Why Four Women Playing Ghostbusters Is Not A Gimmick


In case you didn’t know —

Paul Feig is rebooting the Ghostbusters franchise with women doing the bustin’ of ghosts.

This with the writer of The Heat, Katie Dippold.

(For the record: I freaking loved The Heat. Not high comedy, and plot holes you could break a leg in, but man did I laugh. I am a tiny bit sad that it seems like it won’t be getting a sequel.)

Of course, with this news, I’ve seen the cry:

It’s a gimmick.

Feig is obviously aware of the criticism, too, because he says:

“I just don’t understand why it’s ever an issue anymore. I’ve promoted both Bridesmaids and The Heat and myself and my cast are still hit constantly with the question, “will this answer the question of whether women can be funny?” I really cannot believe we’re still having this conversation. Some people accused it of kind of being a gimmick and it’s like, it would be a gimmick if I wasn’t somebody whose brain doesn’t automatically go to like, I want to just do more stuff with women. I just find funny women so great. For me it’s just more of a no-brainer. I just go, what would make me excited to do it? I go: four female Ghostbusters to me is really fun. I want to see that dynamic. I want to see that energy and that type of comedy and them going up against these ghosts and going up against human detractors and rivals and that kind of thing. When people accuse it of being a gimmick I go, why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?”

I think this is pretty fucking awesome.

And I think calling it a ‘gimmick’ is a little bit shitty.

Here’s why.

a.) Calling it “gimmick” is very dismissive. A gimmick is a trick, a ploy, a cheap contrivance or tactic designed to get people to buy the product. Putting women in the roles of an iconic franchise is meaningful culturally, in that it’s creating more roles for women. Roles that were once reserved for men. And narratively, it’s interesting, as it lets you tell new stories and attract new audience.

b) Assuming that putting women in the role is gimmicky assumes that women are already in a place of power — it assumes that, “If we do this, this’ll generate ticket sales.” Given how risk-averse Hollywood has been regarding the role of women in film, yeah, I don’t see it.

c) Or, it assumes it’s doing it for the controversy. If making new roles for women — or making diverse roles in general — is controversial to you, that says more about you than about the creators of the work. Also, Hollywood is known for making safe choices more often than controversial ones.

Now, someone might say, with some earnestness, that why Ghostbusters –? Why can’t you create a new cool action-horror-comedy franchise for women, instead? Well, you can (or, at least, you can try). And certainly it’s a noble goal that sounds great in a perfect world.

But here’s why it’s important that it’s this franchise.

Yeah, it’s very nice and good to say that women should be able to have their own iconic roles and not have to get the sloppy seconds of roles established by men. But there’s a danger, there, too — if you say, women can’t be Ghostbusters, or The Doctor, or James Bond, you might really be saying, “These are my toys, go play with your own.” Go find your own franchise is a very good way of dismissing them and saying “but this one’s ours.” It’s also a very good way of ensuring that they won’t get their own movie made or own roles anyway — the sad reality of present-day Hollywood is that it’s easier to make a movie if you have some pre-existing material to build off of. The Ghostbusters franchise is exactly that. It’s a great springboard to tell this new tale.

Plus, putting women characters inside an iconic franchise has meaning because it’s an iconic franchise, one formerly dominated by men. There’s a metaphor, there, if you care to find it, about the workplace — it’s vital women colonize those roles and those spaces reserved for dudes. You certainly shouldn’t say, “A woman can’t be CEO of this company, go form your own company, lady.” Saying that a woman can’t be The Doctor because The Doctor is traditionally male is roughly equivalent to saying a woman can’t be a doctor because doctors are traditionally male. It’s easy to shrug it off because, “oh, ha ha ha, this is just pop culture,” but hey, fuck that shit, George, pop culture is the food we feed our brains. Pop culture is the colloquial language we all speak — it’s the common tongue of the people. We all speak Ghostbuster. We all know the song. We all know the imagery and the story and the icons of it. It’s important for women to be here, not over there.

Anyway.

Them’s my thoughts, do with them as you will.

What I wanna hear from you is —

What women should take the roles? Some of my potential choices include: Mindy Kaling, Aubrey Plaza, Tig Notaro, Katie Aselton, Uzo Aduba, Melissa McCarthy. What, pray tell, are yours?


112 responses to “Why Four Women Playing Ghostbusters Is Not A Gimmick”

  1. Oooo – Rebel Wilson? Deffo Melissa McCarthy (in fact, Melissa McCarthy in everything). Like the suggestion of Uzo Aduba too. And I just have to go with Amy Poehler AND Tina Fey. Just because I love them so much.

  2. Aubrey Plaza is a good choice, and I like Justine’s suggestion of Poehler and Fey. I’d cast Kristen Bell, too, because Veronica Mars + Ghostbusters = Solid Gold in my book. And bring back Sigourney Weaver; she’s got comedy chops, obviously, and could prove to be an interesting way of connecting the two franchises if done right.

    • I actually think this works better than with Thor. I think there is nothing wrong with Thor’s hammer being wielded by a woman and having her then take center stage in a comic book titled Thor, but I think it’s downright odd to actually call her Thor because, unlike Batman, Spiderman or Booster Gold, Thor isn’t a title, it’s the guy’s freakin’ name. It’s what his parents gave him as an infant, and so it seems weird to give it to anyone else (male or female.).

      Ghostbusters, by contrast, is more of a company that in several incarnations had numerous franchises. That makes it perfect for a changing of the guard. The protagonists of this movie could be one of those new franchises, or they could reboot Ghostbusters and have women start it up this time. That would make perfect sense. What would be weird would be if the female characters were named Peter, Raymond, Winston and Egon just because they were using those character’s respective proton-packs.

  3. Potential Ghostbusters:

    Natalie Morales, Emma Stone, Nicole Beharie, Melissa Fumero, Beth Riesgraf, Stephanie Beatriz, Allison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown.

  4. Aisha Tyler should definitely be on the list, and while she hasn’t really done comedy before, I’d be very interested to see Michelle Rodriguez work with Paul Feig. I think they could do interesting things together.

  5. Mindy Kalig and Uzo (OMG, yes) would be great. Ellie Kemper (plays a good well-intended klutz) too. I can see Amy Schumer in there somewhere, just not sure where. Sarah Silverman might be a nice fit.

    Hell, Sigourney Weaver in a cameo roll, over-the-top badass elder, wiser ghostbuster (with shout outs to Alien). Maybe she’s been ghostbusting for a long time and it has “gotten to her” in a funny way. Could also help tie back to the original movie should they choose that direction instead of rebooting.

  6. Kristen Schaal, Natalie Morales, Tina Fey & Melissa McCarthy would be my hope & then stick a dude as the secretary or get Annie Potts to reprise her role as Janine.

  7. Second Wendi McClendon Covey, and I’d add Maria Bamford in there somewhere, because I think Bamford is an absolute genius, on the level of Richard Pryor or Robin Williams. Check out her “Special Special Special” if you don’t believe me. I’d also throw Chelsea Peretti and Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn Nine Nine into consideration.

  8. Thank you. I had the gimmick argument & it annoys me. The people calling it a gimmick in my world are claiming an all women cast will be full of sexist buddy cop bits, to wit I pointed out that all of the Ghostbusters bits were sexist anyway, they just made fun of the men. Comedy is funny. Get over it. If We can’t make fun of women because spanx are sexist or something, we are in a really sorry place.

    My husband and I can’t stop dreamcasting this. My favorite list we came up with was: Winston: Laverne Cox Egon: Kristen Schaal Ray: Mindy Kaling Venkman: Chelsea Peretti. We also have a couple of dreamcasts featuring ladies of a certain age because you can do so much with this world! Here’s one: Venkman: Jane Lynch, Egon: Tilda Swinton, Winston: Angela Bassett, Ray: Lisa Kudrow. Although we admit it will probably end up being the SNL cast: Venkman: Tina Fey, Winston: Maya Rudolph, Ray: Amy Pohler, Egon: Kristen Wiig.

    I think this news is super exciting and I for one can’t wait to go see whatever they come up with.

  9. OK, so when I think about casting, I think about the original cast. It’s Ghostbusters, and part of what made Ghostbusters great was the mix of the personalities and character types in the group. So you have the Venkman, the Spengler, the Stanz, and the Winston. (Why is Winston referred to by his first name and the others by their last names? I have no idea.)

    Anyway, based on those archetypes, here’s how I’d cast:

    The Venkman: needs to be portrayed as a fast-thinking opportunist with a big mouth who gets herself and her friends into a lot of trouble but also has the sheer bravado to carry the team forward. Ghostbusters wouldn’t happen without her, because the Spengler and the Stanz would be content to just research everything without putting a public face on it, and the Winston just wants a job. I would nominate Sarah Silverman for this, though in order for the film to work I think she’d have to go less blue than she usually works. She could totally pull it off though.

