A tantalizing proposition is wending its way out of the barren desert of female-led superhero films … Ghostbusters … with women! Yes you read that correctly, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and writing partner Katie Dippold (The Heat) are penning a script for a reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise featuring an all female cast of demon fighters. In a genre where women are woefully under-represented this could be a very good thing. Or is it? Could the casting of four women in the lead roles be a cynical gimmick initiated in a studio pr office desperate for press to boost a failing franchise?
Perhaps so but the involvement of Feig and Dippold is a promising development. Both are capable of writing well-rounded female characters and there is a wealth of expert comedic actresses to choose from for the lead roles. One thing missing in movies that feature groups of women is a core of underlying respect and friendship. Female characters are too often forged out of the thinnest cardboard. They are sainted mothers or petty harpies or desperate sluts. They aren’t allowed to interact with each other in natural ways. One of the reasons Ghostbusters is so popular is not the supernatural premise or heroics but the strong bond between the lead characters. A female cast that is allowed this same freedom would be most welcome.
The biggest problem with the discussion around a female super hero movie is that more time is spent on costume rather than character. Wonder Woman is a fascinating story. An ancient goddess formed from clay and molded into the world’s fiercest heroine is a powerful tale to build on. Yet there are more articles about her costume than her person.
It is an absolute myth that girls and women are not interested in super hero stories. On the contrary, they are longing for representation and are clever at using social media to ensure their voices are heard. If the mainstream media is blocking your avenue of expression then you turn to other outlets. Want to know why fan fiction is so popular? That’s where you find the voice of the disenfranchised.
Real change takes place behind the scenes. Writers like Debbie Moon (Wolfblood) and Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Caprica, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time) are creating well-crafted stories with vibrant, flawed, complicated and realistic female characters. Yet they are still the exception. Not because talented women writers of science fiction and fantasy don’t exist but because they are not mentored in the same way up and coming male writers are. Doctor Who, for example, is known for giving relatively new writers a welcoming venue to show what they can do. Yet the entire New Who era lists only one woman writer and has not featured any since 2008.
The question of whether the Ghostbusters reboot will succeed is more about plot and characterization than gender. If the idea to cast female leads has no substance behind it then it will fail. But it doesn’t have to. There is enormous potential for the writers to create realistic, well-rounded and funny female characters rather than “Charlie Angel’s” with extra slime. Here’s hoping the actresses who land these coveted roles are given something more than the ghost of a chance to shine.