When I think of all-female remakes, I think of emojis.
Hear me out.
For years, I happily used the yellow thumbs up and the female flamenco dancer to say what I couldn’t—or was too lazy to—express in words. But then, things started to change. In 2015, emojis broke away from the Simpsons skin tone and became available in a range of hues. After New York Times writer Amy Butcher pointed out the lack of female representation, companies like Google realized their icons, with women as brides or dancers and men as construction workers or policemen, were highly gendered. In response, they expanded their offerings. Now, if I want to text a friend about how I successfully put together IKEA furniture, I can say it with a single icon of a brown woman holding a wrench.
This type of representation isn’t something that I originally felt was missing from my life, but using these emojis makes me feel seen in a way that I didn’t know was possible—and that is exactly what all-female remakes, like Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8, are doing for audiences now. Putting women into existing storylines originally crafted for men isn’t necessarily the most original idea, but it is a step in the right direction.
The power of reimagining classic films with women
Reboots get a lot of flak. Yes, they can be considered lazy, repackaging the same old characters and plots over and over instead of finding new, worthwhile stories to tell. Trust, I’m just as tired of Spiderman 7.0 as the next gal. But there is something uniquely powerful about reimagining classic films with women in the lead.
“It would be nice if we could see more original films like Bridesmaids, and not just rely on the reboot culture, but I think it’s also important to say, ‘look, there’s a different way that this story could have been told,'”says University of British Columbia lecturer Kim Snowden, who specializes in film, television and feminism. “It doesn’t dismiss the original, but we can say, ‘here’s another alternative way of seeing what this film could be,’ and I think that’s important.”
Snowden points to Ghostbusters as a prime example. The 2016 remake “was important because it showcased the need for female-centred movies,” she says, because it took a beloved film and recast it with Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon. While the movie itself wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy (it got a barely passable 5.3/10 rating on IMDB), Snowden says that seeing this classic story told by women made her realize that she wanted to see more women in roles and stories like these. She remembers watching the opening scenes and being struck by the witty banter between the characters, and the ability of this all-female cast to carry a movie without gender being a prominent plot point.
“Sometimes using the same films and flipping the script allows me to see things that are perhaps missing in other films and the way in which other films can potentially bring in different kinds of stories or different relationships between women that don’t rely on the same old tired tropes,” says Snowden. “I think that that’s partly, for me, why those films are important, and also why I think they’re successful, because we’re putting women in positions in these films—or giving them forms of representation—that don’t often get given to women.”
And let’s not forget all those little girls who are finally able to see themselves as more than princesses and witches, and are inspired to don Ghostbusters gear on Halloween.
There’s undue pressure on these all-female remakes
Let me just say for the record, an all-female cast does not exclude men from being able to enjoy a film. There is a no such thing as a “chick flick” (a term we seriously need to retire). If movies that represent one specific demographic were only enjoyable for one type of audience, women and people of colour would’ve had barely anything to watch for the past century. That said, with films like Ghostbusters and now Ocean’s 8, there is a different standard.
“I think for Ghostbusters in particular, the original film was fun and entertaining and was well done, but we don’t have the same critiques of that, right? We only have the critiques of the remake, because we’re trying to pay attention to why it’s been done in this way,” she says. “I think if you compare Ghostbusters to so many of the other reboots that have been made—particularly like Footloose and Dirty Dancing, which were terrible reboots—there’s a different standard being held.”
Kimberlee McTaggart, a director, editor and chair of Women in Film and Television’s Atlantic chapter, says that these standards, and getting classified as a ‘female film,’ are the downside of all-female reboots.
“The downfall is, it does kind of, ghettoize women, it becomes a ‘women film’ and if it fails it’s not because it’s a bad action figure, it’s because it’s a female action figure, and it’s a female film that fails,” she says, citing the backlash against Ghostbusters as an example. But having worked in the Canadian film industry for more than 25 years, she adds, that these films are still an important step forward for women in the industry. For every Ghostbusters, there’s a Wonder Woman—which wasn’t a remake, followed a well-known female character and was made by a female filmmaker.
#RealTalk: Hollywood wants our dollars, so spend ’em wisely
Listen, as much as I’d like to believe that Hollywood was putting women in leading roles just because it’s about damn time, I also realize that it’s all about the cash money—and women have proven they can make a lot of it. Last year, the three films (Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast) that made the most at the box office were all led by women. In fact, according to data collected by IMDB, female-led films are 33% more profitable than films with a male lead. With these not-so-hidden figures, it’s no surprise that studios are jumping at the chance to pump out all-female remakes, putting women into stories that have an existing audience. But even if the motivations aren’t exactly ‘pure,’ Gillian Goerz, who co-founded Toronto’s Drunk Feminist Films—which hosts screenings of classic mainstream movies with running feminist commentary—says movies like Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters can still open up more doors for women.
“At its most grotesque, it’s just a ploy for more money. But if we can show with our dollars and with our voices that we actually want to hear good stories that feature someone other than white men—because we’ve heard those stories, and they’re not going to stop being made—then that could be a step in the right direction.”
Goerz says while Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8 were both directed by men, hopefully the success of women in film can lead to larger changes not only in front of the camera, but behind it as well. She adds that the only way to truly break away from the stereotypical storylines and tropes that we’ve seen for women in Hollywood is to change how these films get made.
“Having women, non-binary people, trans folks, queer people and marginalized people of all stripes in the back end of the movie production industry is the most likely fix for that. Because, it’s just like, change the way the movie’s get made, as opposed to just changing the front-facing,” she says.
McTaggart agrees that these films are just the beginning of what is hopefully a larger change.
“In the last few years there’s been a real appetite for female-driven films, both on screen and behind the camera, and I think Hollywood wants to do that and their way of kind inching their way in is doing the reboots, the remakes, doing it that way,” she says. She recognizes that Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8 are somewhat of a ‘quick fix’ but adds, “will it end there? I don’t think so. I think we’ll just build upon that.”
In Ocean’s 8, the clothes are stunning, the plot is fun and the cameos are plentiful—but it was one line from Sandra Bullock’s character, Debbie Ocean, that stuck in my mind after the credits rolled. In explaining why she insists on an all-female crew, Debbie says, “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.”
Well, that may have been the plan in Ocean’s 8, but these all-female remakes are demanding the industry take notice of women—and that alone gets two brown lady thumbs-up emojisfrom me.