    The Spenger and the Stanz: they’re not interchangable characters, but they need to be cast together because they need a strong rapport. Also, they need to be able to totally geek out about their work so that the audience has fun while they’re delivering all the expository information. So what is needed are actors who are really good at back and forth banter, to show people who enjoy working together, and also actors who can show how batshit crazy they are because they’re totally on board with creating and modifying unlicensed nuclear accelerators because “what could possibly go wrong with that?” So while the Venkman is the one who winds up getting them into trouble with people, these two are the ones who would get them into trouble with all the dead things.

    In terms of actors who could totally do the whole geeking out while talking about obscure topics thing, and who are really, really good at playing off of other people, I’m thinking Lauren Graham for the Stanz–her banter delivery in Gilmore Girls is hard to beat, and the Stanz is the most outgoing of the pair. The Spengler is tricky, because the stereotype/trope the Spengler is sort of steeped in “male nerd” tropes–steeped, soaked, doused, set on fire, etc. And I keep thinking of Harold Ramis every time I think of the archetype. BUT this is doable. It’s gotta be someone who can radiate a level of focus and intensity that makes them oblivious to everything going around them, except for what they’re focusing on, and further oblivious to the social ramifications of everything they say. Which is why I think maybe someone who has spent more time playing “action hero” roles that require comic timing. Gina Torres (Zoe Washburne on Firefly) would do really well with this, I think. I keep thinking of her delivering the line “At last, we can retire from this life of crime” in Serenity and comparing it to Harold Ramis saying “I collect spores, molds, and fungus” and I think it lines up pretty well. And if you’re in a Whedon production, you can do banter in your sleep, and probably in Mandarin.

    The Winston is tough, because that role is essentially the outsider/straight man (er… you know). I keep thinking of Judy Reyes (Carla Espinoza from Scrubs) because that’s essentially what she did, and did really well, on that show–she was usually the “looking in” viewpoint character when the show was focusing on the hijinks of Zach Braff and Donald Faison. And she could change up and switch gears on a dime when the show focused on her comedically instead.

    I think that’d be a pretty cool cast. I’d see that movie.

  10. The thing I don’t get about the “change opponents” as I like to call them (people who bitch and moan about every little changed detail of a rebooted franchise) is this: if a movie has already done things one way in the past, and was successful doing them that way, why would you want to see someone else try that exact same thing?

    We’ve seen Ghostbusters with 4 dudes. What in the flying fuck is the purpose of rebooting a franchise if you’re going to keep it the same? A Ghostbusters movie with 4 women will not hurt the legacy of the original. It’s already encased in the shrine of geekdom as a classic.

    I say switch up everything you can. How about 2 males, 2 females? Three males and a dog. A male, a female, a robot, and a dog. Shit, it’s a comedy, have fun with it.

    • I really don’t want to be arguing for the change is bad crowd, but part of it is because these are characters that the person loves and they don’t want to see them ruined or done differently. Everytime hollywood reboots an old franchise you have people screaming out that it sucks because the original classic is just going to be ruined. When it is being rebooted plus roles are being gender/race swapped you also get the scapegoating onto those as reasons why it would suck.

      Personally, I am for an all female Ghostbusters. I think it could be great. However, the way this reboot is being presented lends itself to the gimmick crowd. The statements I’ve heard for it (the headlines basically, which is what a lot of folks are probably reading without going into the article) is “Ghostbusters is being redone, but with girls” which can look a lot like “we’re remaking this movie, and we’re making them female to grab headlines.” Which is where the gimmick argument comes in. Yes, this is a huge disservice to the creator, but as Chuck has said in previous articles, a female character who is only special because she is female is not a good thing. A character who is an awesome character and happens to be female is an amazing thing.

      In my perfect world we’d have the all female ghost busters movie be a sequel. A group of female scientists, derided by their peers despite their work, ends up finding some papers by Dr. Stanz and Dr. Spengler. They look into it. They find the old firehouse. They find the equipment. They’re smart enough to fix it, rebuild it, improve it. They’re smart enough to solve the problems that Venkman, Stanz, and Spengler couldn’t solve. And wouldn’t you know it, this happens just as another outbreak of ghosts in the big apple is about to happen.

      I like this because it’s not a rebot but a continuation. It lets you have these characters, it lets you define them on their own without having to fill “the Venkman role” or the “Stanz role” or even “The zedmore” role. The creator is free to completely make his own characters with the only catch being that they have to have a reason to get into ghost busting…which is kind of important for a Ghostbusters movie.

      But still, you can’t love a character and not see why people might fear that character being changed. Especially when the general assumption is “every reboot makes the franchise worse.”

      • I understand your side of it (and I think it would probably work better in your sequel idea), but I still don’t get all the fuss. I could see someone being perturbed by a change, but not enough to go and whine about it online, or even worse, to write an entire article condemning it.

