For many, the approach in reviewing Ghostbusters has become too embroiled with feminist rhetoric. Detractors have noted that in reviewing, film critics should, rather than focus on the perceived feminist overtones of the decision to remake a film with an all-female cast, focus on the film itself. Given that discussion free from ideology is utterly impossible it makes little sense to discuss Ghostbusters without considering both the importance and impact of such a casting decision.
The release of Ghostbusters has attracted much vitriol, particularly so online. The trailer won the rather dubious accolade of being the most down voted trailer ever, and both the stars and director Paul Feig have had to discuss the issue when promoting the release. At the time of writing Leslie Jones has taken the decision to leave Twitter due to the sheer volume of abuse, specifically racist abuse, that she has received. As has been noted, Ghostbusters found itself receiving negative reviews before reviews were even possible.
There has been much discussion and speculation as to why the film has found itself the subject of such contempt, and as such, I do not think it is necessary for me to discuss here. Rather, I will focus on both the film itself as a piece of work, and as a feminist work.
Dr Erin Gilbert (Kirsten Wiig) is hoping to secure tenure at Columbia University when, prompted by a visitor who informs her that he is seeking her guidance regarding the paranormal, she is compelled to visit her previous research partner Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). In previous years Abby and Erin co-authored a book which stated that the paranormal, rather than being the subject of mere speculation, was fact. Erin is aware of the negative reaction the book received, and has sought to bury her association with the paranormal. Visiting Abby, she meets Dr Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who, together with Abby, is enthusiastically researching into the existence of ghosts.
Spurred on by the suggestion that a ghost is present in a New York mansion, Jillian and Abby use the opportunity to test out their hitherto hypothetical equipment. Erin, accompanying the pair, witnesses the haunting and readily states her belief in ghosts. Her declaration attracts attention, and results in her expulsion from Columbia. The trio, losing their funding, decide to set up business as a Department of the Metaphysical Examination. It is through this venture that they meet MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) whose own experience with the paranormal leads to her association with the group.
The plot is simplistic and admittedly, relatively one-dimensional, yet for such a film this doesn’t really matter. Ghostbusters sets out to entertain its audience, an objective that is successfully achieved. Each member of the cast, all SNL alumni, are given an opportunity to showcase their comedic talents. Their interactions with one another are believable and enjoyable; their verbal sparring (particularly McKinnon and Jones) crackle with energy and pace. The writers have, rather wisely given the nature of social media and pop culture, included a number of meta references that help add to the film’s wit.
Yes, the film is rather slapstick at times and there are certainly issues regarding the representation of people of colour (Jones is the only member of the team who is not a scientist) but Ghostbusters is an important film. It is important because it shows young girls that a female character can be defined through ambition and intellectual pursuits rather than be defined by her interactions with men.
The women in the film are not female scientists, they are simply scientists. Similarly, they are not defined by the feminine nature, but rather through their desire to contribute to academic debate and discussion. Previous, and notably rare, representations of female scientists have largely fallen into two categories. She has either been depicted as an unlikely intelligent character, who is largely there to fulfil the male gaze, or she is simply there to further the narrative, acting as a plot device or enabler without forming part of the narrative herself. Here, the women are all characters in their own right, each with their own personality, characterisation and motivation.
In a world in which women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce the importance of depicting women in such roles cannot be underestimated. The bile that has been projected towards the venture just further emphasises how important such representations are.
As a film, Ghostbusters is an enjoyable diversion that is, despite its humour, largely forgettable, but as a movement towards positive representations for women, it is crucial.
Just ask these girls: