Hollywood keeps confusing “pacing” with “equality,” and it’s really getting on my nerves.
Next week we’ll be seeing a new Ghostbusters, which I’m thoroughly excited for — the world needs more Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — but also recognize that it’s the first sign of traditionally creative director Paul Feig hitting filmmaker’s block.
Continuing the trend of all-female reboots, news broke last month that Cate Blanchett will potentially lead an all-female remake of twice-made Oceans 11, something I’m less enthusiastic about because no Rat Pack movie should ever be remade, even if Blanchett (or even George Clooney) is involved.
At this rate, we’ll be seeing an all-female Expendables remake right around the time Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o are the same ages Silvester Stalone and Liam Neeson are now.
I have a better idea: Why doesn’t Hollywood do something novel by doing something novel? A lot of women don’t want to be the second coming of Bill Murray. We want good, applicable, original content that allows them to create their own mantel instead of taking up one left behind by a male predecessor.
And we want women to write it. Feig is usually pretty good about this — some of his biggest hits, Bridesmaids and The Heat, were written by women, as is Ghostbusters — but he’s an oddity. When Marvel announced that Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black MIT student, would be donning the Iron Man suit in their comics reboot, initial excitement of diversity-pining readers everywhere dimmed as they started recognizing that representation on a page doesn’t mean representation exists in the studio.
I’m not going to shock anyone or say anything original when I write that we need more original films with female and minority actors in lead roles, both in front of and behind the camera. A large segment of the world has been screaming that for a while, but Hollywood keeps refusing to believe it. And although I’m sure it has great intentions by casting all women in a re-remake of Ghostbusters and Oceans 11, it’s actually pushing us back.
When movies like these come out, critics and audiences ask “Was it as good as when the original male actor did it?” And while that does not blatantly equate to “Was a woman as good as a man?” in every case — though it for sure does in some — it still keeps female performers in a secondary, late-comer stage.
I’ve even fallen into that trap when contemplating my writing. I’ve caught myself thinking “I want to be the female Chuck Palahniuk.” In the end, I’d much rather be known for me, not for someone who came before me — woman or man. Men face this same issue, too, but it doesn’t seem like they face it as often.
Unless they’re a minority, of course.
Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, sings it perfectly in “Hold You Down:” “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.” Relating a person of color or a woman of any color to a white male automatically classifies them as an “other” that needs defining on a familiar scale — that of the white male population. And while that scale is familiar because of its prevalence (talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy), it’s also perceived as the “original” or “standard” that can be imitated but not improved.* Just look back up at what I wrote about my reverence for Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr.’s Oceans 11.
*Of course, there are some exceptions, Mad Max: Fury Road being one of them.
There are some great white male creators, like Feig, who are in our court, but we need more allies. That’s a tough order to fill in a world where women continue to be viewed as objects of beauty that can make producers money if they epitomize our increasingly impossible beauty standards, dress up and play nice enough to entice male audiences. As long as pieces like Vanity Fair‘s August issue profile of Margot Robie — an atrocious display of male gaze — are pedaled by usually upstanding publications, we’ll continue being the sloppy seconds for another century of filmmaking.
Over lunch today a friend at work said her ex-boyfriend hesitated at watching any show that listed only women in its cast list, but he had no problem watching shows boasting all-male ensembles. “I watch those shows, too,” she said, “but I can’t connect as well with them.”
Turnabout is fair play, of course. Some men might not connect as well with female-centric entertainment like Bridesmaids or Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and they shouldn’t be expected to if women can use the same argument for why they won’t tuck into a Michael Bay marathon or Band of Brothers binge-watch session.
But if Hollywood does its job right, connecting with men won’t be a make-or-break characteristic for a film because women will fill their seats to see something they haven’t seen before: Content that respects, reflects and celebrates their existence off the screen as well as on it.