I didn’t go see the 2016 all-female version of Ghostbusters, and I won’t be ponying up the dough to see the gender-swapped versions of Overboard, or Ocean’s 11 (called Ocean’s 8), either. I won’t even bother seeing the sex-swapped What Men Want, ripped off from the Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt hit film, What Women Want, even though I’m a fan of the magnificently gifted Taraji P. Henson.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate women in film — nothing pleases me more than to watch Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis and any number of strong female actors challenge their male co-stars to keep up with them. Faye Dunaway in Network. Patricia Neal in Hud. Jennifer Lawrence was breathtaking in Winter’s Bone. Viola Davis killed me in Doubt. Amy Adams, Octavia Spencer, Uma Thurman — I could easily go on and on.
The problem is not that I don’t like women in film, but these gender-swap pictures annoy me because while they serve up a female cast, they really don’t serve women. Rather, they condescend to the little ladies, offering them “safer” and “easier” access to hits by reworking old successes — known entities. This is a little like letting the girls play on the men’s golfcourse but with a 30-point handicap, because you know…they’re not able to play at the masculine level.
And real “success” is, of course, always accounted by the masculine measures — something women have been falling for, for decades.
Why do these talented women have to settle for remakes?
Seriously, are there no original stories out there that women can write, produce, take on and present? Are these actors (and the viewing public) really supposed to be content with reheats that the men have done first?
Reheats. That’s exactly what it feels like, “The men are done with these ideas, now, so you can have what’s left of them. Just throw some girl things in there, curse a bit and it will taste just as good, if not better!”
Why aren’t female actors and writers pushing it away, saying, “Thank you, no. Prefer something fresh and…original.”
I get it; it costs a lot of money to make films, and by Hollywood’s reckoning a “hit” requires 300% returns in order to be break even, so in the case of these films they’re hedging their bets: they go with a tried-and-true hit, so they know the material is pleasing to the public, and then they build-in the curiosity factor (“Look, it’s women! Doing the stuff men did!”) and hope all of that translates into boffo box office.
Yes, I get it, but I still think this trend is short-changing very talented women. On some level it’s still saying, “You ladies can’t build hits on your own; here, lean on what the men have already done.” Or it’s like one of those prepared dinners — all the ingredients are there, ladies, just heat and serve!
It’s actually a chump’s game, and I don’t know why women are falling for it. If a remake fails, as the Ghostbusters overreach did in 2016, it opens speculation that women-led films can’t succeed. On the other hand, if a gender-swapped leftover does fairly well — Overboard has done about $70 million world-wide on a $12 million dollar budget — well, okay then! We’ve established that women can make a hit of something that was already a hit. “Yay us! That means we’ll get to do more re-makes of previously male-led films!”
More reheats, because women can do what men have already done. Yay us?
And all of the bright, creative ideas out there, fresh stories envisioned by fresh voices, they go unproduced, undiscovered, and the movie-going public gets served another helping of what they’ve swallowed before.
Meanwhile, the “masculine measure” still dominates our feminine, indeed our whole-society’s, valuations as we continue to equate “success” and even equality by seeing how well women can do against the men who did it first.
This is not exactly a new bugaboo of mine. Back in 2013, when Hanna Rosin was celebrating the “female hook-up culture” (where women can disposably use men for sex while concentrating on their careers), and Illinois congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was declaring that “our survival as a species is dependent on women taking charge,” I was noting the masculine measure still guiding feminist thought:
The sexual revolution’s promise that women could “have it all” has always been oddly paradoxical: It encouraged women to find their best selves by aping men and conforming to traditionally male valuations of worth and relevance. Mistaking the word “equal” for the word “same,” these “hookup feminists” have become precisely the shallow, insincere, career-fixated, people-users that early feminists decried. From spare button-down shirt in the office, to meaningless sex, Don Draper has not disappeared; he has just changed his name to Donna. Women replace men, but the story…stays the same.
Taking a hit movie populated by men, and replacing them with women doing “the things men do” will always (unhappily) translate in the end to women running a close-second on a male-defined, male-breached course, as eternal also-rans. And socially, contra-Jan-Schakowsky it’s not saving us because it’s not inspiring men to creatively engage and partner with women in the complementarity that helps bring fuller perspectives to all we see and know.
If women want to really succeed, in film, and everywhere — and if they really want to “save the species”, too — they need to use their distinctly feminine genius to define and design their own courses and run them so spectacularly that men will be encouraged to try, too, because in the end, we should be working toward getting everyone in the game, not just some.
Rising tides lift all boats. Accepting redos and the endless “also rans” won’t raise the tides for women, or challenge other boats to follow; they’ll only render the water stagnant.