I love Ghostbusters. The cartoon, the original movie, that daft song. Yes, it’s humour tends to excuse Peter Brinkman’s appalling attitude towards women, and it’s tokenisation of Winston Zeddemore (yes, he had a surname!!) means Ernie Hudson goes chronically underemployed. But Sigourney Weaver is great as Dana Barratt, and not just a damsel in distress. That she left Brinkman, as seen in the sequel, and demands better for her child as a single mother is one of the least stigmatising representations of a strong woman in an 80s comedy. All girl reboot? Yeah!
But guess what I thought after seeing the ‘official’ trailer? Oh no.
First of all, what they got right is women in STEM. In just 2.5 minutes you get a sense that the fact these women are academics and competent is just not up for debate. The butt of the humour is not just *them*. Humour about being a woman can be great, but so often it’s the only humour women are allowed in mainstream film and television. I was reminded of Felicity Smoak and The Heat. And the producers made a nice little featurette about the science behind the fiction – it credits a female physicist, but gets narrated by a guy. Sigh.
Now, what they got wrong…. oh dear
So the white girls are middle class and educated academics, and the black lass is a working class transit authority representative? That looks like some shoddy typecasting right there. Oh, the woman of colour is the one who’s violently physical and colourful in her use of language too? You don’t say. There’s no excuse for this laziness. My favourite comment left on their trailer on YouTube says all that needs to be said:
Yes, the actor in the role, Leslie Jones, denies racism stating on Twitter: “IT’S NOT A MAN, WOMAN, RACE, CLASS THANG!! IT’S A GHOSTBUSTER THANG!!” But it IS a race thing, and a class thing. It always is. And we’re all sick of it. It’s not at all that Jones can’t, as she points out, play an ordinary person, or that ordinary people can’t be heroes. It’s that it should be ordinary, in 2016, for a black woman to be a physicist as much as it is for her to be a transit worker.
Next bit of stereotyping, conventionally hot man, Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth, strides through a slo-mo shot looking like a diet coke ad. Who is he? Why is he there? I have no idea who his character might be. Is that the point? I’m not even sure, since there’s actual exposition going on in the voice-over that in no way adds to my interpretation of the shot itself…This isn’t even a joke on objectification, or clever, or, well, anything at all really.
Finally, though, the biggest problem? It’s just not funny. There, I said it.
And this has everything to do with gender and race and class. I am not laughing at a loud, black, New Yorker simply for being loud and black and working class. I am not laughing at ‘look, women who science!’ I am not laughing at a pretty guy just because he’s being used as eye candy. That this is supposed to be a comedy relies on us finding people inherently humorous for just existing. There’s no actual observational humour in these depictions, or none that we can see in these brief clips. Now the few actual jokes include a riff on the Exorcist. Potentially funny – but 20 years old. And the character Holtzman jerking about in a costume shop might be the funniest moment in the trailer. Be afraid, be very afraid.
But wait!! Look what an Australian friend sent me, the international trailer:
This again gets the credentials of the academics across, but does a MUCH better job of introducing Jones’s character and Hemsworth.
Here, the jokes about gender and sex aren’t about laughing at the recipient of prejudice, but at those doling it out. I love Jones’s response to the concert crowd who don’t catch her stage dive, after catching someone else just fine. I like that Hemsworth is hired for being pretty not competent, and turns out to be frustratingly gender preoccupied – nice.
This trailer makes me wonder what the marketers think of their ‘home’ audience. Honestly, I think they assume an American audience is racist and sexist. I think they have a low opinion of their own target audience. That sucks. And not just because it makes for poor trailers.
In the end, the problem isn’t that this movie won’t be great. Lots of movies aren’t. The original was pretty patchy, let’s be honest. The problem is that if it sucks like the US trailer it will suck *because* its tired clichés are there to uphold the normativity white supremacist patriarchy, because it has been made to appeal to that demographic. And yet, it’s the ‘novelty’ of women leads that will get the blame for its failure. That’s both scary, and darkly comic.