Regular contributor Laura Tansley takes on all those plans to remake hit Hollywood movies with all-female casts. Is it really so difficult to write interesting and original roles for women?
Last week news broke of another gender reassigned remake with Sandra Bullock set to star in an all-female Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a further example of a current Hollywood trend for taking an existing product and removing all the boabies to make way for breasts.
In a world where there’s a dearth of decent roles for women, it’s an interesting idea— taking classics and making them gynocentric is a way of guaranteeing good parts in big, blockbuster-y films in an attempt to redress the balance. But Hollywood doesn’t have an altruistic bone in its body, and I don’t think we’re getting something for nothing.
In body swap films the point of the role reversal is to engender empathy. The mum swaps with the daughter and realises how tough it is to be accepted at school and that teachers can be mean. The daughter goes to work and realises how hard it is to juggle all her responsibilities. When they finally get round to simultaneously pissing in the fountain again, they return to their own bodies with a new found sense of what it’s like to live as someone else.
So watching Ghostbusters (2016) might leave us with a sense of satisfaction— we might laugh and be happy, secure in the knowledge that four women are as capable of carrying a comedy as men, so maybe should be given more opportunities to be funny. But reversing hierarchies can also seek to reinforce them. Regardless of whether it’s any good or not, if a film is solely made up of women it only draws attention to how strange it is to see disparity. It also plays in to the hands of anti-feminists who perceive the agenda to be about promoting women in to positions of power at the expense of men rather than seeking equality.
Twenty-first century prejudice can be much harder to tackle because of how subtle and insidious it can be. Women are mostly able to do the things that men can but that doesn’t mean that they always get to. Although there are no signs on the office wall explicitly saying, “Women! Know your place!”, the way people behave and communicate can still imply this mentality. Language, in particular, is the worst for things like this. Think how long it took us to reclaim the word “bitch”. And the word “pussy” still refers to a coward, when we all know pussy itself to be very brave actually.
These everyday acts are complicated, much harder to pinpoint as explicitly damaging and culturally ingrained in a way that means removing them is a real wrench because their roots are deep and hard to identify. Shoving women in to ready-made roles to ride a popularity wave is a particularly unsatisfactory way of drawing attention to gender parity issues, especially when achieving equality is so complicated. Maybe, then, our attempts to explore gender should be thoughtful, reflecting the ways we strive for it. Women-washing a film and stuffing it full of femi-quotes isn’t very subtle and it smacks of the easy option that we can all cheer along to without thinking too much. This is like pulling weeds up by the leaves. And yes I’m aware I’m using a gardening metaphor to discuss lady-issues.
Things don’t always have to be hard, right-on and 100% responsible though. Think how simple it was to watch Bridesmaids; we all laughed a lot and wondered what the big deal was. Have we really never laughed at a film full of three-dimensional women before?
So maybe the better reason to make an all-female remake would be to draw attention to how ridiculous gender roles can be. When Danielle Ocean gets released from prison she meets up with her best friend Rustina. They form a plan to rob a casino and gather nine of their best criminal gal pals together, in an attempt to win back Danielle’s ex, Julian Roberts (playing himself in a kind of post-ironic prismatic nod to and tacit acceptance of the cult of celebrity blah blah blah). Presumably we’ll all realise how daft an idea that is. Because apparently to rob a bank, you need a boy band made up of mechanics, men who can make big explosions. and some more men who can charm the wallets out of people’s pockets with their deep blue eyes. Their female equivalents may as well be midwives, make-up specialists, and strippers.
When Ronda Rousey rips out a person’s throat in the Road House remake we’ll probably think, “That’s a bit much isn’t it?” rather than “Hell yeah!”. And when she whips down her doctor-boyfriend’s shorts to reveal he’s been going commando all day during an Otis Redding-scored-sex-scene we’ll probably think, “Bit sweaty, bit gross,” imagining how in real life Ronda would have had to unstick her boyfriend’s balls from his thigh, all the while wondering why we thought it was so hot when Kelly Lynch did it.
Remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels; they’re safe bets because the formula has already been proven successful. Swapping male casts for women is Hollywood’s way of jumping on the feminist bandwagon, to make money without taking risks on new stories that were written with women in mind rather than as an afterthought or a funny twist. I don’t want to see any film that’s a result of a production meeting where the last line said was “Let’s just throw some minge at it, audiences will lap that shit up,” and everyone just nodded in agreement.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Laura Tansley‘s creative and critical writing has been published in a variety of places including Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, The Island Review (with Jon Owen), Kenyon Review Online (with Micaela Maftei), New Writing Scotland and is forthcoming in NANO Fiction. She recently co-edited Writing Creative Non-Fiction: Determining the Form (Gylphi 2015). C.J. Cregg is her TV inspiration, Jonathan Ames’ insecurity is her reality.