BOOT IT OUT

It’s time to move on from the all-fe­male movie re­boot

The New European - - Agenda - BY EMILY SPIERS

All-fe­male reboots of clas­sic all­male films have been com­ing thick and fast over the past few years, and there are more to come. At the same time, the comic mills of Marvel and D.C. have be­gun to trans­late some of the fe­male su­per­heroes that started life on the page onto the big screen.

At their best, these films of­fer a kind of re­vi­sion­ist think­ing. They re­claim pop-cul­tural his­tory for young fe­male au­di­ences. At their worst, they demon­strate the film in­dus­try’s cyn­i­cal prof­i­teer­ing from con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist ideals.

The seem­ingly em­pow­er­ing mes­sage of these all-fe­male re­makes and su­per­hero pro­duc­tions is that women can do any­thing men can do. How­ever, just be­cause the films – as well as tele­vi­sion shows adopt­ing the same for­mat – fea­ture pre­dom­i­nantly women, or a fe­male lead pro­tag­o­nist, it does not mean that they are fem­i­nist.

De­spite, or maybe be­cause of, the misog­y­nis­tic vit­riol sur­round­ing the run-up to the re­lease of 2016’s all-fe­male

Ghost­busters re­make, Hol­ly­wood is lin­ing up a suc­ces­sion of women-led block­busters that mostly take the form of reboots. Ocean’s 8, re­leased in June, brought a glit­ter­ing ar­ray of stars (San­dra Bul­lock, Cate Blanchett, He­lena Bon­ham Carter and Ri­hanna) to the clas­sic crime ca­per pre­vi­ously headed up by Ge­orge Clooney and, be­fore that, in 1960, by the Rat Pack.

Dis­ney is plan­ning to re­make the 1991 ac­tion film The Rock­e­teer, based on a comic-book se­ries, with a fe­male lead. Talks are even un­der way about an all-fe­male re­make of Wil­liam Gold­ing’s clas­sic novel The Lord of the Flies. The 1988 film Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels, star­ring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, is be­ing re­made with Rebel Wil­son in one of the lead roles. And Splash, the 1984 Tom Hanks and Daryl Han­nah mer­maid ro­mance, is in the process of be­ing gen­der-swapped for a 2018 re­lease with Chan­ning Tatum play­ing the role of the merman.

Cap­tain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Dan­vers, is due for cinema re­lease in 2019.

Dan­vers, a US Air Force pilot, be­comes su­per­hero Cap­tain Marvel when her DNA be­comes fused with an alien’s dur­ing a crash. Jes­sica Jones, Marvel’s tough-nut pri­vate de­tec­tive with su­per-hu­man strength, has been cap­ti­vat­ing Net­flix au­di­ences and crit­ics alike since 2015. Ms Marvel (a.k.a. Ka­mala Khan), who is Marvel’s first teenage Mus­lim su­per­hero, is ru­moured to be the next can­di­date for big-screen re­lease. At the same time, D.C. comics suc­cess­fully re­launched Won­der Woman to pop­u­lar ac­claim in 2017 and Su­per­man’s cousin, Su­per­girl, has been head­ing up her own tele­vi­sion se­ries since 2015.

These reboots and su­per­heroes have been seen as a bold step to­wards equal­ity in an at­tempt to fem­i­nise tra­di­tion­ally mas­cu­line roles. “See”, the trail­ers im­ply, “women can fight bad­dies/aliens/ghosts too!” In the case of Lord of the Flies and Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels, they will no doubt revel in the ‘nov­elty’ of women be­ing bar­baric or rogu­ish. In the case of Splash, won’t it be hi­lar­i­ous to see Jil­lian Bell sex­u­ally ob­jec­ti­fy­ing Chan­ning Tatum?

Women’s vis­i­bil­ity, it seems, comes at a cost. In­stead of fem­i­nis­ing mas­culin­ity, we’re see­ing an at­tempt to mas­culinise fem­i­nin­ity, ap­par­ently be­cause male ro­le­types are what stu­dios think au­di­ences want. These films pay lip ser­vice to fem­i­nism by fea­tur­ing more women, while con­tin­u­ing to tell the same old lu­cra­tive sto­ries with the same val­ues.

Su­per­hero films and all-fe­male reboots are part of the myth-mak­ing ma­chin­ery of con­tem­po­rary ne­olib­eral fem­i­nism. Gen­der in­equal­ity is ac­knowl­edged, but re­spon­si­bil­ity for ad­dress­ing the prob­lem lies with in­di­vid­ual women. We turn a blind eye to the so­cial struc­tures that up­hold in­equal­i­ties.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the struc­tural is­sue of how few women are writ­ing, di­rect­ing and pro­duc­ing our films and tele­vi­sion shows. Tra­di­tion­ally risk-averse stu­dios shy away from new sto­ries cre­ated by women. Among the top 100 gross­ing films of 2017, women rep­re­sented only 8% of di­rec­tors, 10% of writ­ers, 2% of cin­e­matog­ra­phers, 24% of pro­duc­ers and 14% of ed­i­tors.

The fe­male ghost­busters, scoundrels and su­per­heroes urge young fe­male au­di­ences to self-em­pow­er­ment, but, at the same time, they of­ten mask the value sys­tems un­der­pin­ning the sto­ries them­selves, as well as the pol­i­tics of their pro­duc­tion.

The first set of val­ues emerges in the re­makes: women can be more vis­i­ble in front of the cam­era, as long as they stick to sto­ries writ­ten by men and orig­i­nally played by men. They just have to be bet­ter at it – as the crit­i­cism around the new Ghost­busters film demon­strated. This is the type of neo-lib­eral fem­i­nism ex­pounded by Face­book’s Sh­eryl Sand­berg in her best­selling book Lean In.

The sec­ond set of val­ues, un­der­ly­ing the su­per­hero genre, in par­tic­u­lar, per­tains to in­di­vid­ual ex­cep­tion­al­ism. Su­per­heroes rep­re­sent our imag­ined best selves. Con­tem­po­rary fe­male su­per­heroes daz­zle us with their abil­ity to do and be ev­ery­thing, and if we were only to fully op­ti­mise and em­power our­selves, we might be like them. The rad­i­cal in­di­vid­u­al­ism of the most pop­u­lar su­per­heroes – cul­mi­nat­ing in the mo­ment in ev­ery film or show when the hero must stand alone to face the en­emy – re­flects the nar­ra­tive that neo-lib­eral fem­i­nism pushes ev­ery day: you are re­spon­si­ble for your own suc­cess, and, if you fail, you have no­body to blame but your­self.

The #Metoo move­ment shows that col­lec­tive ac­tion and sol­i­dar­ity among women can still ef­fect large-scale so­cial change. Yet a great deal of our pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment con­tin­ues to pro­mote in­di­vid­ual self-re­liance and strength as the only op­tion for truly ‘su­per’ women. With­out the pos­si­bil­ity of as­pi­ra­tion be­ing a shared so­cial and col­lec­tive ca­pac­ity, rather than an ex­clu­sively in­di­vid­ual un­der­tak­ing, terms like ‘em­pow­er­ment’ be­come mean­ing­less. Let’s leave the re­makes and su­per­heroes be­hind and take se­ri­ously the op­por­tu­nity to tell some new sto­ries.

Photo: An­gela Weiss/afp/ Getty Images

GLIT­TER­ING CAST: The stars of Ocean’s 8 at the premiere in June, 2018. From left, Cate Blanchett, Awk­wa­fina, Sarah Paul­son, Anne Hath­away, San­dra Bul­lock, Mindy Kaling, He­lena Bon­ham Carter and Ri­hanna

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