I Ain’t Afraid of No Girls: GHOSTBUSTERS’ “Funniest Women in the World” (Editorial)
Saturday Night Live standout Kate McKinnon is one of four ladies who will debut as the newest Ghostbusters this summer, and the actress – who portrays Jillian Holtzmann in Sony’s upcoming reboot – presented her Ghostbusters director Paul Feig with the Athena Film Festival’s inaugural Leading Man Award. Feig, director of such comedic hits as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, was praised by McKinnon, who co-stars alongside Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones in the new take on the classic comedy.
“We filmed [Ghostbusters] in Boston over the summer and the best part of the summer was getting to wear a jumpsuit. I wore pants the whole time and my hair was up the whole time. Not one hair on my neck … It sounds like a small thing that I got to wear pants and have my hair up, but it’s actually a really big thing because we were playing scientists. Women playing scientists wearing jumpsuits, kind of ugly jumpsuits. And they made dolls of this! That has never happened! … No cleavage. Dolls,” said McKinnon, whose character has already been transformed into various forms of plastic, with Lego sets and action figures hitting store shelves soon.
“And while we were filming, Paul would sometimes release pictures of how things were going, the costumes or whatever. And we’d get a wonderful email from him whenever someone would tweet back a picture of their daughter rocking a Ghostbusters jumpsuit and a proton pack, which happened a lot. It’s sweet and it’s cute but it’s also actually quite new and quite huge. This morning, I Googled ‘girls Halloween costume,’ and I can tell you with scientific certainty that those jumpsuits will be the only girls’ Halloween costumes available this October that include pants,” McKinnon continued, before laying praise on the filmmaker, whose well-received hits have featured women leads.
“Paul has let women be tough cops, CIA operatives, and lovable drunken flailing losers. But Paul’s heartfelt and hilarious films have no political agenda … His true subversion lies in creating female protagonists who are striving for the universal goals of friendship, connectedness, justice, and personal growth. These golden fleeces have always been the sole province of male protagonists. They don’t call it an everyman for nothing. By building stories around female protagonists who are striving not for romance but simply to become their best selves, he has permanently changed the game for us all.”
The decision to reboot the beloved classic that is Ghostbusters has drawn criticism since Feig personally announced the project on Twitter in October 2014, to the point where Feig had to personally defend his film and his cast from those who have taken aim at the cast and crew with “misogyny and insults.” Such words haven’t phased McKinnon, who thanked Feig for the opportunity to become a Ghostbuster. “I don’t feel like I could play a regular gal in a rom-com,” she told her director. “I wanted to be a woman in a business suit or in jumpsuits who’s a real character. I read a lot of scripts. It’s just not there. People are not writing women that are anything other than just normal cute women.”
Kristen Wiig previously weighed in on the reaction to the all-female cast, expressing that she was “bummed” to see criticisms aimed over the gender of the cast. “The fact there was so much controversy because we were women was surprising to me. Some people said some really not nice things about the fact that there were women,” Wiig shared. “It didn’t make me mad, it just really bummed me out. We’re really honoring those movies.” Relative newcomer Leslie Jones also spoke on the misogynistic comments aimed at the cast , telling MTV, “It’s Ghostbusters. Come on, man. It’s not that hard to see women do a role that a man was supposed to do,” said the comedienne. “I mean, get over it. It’s just a movie, man.”
Feig – whose initial pitch for Ghostbusters declared that the film would see “four very different women coming together and figuring out in funny, scary and action-packed ways how to save New York City and the world” – spoke on the controversy himself, noting that he found such reactions unbelievable in modern times. “It shouldn’t be these women’s movies and these men’s movies, it should be all mixed up,” Feig said. “Which is why people are like, ‘Well you should mix Ghostbusters,’ But I have too many funny women I want to put in there. I don’t want to take a job away from them. It’s a cause, but it’s a selfish cause because I just know too many funny women.”
“I just don’t understand why it’s ever an issue anymore,” Feig said in 2014, shortly after the female driven reboot was confirmed. “I’ve promoted both Bridesmaids and The Heat and myself and my cast are still hit constantly with the question, ‘Will this answer the question of whether women can be funny?’ I really cannot believe we’re still having this conversation.”
“Some people accused it of kind of being a gimmick and it’s like, it would be a gimmick if I wasn’t somebody whose brain doesn’t automatically go to like, ‘I want to just do more stuff with women.’ I just find funny women so great. For me it’s just more of a no-brainer.”
While Feig knew he wanted “the funniest women in the world,” it became a matter of figuring out who those women were. “I took a number of months after I signed on and walked around doing different amalgamations of different actors — I mean everybody, giant actresses, everything — because I was like, who could it be?” Feig shared. “I knew I needed four people who were very different and yet would be funny together, and really, I kind of cast it in my head and contacted them, and they all wanted to do it.”
Feig mainstay Melissa McCarthy expressed her excitement in March 2015, before taking an opportunity to praise her frequent collaborator. “Oh my god, I cannot be more excited to reboot it. I mean, I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan – who isn’t? I’ve seen that movie, like, 50,000 times,” she said. “[It’s] going to put a really modern, current twist on it. It will be scary and have good action. [Paul Feig] pulls from the classics but he’s a very modern director. I truly believe they could not have picked a better director to launch that franchise.”
