Small screen too

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

In Novem­ber 2014, then Sony chief Amy Pascal sent an email to the team be­hind their planned “Ghost­busters” re­boot. “I saw (Jerry) Weintraub last night and he told me that he and (Warner Bros.) were do­ing a fe­male ver­sion of (“Ocean’s Eleven”). We gotta beat every­one,” Pascal wrote.

The twist on their new “Ghost­busters,” of course, was that it was to star women as the para­nor­mal hunters in­stead of men. Di­rec­tor Paul Feig emailed back: “Oh, sure, NOW they’re do­ing one. Although I am wor­ried it’s go­ing to con­flict with my all chimp Robin and the Seven Hoods.” Pascal: “It’s like ev­ery­where you turn around, every­one just re­al­ized women are half the pop­u­la­tion of the world.”

In­deed, Hol­ly­wood has turned to gen­der-swaps as the lat­est ploy to re­fresh dusty movie prop­er­ties. If au­di­ences are growing tired of re­boots - whether tra­di­tional (name the “Spi­der-Man”), meta (“21 Jump Street”) or re­vi­sion­ist (“Mag­nif­i­cent Seven”) - why not play around with gen­der? And it’s no sur­prise that in a busi­ness that makes a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of films star­ring and about men, flip­ping means more fe­male roles. Now it’s clear, “Ghost­busters” was just the be­gin­ning. There’s that fe­male-led in­stall­ment of the “Ocean’s Eleven” se­ries on the way, “Ocean’s Eight” star­ring San­dra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Ri­hanna. Also in var­i­ous stages of devel­op­ment: “Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels” with Rebel Wil­son, a “Rock­e­teer” re­boot with a fe­male lead, and in a re­verse flip, a “Splash” re­make with Chan­ning Ta­tum as the mer­maid.

Flip­ping is find­ing its way to the small screen, too, with projects like “Twist,” de­scribed as a “sexy, con­tem­po­rary” take on Charles Dick­ens’ “Oliver Twist” star­ring a woman. The gen­der-swap­ping of film char­ac­ters before the cam­eras roll, how­ever, is noth­ing new. Sigour­ney Weaver’s char­ac­ter in “Alien” was orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned as a man. The same for An­gelina Jolie’s role in “Salt,” San­dra Bullock’s in “Our Brand Is Cri­sis,” Jada Pin­kett Smith’s in “Magic Mike XXL” and Tilda Swin­ton’s in “Doc­tor Strange.” “His Girl Fri­day’s” Hildy John­son, im­mor­tal­ized by Ros­alind Rus­sell, was writ­ten as a man in the play “The Front Page.”

What’s new, as Fan­dango cor­re­spon­dent Ali­cia Malone points out, is tak­ing en­tire casts and flip­ping them in al­readyproven prop­er­ties. For the cre­atives be­hind the projects, it’s a no-brainer.

“It makes a lot of sense,” said Ron Howard, who di­rected the orig­i­nal “Splash” and is pro­duc­ing the re­make. “The en­tire com­mu­nity and the medium (are) look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to do two things: One is to re­fresh ideas that peo­ple al­ready know some­thing about - ti­tles that they al­ready un­der­stand, re­late to, re­mem­ber (and) have a fond­ness for. And then also find bet­ter roles for women, cre­ate bet­ter roles for women.” As with many spin-offs, re­boots and se­quels, some will al­ways seem more nat­u­ral than oth­ers. “Ocean’s Eight,” for ex­am­ple, isn’t con­sid­ered by its studio to be a gen­der-swap or a re­make at all, just an ex­ten­sion of the es­tab­lished world. “We are re­ally com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in the film busi­ness,” said Greg Sil­ver­man, Warner Bros.’ pres­i­dent of cre­ative devel­op­ment and world­wide pro­duc­tion. “This one just felt so or­ganic and so right for the brand that this is where it would go next.”

Sil­ver­man, how­ever, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily see the gen­der-swapped casts as a broad in­dus­try trend. He also noted that Warner Bros. doesn’t have a “strat­egy of flip­ping fran­chises ei­ther way.”

Whether gen­der-swap­ping is or­ganic, gim­mick or studio strat­egy, screen­writer Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, whose “Ex­pend­ables” spinoff “Ex­pend­abelles” has been on and off for years, is op­ti­mistic that it can be a means to an end. “If that’s how we’re go­ing to be able to write a kick-ass fe­male action comedy and this is the ti­tle we use and this is our kick-off point, then let’s go for it!” Smith said “The most im­por­tant thing is: how can we put more films out there that fea­ture smart, funny, strong and fiery women? How­ever it takes to get there.”

Fan­dango’s Malone is re­served about what flip­ping might mean in the long run. That it gets this much at­ten­tion, Malone says, “shows just how rare an all-fe­male cast is in Hol­ly­wood.” There’s the fi­nan­cial as­pect, too. This sum­mer’s “Ghost­busters” failed to im­press at the box of­fice. With a re­ported $144 mil­lion bud­get (not in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing ex­penses which can some­times cost as much as the film) the wouldbe “big­gest fran­chise in Hol­ly­wood” has made only $128.3 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally and $100.8 mil­lion in­ter­na­tion­ally. It’s not a flop, but it’s not a block­buster, ei­ther.

The prob­lem is that the fe­male­ness of a pro­ject is some­times used as a scape­goat for box of­fice dis­ap­point­ments and there’s a worry they may all go away if one fails.

At the heart of it all lay the dreary statis­tics about lead­ing fe­male roles. “The Cen­ter for the Study of Women in Tele­vi­sion and Film found that out of the top 100 gross­ing films in 2015, just 22 per­cent had fe­male pro­tag­o­nists. This is a 10 per­cent rise from 2014, but still a big im­bal­ance,” Malone said. “It’s not the ul­ti­mate fix Hol­ly­wood needs to correct the huge gen­der in­equal­ity in Amer­i­can movies ... but it’s a start, a tem­po­rary stop-gap to en­sure more women are on screen.” — AP

Mila Ku­nis says in a new es­say that any­time she ex­pe­ri­ences gen­der bias at work, she’s go­ing to speak up about it. The 33-year-old ac­tress-pro­ducer says in the es­say pub­lished on the Medium web­site Thurs­day that women have been con­di­tioned to be­lieve that their liveli­hoods might be threat­ened if they speak out against sex­ist be­hav­ior.

She says a pro­ducer once told her she’d “never work in this town again” when she re­fused to pose “semi-naked” for a men’s magazine to pro­mote a film. More re­cently, she says, an­other pro­ducer de­scribed her in a busi­ness email as “One of big­gest ac­tors in Hol­ly­wood and soon to be Ash­ton’s wife and baby momma!!!”

Ku­nis, who is expecting her sec­ond child with hus­band Ash­ton Kutcher, said the com­ment “re­duced my value to noth­ing more than my re­la­tion­ship to a suc­cess­ful man and my abil­ity to bear chil­dren.” She pulled out of the pro­ject.

She char­ac­ter­ized the re­mark as one of the “mi­cro-ag­gres­sions that de­value the con­tri­bu­tions and worth of hard work­ing women” and promised not to stand for it any­more. Ku­nis writes that she is “for­tu­nate that I have reached a place that I can stop com­pro­mis­ing and stand my ground, with­out fear­ing how I will put food on my ta­ble.” She says she hopes that by adding her voice to the con­ver­sa­tion, work­ing women feel more em­pow­ered and “a lit­tle less alone.” — AP

Ac­tress Mila Ku­nis

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