Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters finally hit theaters, and the reaction has been, well, mixed… to say the least. A wave of criticism of the all female reboot has clouded discussion in the months leading up to the film’s release, allowing a slew of sexist insults targeted at the cast and creators, the most racist and vile of which temporarily chased Leslie Jones off Twitter last week after the movie’s debut. Although Ghostbusters has been faced with an uphill battle for inane reasons, we can’t afford to allow the hate to have a louder voice than the love for the release of a film that showcases that women are finally permitted to step easily into any role previously held by a man.
I realized the importance of Ghostbusters as I was sitting in my theater waiting for the trailers to begin, when four young teenage girls walked in together, and their excitement was so palpable it vibrating. They were gleeful at the chance to see a group of brilliant, funny, fearless, and kick-ass women, whose exceptionalism, it turns out, would not allow itself to be reduced to sexually symbolic value. Here, finally, a generation of young people who in one sitting could witness some of the biggest cinematic strides women have ever made, and during the same year we are hopeful to experience the first ever female President of the United States. It’s still glaringly obvious the infection of sexism still pumps through our culture like a disease, but the possibility of gender equality seems closer than ever to becoming a reality.
So many girl and women heroes of the screen have traditionally been suited with a skin tight ass-kicking uniform, tailored to open extra cleavage, or leather pants and unmanageably high heels. Ghostbusters features four women who don’t rely on any of that to grab slack-jawed, mouth-breathing attention. I’m all for a woman’s right to own her sexuality rather than shying away from it, but sometimes we need to be reminded (or taught from scratch) that the lack of fabric a woman is wearing doesn’t directly relate to her ability to be a superhero.
Superheroes can come in any form, and none of those forms need to rely on a man to save them or establish a compelling character arc on their behalf. The only time Ghostbusters fails the Bechdel Test is when the ladies discuss Kevin, the ditzy but gorgeous receptionist that they hire by committee, and the purpose behind the entire existence of his character is to create an inverted version of Signourney Weaver’s character from the original film. Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert makes flippant comments about wanting to employ Kevin regardless of his lack of experience and intelligence because of his eye candy factor, calling attention to the innuendo and objectification women are subject to both on and off the screen.
Once possessed, Weaver’s Dana Barrett exudes an entire persona centering around seduction, whereas Erin Gilbert’s jesting is the only time any sort of sexual reference is even present through the film. None of the lead characters’ are developed with a love interest. In fact, the audience isn’t even provided with the relationship status or sexual orientation of any of these women. Even Feig’s juggernaut female comedy Bridesmaids follows its lead through romantic ups-and-downs, the waves that push the central story of friendship (The film is about a wedding). Ghostbusters is truly unique in that the story of these women revolves exclusively around their faith in themselves, their relationships with each other, and the uphill battle they fight to earn the respect and belief they deserve from their city.
The concept of acceptance and belief is one that reverberates throughout Ghostbusters, proving that Feig’s film is trying to send both a cultural and political message that goes beyond fanboys’ spewing hate at the concept of a women-led reboot. Erin Gilbert not only abandons her passion for the concept in the existence of ghosts, she actively buried it after no one in her life believed what she had experienced when the only proof she had was her word. How often still is the word of a woman’s experience doubted today? Uh, does the name Brock Turner ring a bell? Anyone remember the public reaction to the first two dozen or so Cosby victims? Women are taught to fear coming forward with information that could disrupt the status quo of society and even when they provide evidence, silence is often encouraged so as not to alter normalcy. This truth is also a synopsis for Ghostbusters.
Even after the Ghostbusters prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that ghosts exist, their local government smothers the discovery, and the media spins their heroic endeavors instead to imply that these women are doing nothing but attempting publicity stunts and are damaging the city rather than helping or saving. The ghosts are spreading through the city like an epidemic, and society propels the skepticism by labeling the Ghostbusters as the villains instead of the heroes, because if the people can focus on them as antagonists, it will be easier to miss seeing the problem that’s right in front them. How often in our current culture do we see negativity spawn hate and division as a distraction from the concept that acceptance and unity is usually a far bigger step toward a solution, regardless of whether the answer is provided by a woman or a man, a black citizen or a white police officer, a Republican or a Democrat?
The bottom line is this: Ghostbusters isn’t just a feminist foot stomp, or a response to social media skepticism and sexist slander over women stepping in to prove they can fill men’s shoes. This film carries messages about today’s culture that go far beyond how funny Kate McKinnon is or whether they paid too much or too little tribute to the 1984 original. Ghostbusters, for me, is the most important film of the year because it’s speaking a language that this generation needs to hear in order to spark change, and those three excited girls I saw in the theater are part of the group who will be responsible for pioneering that change. Because of this film, they’re listening.
Featured Image: Columbia Pictures