        For example, I loved the TMNT as a kid. The original live-action movies were my shit. The recent reboot did those characters no justice. They sucked. (I won’t go into the debate of the quality of that remake, it’s just used for an example.) But I can easily just push the reboot out of my mind and still appreciate the old ones. No harm done. I don’t hate Michael Bay for screwing my idea of what the turtles should be.

        I guess what my argument boils down to is this: someone taking a beloved character and jacking it up in the worst way possible can’t undo the greatness that character has had in the past. Unless you let it.

      • I touched on this argument over on Facebook, but I think the best way to think of this is more akin to when Steven Soderbergh remade Ocean’s Eleven. You had an Oscar winning, box office proven director making a movie with an ‘A’ List cast, they could’ve made any flavor of movie they wanted and people would see it. Using the name and root concept of a (at the time) forty year old Rat Pack movie let audiences know the atmosphere they were aiming for going in, then enjoy a modern movie with that retro feel. That’s what this should be, a Paul Feig movie using the root concept of scientist friends noting increased supernatural events, and seeing a business opportunity.

  11. I used to arm wrestle my brother while screaming, “I have the power of Sigourney!” Wish I could say I won, but she gave me the will to try. Love, love, love the mother badass Ripley in Aliens! Loved Vasquez too. Women stepped up.

  12. Of course I had to Black Sharpie a few words (very few), but I wanted you to know that I just printed this essay to use in my high school English class.

    I will then ask close reading questions like:

    1) What is Mr. Wendig’s Major Thesis?

    2) What is he saying about the role of women in society?

    3) What is he saying about Pop Culture?

    4) Copy Mr. Wendig’s definition of “gimmick.”

    5) What does “iconic” mean? etc.

    I hate to ruin your Bad Boy Mojo, but I just wanted you to know that you are now being STUDIED.

    In the public school system, no less.

    Thanks for always continuing to entertain while you make us think.

  13. I grew up with films like Ghostbusters. Hell, I still want my own proton pack. To know that my gender will be represented not only in a genre I have loved for all my life, but in a film I have loved all my life, feels incredible.

  14. Oh, I am so fangirl for this I can barely form words. I grew up on Ghostbusters. I can still recite it.

    And the writer of The Heat? It’s like… *head explodes*

    (Aside from The Heat being hilarious, and an awesome movie, it was impossible for me to believe that the writers wrote a scene where the two female characters were captured and tied to chairs and there was NO THREAD OF RAPE or even the slightest sexualization of the situation. Maybe that’s unrealistic but it was so refreshing to watch a movie with women in that situation and not have to witness them threatened with rape.)

    Melissa McCarthy is a given. I’d also like Aisha Tyler.

  15. Blah blah…all the above…. just do a good movie.. man, or women, why not coed for that matter why all or nothing?… . Whatever they do, please don’t mirror the characters from the original movies..have them stand on their own two feet or else why do a remake (I am know I making an assumption here…I also am assuming they wont don’t that as well..crossing fingers )

  16. Using The Doctor isn’t really relevant. I have no problem with them rebooting Ghostbusters with female actors. Battlestar Galactica rebooted Starbuck as a female and Boomer as a women. Both of those roles were arguably better in the reimagining than they were in original show. Boomer certainly.

    The Doctor however is not the same thing. They wouldn’t be rebooting Doctor Who. It would be a continuation of the character. Changing it to a female WOULD be a gimmick as at no time in the history of that character has it been a female. There are distinct male and female timelords who regenerate into the same sex. I do seem to remember one changing, but it would be a stretch at best to have this character change sex after 60 years. Why even bother?

    As for Ghostbusters. I think the better option would be to CGI every character in the flick to be Bill Murray.

    • It would only be a gimmick if the only thing special about it was that it was a female for the sake of being a female. If they did it for other reasons (say, the storytelling potential of having this character that has been male for so long, now explore things from that different perspective) it could be very powerful and evocative.

      Making a character female, male, black, white, or anything just for the sake of doing so is bad. Having story reasons that shape and mold the character is good.

    • Actually, in “The Doctor’s Wife,” there is a line that implies (er, well, a tiny bit more directly than /implies/) that Time Lords/Ladies could and would switch sexes in regenerations. Not to mention that (pre-time-locking of Gallifrey, of course) they can’t actually reproduce biologically – that’s what Looming is for – so switching sexes wouldn’t affect their ability to continue the species.

  17. Gimmick or not, it’s pandering to diversity, just like Nickelodeon. Should it matter at all whether male or female if they just make a great movie? Really, should it?

