movie yet, but then again, neither have you, so it seems like we’re starting off on equal footing.

Any conversation about Ghostbusters has to begin with the obvious: the film has been remade with a female cast. Opinions on this point have been a little scattered so far. Our own Tomris Laffly absolutely loved the new cast, and while the majority of critics seem to agree with her, that does not mean it is a unanimous opinion. Melissa Anderson of the Village Voice, for example, was not a big fan, describing the actors as never having the opportunity to play to their strengths. But here’s the funny thing: even if you hate the new cast, you might be surprised at how many people on the other side of the aisle would agree that a gender-swapped Ghostbusters movie is not the ideal fix for diversity on film.

Look at it this way. Over the weekend, George Takei voiced his disappointment that the new Star Trek movie featured a gay Sulu. It’s not that Takei did not appreciate having a gay character be introduced to Star Trek canon; rather, as Takei explained to the Hollywood Reporter, he would rather have seen screenwriter Simon Pegg “create a character who has a history of being gay” instead of switching the sexual orientation of someone who already exists in the universe. While I am certain that Pegg only has the best intentions in mind, Takei is right to point out the difference between a character that you develop and one that is given to you. The latter approach will always lack a sense of ownership.

The same can be said of Ghostbusters. There are plenty of people out there who might be skeptical of an all-female Ghostbusters because they would rather have seen original stories with original characters. Casey Cipriani of Bustle, for example, put together a strong argument that female reboots may end up doing more harm than good. Tomris, too, wrote a piece about how the all-female remake is only the starting point, not the finish line. Only problem? Hollywood still has an irrational fear of female leads. Each of the last three movies that Paul Feig has directed – Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy — grossed well over $100 million dollars at the domestic box office, but despite this, the budgets for his female-driven comedies have gone up by relatively small increments, topping out at $65 million for Spy. By comparison, the budget for Ghostbusters was estimated at around $150 million dollars. Feig and his team are playing in the summer blockbuster side of the pool now, and if there’s one thing we know about studios it’s that they have exactly zero stomach for risk.

In other words, for Feig and his crew to tell a story like Ghostbusters, they had to actually tell a story that was Ghostbusters. Sony was all-too happy to hire Paul Feig to adapt Ghostbusters as a woman-driven property, but if Feig had approached the studio about a completely original property about female paranormal investigators and asked for $150 million dollars, something tells me that would have been a short-lived conversation. If anything, this should go to show just how powerful fans have made the Ghostbusters brand. The franchise isn’t being “watered down” with a gender gimmick; instead, it is lending its commercial viability to a movie that might otherwise not have a shot at getting made. And that’s something to be proud of as a fan, I would think.

This aversion to risk might also help explain why so many reviews are commenting on its determination to run through the plot points from the original Ghostbusters. This piece by Devin Faraci does a good job explaining the boundaries of the modern “rebootquel,” a movie that has to deal with freshening up a franchise and replaying its most important notes in equal measure. Just as we’ve seen with Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the last year, Ghostbusters seems caught between a desire to forge its own path and the mandate to deliver a modernized version of the original film. If you hear critics complaining that Ghostbusters repeats a lot of the same action from its predecessors, it’s at least worth pausing to consider that in the broader context of Hollywood blockbusters, not just as a misandrist appropriation of a once-loved film.

Ghostbusters Review: New Laughs Inside An Old Formula

And this leads me to my last and most important point. Even if Ghostbusters puts the franchise through the Hollywood wringer, that does not mean there aren’t kids – boys and girls – who won’t fall in love with the movie for everything it gets right. As we spend time arguing over the value of our respective childhoods, there are people out there who get the chance to see themselves onscreen fighting ghosts and saving New York City instead of just playing the damsel in ghost distress. Some of them may even seek out the original Ghostbusters as a result of their newfound interest, and then there is one more person out there to appreciate the comedic genius of Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and all the rest of the original Ghostbusters cast.

Look, I’ll be completely honest here. I’m not particularly enthused about the new Ghostbusters movie, nor am I a big fan of the original Ghostbusters films. And I’m certainly not asking you to muster up artificial enthusiasm or to pay to see a movie you have no interest in supporting. All I’m asking is that we hit the reset button on the entire Ghostbusters line of thinking. Something that you love – that exists frozen in time for generations to come – has also given female audiences a chance to be represented on the screen in the same way that you once connected to a hilarious group of ragtag outsiders. It comes down to a choice. You can either choose to view this new Ghostbusters as an affront the memory of the original, or take pride in the fact that a movie you love has the power to help usher in a new era of comedies. I hope you’re at least willing to entertain the idea of the latter.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)