A Lazy Solution to Inequality in Hollywood

Jordan Reynolds

Last year, the “Ghostbusters” reboot tanked at the box office. An all-female cast and cameos from the original actors were not enough to bolster the film to success, and a sequel is now unlikely. However, when the credits started to roll over Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy gazing at the New York City skyline, I found myself starting to cry. The only thought running through my mind, cheesy and pathetic as it might have been, was, “Women can do anything! Even bust ghosts!”

All-women remakes are becoming a trend. From “Ghostbusters” to “Ocean’s Eleven” and even somehow “Lord of the Flies,” reinventing old stories with a cast of only women has been Hollywood’s sole response to decades-old criticisms of male-dominated films. As it goes, if you disqualified the films nominated for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards that fail the Bechdel Test — passed by simply having two women speak to each other about something other than a man — you would have been left with half as many eligible movies.

Ultimately, these remakes act as a Band-Aid on the bullet-wound sized problem of gender inequality in Hollywood. While moderately satisfying in the short term, they do nothing to address the systemic lack of diversity, both in front of and behind the camera. Most of the remakes are directed, produced and written by men, and that fact could not have been made more evident than with the news of an all-girl “Lord of the Flies” remake in the works.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel have said that they want to do a “very faithful but contemporized adaptation of the book,” but most who have read William Golding’s novel know that the dynamic of the boys on the island would not exist if it had been an island of stranded girls.

McGehee and Siegel are coming up with the script themselves, which is another issue — would it not make sense to include women in the process of writing a story about the psyche of five girls stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere?

This follows a pattern that is evident in many women-centric films of late. “Hidden Figures,” a film about the three black women mathematicians who made the trip to the moon possible, was directed and written by men. “Atomic Blonde,” essentially a James Bond movie starring Charlize Theron, was also directed and written by men. Only rarely does the phenomenon of a woman directing a film about women occur — “Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, and “Battle of the Sexes,” directed by Valerie Faris (and her husband Jonathan Dayton, the second half of the directing duo that spawned “Little Miss Sunshine” in 2006) are two great examples, but these films were still written by male screenwriters.

Two things must change in order for this problem to come close to being rectified. First, original and dynamic stories about women must take precedence over these all-women reboots that have come out in full force. Second, women directors, screenwriters and producers must spearhead the creation of these stories.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is a shining example of the magic that can happen when films are made about strong women, by strong women. Directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman, the film tells the story of a woman who rescued and hid Jews from the Germans during the Second World War. Jessica Chastain (who starred as Antonina) penned an essay on the experience of filming with a mostly-female cast and crew.

“You don’t feel a hierarchy,” she wrote. “You don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated. Sometimes being the only girl on a set, you can feel like a sexual object. The wonderful thing about having so many women on set is there hasn’t been anyone who has screamed or anything like that. It’s a very collaborative experience, and it’s been heaven for me. We all hang out all the time — there are no strange power plays or egos. We know how rare making this kind of film is. We’re giddy with happiness.”

Diversity in Hollywood will continue to be an issue for many decades to come. It does not disappear with more female representation — race, sexuality and disability are some areas that need serious work, as well. But remaking old films with all-female casts is an inattentive, passive attempt at solving the problem.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 5 print edition.

Email Jordan Reynolds at [email protected]

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