  18. What I like about this post most is the comments, which are all basically…

    Look! LOOK!! Look at all the awesome women that could be in your movies, you fucking idiots!

  19. :: Virtual High Fives :: I agree with your choices of Uzo and Melissa. I’d love to see Gina Torres and maybe also maybe Margaret Cho — her comedic timing would lend itself well, I think.

  20. P.S – I just read the Entertainment article’s comments, and some of those commenters are flat out misogynistic jerks (Leon). I love that you wrote on this topic, Chuck. Thanks for being the voice of reason.

  21. “But there’s a danger, there, too — if you say, women can’t be Ghostbusters, or The Doctor, or James Bond, you might really be saying, “These are my toys, go play with your own.” Go find your own franchise is a very good way of dismissing them and saying “but this one’s ours.” ”

    This! To the power of infinity! (and beyond.) THAT’s the only reason they wouldn’t let a woman play The Doctor – they can deny it ’til their pants spontaneously combust, but that’s the ugly truth.

    Oh, and if you’ll permit the inclusion of a British comedy actress – to even further spice up the diversity – I would like to nominate Miranda Hart, who would be perfect for a kind of Spengler-esque role. (May I present Exhibit A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtQAqFWmvw8)

  22. Boy, I’m out of touch.

    I think rebooting Ghostbusters with women is a great idea. My problem is, aside from a few individuals such as Sigourney Weaver and Melissa McCarthy, I hardly recognize any of the names people are throwing out.

    It’s probably because I have no sense of humor.

    (crawls back into his cave)

  23. I would be so happy if Melissa McCarthy was in it, she’s fracking hilarious! I’ve never seen her in a movie that I didn’t like. And Uzo Aduba? I hadn’t thought of her for this but she would be brilliant in it!

  24. Apparently, the new one won’t have any reference or connection to the original: http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/10/09/new-ghostbusters-movie-wont-acknowledge-original-films

    “When asked whether or not we’d see any of the older cast members returning, even for cameos, Feig was adamant that if it were to happen they’d have to be new characters. As the older movies won’t be referenced in any way, it wouldn’t make sense for these characters to exist. Of course, that naturally begs the question of whether this is the same world we’re in when it comes to outfits and the all important theme song. On that front, things are a little up in the air.”

  25. Good points. Us ladies are as likely to be nostalgic about the things of our youth as anyone else. Most of the really good horror/action/comedy was all about the boys. No real contest. I don’t want to see Gem and the Holograms rebooted. I eat up movies with ass-kicking women (why was there no sequel to Salt?) So give us ladies our own taste of nostalgia and kick-ass heroes. And then make a brand new action flick with a woman in charge as well. Oh, and I thought The Heat was hilarious too.

    Who should take the roles? Melissa McCarthy needs to be there. Kristin Wiig has the talents. Rosario Dawson. And whoever said Betty White earlier is a genius.

  26. I don’t watch a lot of comedy movies, so I don’t know many funny actresses. But I like Sandra Bullock, I could see her in this movie. And Isla Fisher, she is both adorable and funny. Emma Stone would be good as well.

  27. It isn’t about women. Women can do anything men can do, but while a woman can certainly be a 00 agent, a woman cannot be James Bond. Like it or not, James Bond is a man. Period. I’d love seeing a 00 movie with a woman as the star, but NOT playing 007.

    As for Ghostbusters, it’s pretty simple. A remake needs to use men. A new Ghostbuster movie with new characters can use men, women, or frogs. Simply remaking the same movie, but changing the men to women, most certainly is a gimmick, done for controversy, and while it make work out well at the box office, it is not about what men can do, or what women can do, it’s purely about what those in power think will make the most people talk about it, whether they say good or bad things. Anyone who thinks this is being done to show women can do it, or because the powers that be are trying to make a statement about women, hasn’t spent much time in Hollywood pitch sessions.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen more or less similar situations, and someone always starts it by saying something like, “This will make everyone scream their asses off. We couldn’t buy that much publicity for a billion dollars.”

    If you want to make a Ghostbuster movie with all women, fine, go right ahead, but show some imagination and make it a new movie, with new characters.

    • By your logic, a woman shouldn’t play Moriarty, and look what Elementary did! Natalie Dormer is a KICKASS Moriarty. Also: see Lucy Liu as Joan Watson.

  28. You know what I’d like to see (with the understanding that there’s exactly Zero chance of it happening) is some of the new characters they introduced in the IDW comics, Agent Melanie Ortiz, Kylie Griffin (from the comics, not the cartoon), even some of the girls from the Ghost Smashers have been developed a little in the latest issues…

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