I hold Ghostbusters responsible for my first-ever experience of sexism. Aged four, the boys at nursery wouldn’t let me play at busting ghosts, insisting I had to be lame old Janine instead. I sobbed dramatically at the injustice.
Over two decades later, we finally have lady Ghostbusters on our screens – and now it looks like we’re getting all-lady bank robbers, too. But while I should probably be celebrating this as a win for feminism, I just can’t get too excited about it.
It’s true that women are massively under-represented in film. Studies have found that only 12% of clearly identifiable protagonists are women, and only 10.7% of films feature a gender-balanced cast. Many of us are familiar with the Bechdel test – whether a film features two or more women talking to each other about something other than a man – which over half of last year’s top films failed.
But this trend for rebooting old classics with male roles re-written for women is too much of an easy cop-out. It doesn’t address the deep-rooted problems behind how women are presented on our screens, and skips over the challenge of creating original, interesting characters and storylines that reflect the female experience.
A large part of the industry’s diversity issues are down to the make up of those behind the scenes. Only 9% of directors, 15% of script writers and 17% of executive producers are women. No wonder so many female characters are totally one-dimensional, usually only there to prop up a central male character’s storyline, when there are no women there to create them.
In order for women to be better represented in film, we need more women to be creating the films in the first place. We are the ones best placed to tell our own stories and reflect our experiences. Data from The New York Film Academy shows that when a woman is directing a film, there’ll naturally be a 10.6% increase in female characters’ screen time.
The all-female Ghostbusters and the new all-female Ocean’s Eight both have male directors. That’s not to say they can’t do a good job, but it does highlight the underlying inequality that these tokenistic films are simply masking. We need more women being encouraged into writing, directing and producing, and to shatter the image of the industry as only being open to white middle-aged dudes in suits.
That said, I’m hoping these reboots may act as a starting point – a jump-off into a bigger discussion around diversity in film and, hopefully, a gateway to better representation both on-screen and off. With writers and directors such as Lena Dunham, Diablo Cody and Thea Sharrock having gained attention in recent years, and female-fronted films such as The Hunger Games smashing box office records, we might hopefully start seeing the change we need.
In the meantime, if little girls in the playground are no longer told they can’t play at being a Ghostbuster, then I guess that’s at least something to celebrate.