“Coming up with the four women for Ghostbusters was the hardest thing in the world,” Feig said. “These are the funniest women in the world. Every woman on SNL right now is a home run. Then you’ve got Amy [Poehler] and Tina [Fey], [Amy] Schumer is getting her chance now, the Broad City girls. Look at Ellie Kemper and her great show… I can’t even list them out.” Melissa McCarthy – who had teamed with Feig in Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy – was an obvious choice, with many online commentators calling the casting as soon as Feig announced the project. Kristen Wiig, star of Bridesmaids and a Saturday Night Live alum, has become a go-to leading lady in comedy. Then there’s Wiig’s fellow SNL team members Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, two comediennes who lack the cinematic experience of McCarthy and Wiig – but probably not for long.
Landing his dream team was only part of what Feig’s battle. “There’s also legitimate actresses I know who can be funny. Thats why I want to do as many of these [female-driven films] as possible. I just want to keep these people working, and Hollywood isn’t giving them enough roles,” he said. “It’s slowly starting to crack open, but it’s not. I just hate to see talented people not get to work. There are all these people who need these opportunities.”
“I hate that I’m a guy directing these types of movies,” Feig admitted. “I wish women were directing them. I want to get women doing these so there are more of these projects and we can just lay it to rest, and make it like, ‘Who’s the best for the job?'”
Many have taken aim at Ghostbusters for appearing to be a gender-bent reboot of beloved films – and aside from Feig’s preference to write and direct for women, the filmmaker noted the sacredness of those films is precisely why he pitched a reboot. “I don’t want to go near the original ones because they’re so good, and I know people get mad at me. A lot of people on the Internet are frustrated it’s a reboot, but I honestly think it might be the better way to do it. So look, hate me if you will, I don’t know what to tell you,” Feig revealed.
Original series star Ernie Hudson, who portrayed Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters before reprising the role in Ghostbusters II and Ghostbusters: The Video Game, was originally hesitant of the female-centric reboot – chiefly because he was keen to return in a Ghostbusters III that never made it off the page, desperate a storied history of attempts.
“I heard it was going to be a total reboot, and that it would have nothing to do with the other two movies,” Hudson told The Telegraph in 2014. “If it has nothing to do with the other two movies, and it’s all female, then why are you calling it Ghostbusters?” It was a sentiment that many agreed with at the time – and a viewpoint that many hold today – though his views were expressed early on in the project’s history.
“I love females. I hope that if they go that way at least they’ll be funny, and if they’re not funny at least hopefully it’ll be sexy. I love the idea of including women, I think that’s great,” he continued. “But all-female I think would be a bad idea. I don’t think the fans want to see that. Maybe it will come out and be the most amazing thing, but in my opinion I think it would be wrong to do another movie that didn’t include the guys. And that didn’t include me!”
Hudson will cameo in the film, in a role that isn’t Winston Zeddemore. “I came back, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney [Weaver], Annie Potts. So we all came to support the film,” said Hudson, whose Ghostbusters co-star, Harold Ramis, passed away in February 2014. Though most of the old gang are set to appear in the film, albeit in new roles, don’t expect any reunions – the cameos “come in at quite different times,” Hudson notes. The 70 year old actor’s cameo reversed his feelings on the film, and he has nothing but high praise for the new cast. “They’re extraordinarily funny and there’s a great chemistry with them,” he told PEOPLE. “I think it’s going to be very good. The script I knew was good. I knew the special effects would be amazing. But I was really pleasantly surprised to see how the women kind of gelled together.”
The behind-the-scenes narrative of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters has largely been driven by the controversy behind its all-female cast since word of the project first arrived in August 2014. This wasn’t just a beloved property being rebooted, starting over from the beginning – it was being rebooted with women. As Feig noted, the move has been accused of being a “gimmick,” a move which was proposed by Feig – not producer Columbia Pictures. Sony tried to get a “traditional” Ghostbusters III into theaters for years, a hope that was altogether abandoned with the 2014 death of original Ghostbusters star and co-writer Harold Ramis. “I just kept turning it down because I didn’t know how to do it. The scripts had been written, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I wasn’t excited about it,” said Feig of Sony’s original plans. “I thought, if I could put four women in the lead roles, that’s exciting to me. That I know how to do, and I know how to make that funny. And there’s so many funny women I’ve been dying to work with.” Because of Feig’s filmography and his predilection for working with female leads, Ghostbusters 2016 being a reboot wasn’t the focus: the focus became the controversial matter of remaking a film with four female leads in place of that franchise’s former male leads.
Criticism of a reboot is fair – after all, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray have served as the face of Ghostbusters for the past thirty two years. “Ghostbusters” wasn’t just a franchise: it was Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, and Peter Venkman. Roles and actors who weren’t as easily and readily replaceable as the leads in James Bond or Batman, franchises which have seen various incarnations throughout their on-screen histories. Replacing those characters and those actors was never going to go down easy; “gender swapping” the film, as some would say, would bring even more fuss into the equation.
The concept of a female Ghostbuster is nothing new: Janine, the Ghostbusters’ trusty secretary, donned her own proton pack in a 1986 episode of The Real Ghostbusters, with the animated Extreme Ghostbusters introducing full time, female Ghostbusters as far back as 1997 – a progression that carried over into the more recent IDW comic book series. These Ghostbusters were largely welcomed by the fanbase, with many online commentators even calling for particularly popular characters to appear in the films. The difference? None of those female Ghostbusters replaced anyone. Those four faces of Ray, Egon, Winston, and Peter – four male faces – are embedded into the pop culture consciousness. Ghostbusters wasn’t merely a specific brand; it was synonymous with those four names.
As revealed by the highly publicized Sony email leak of late 2014, 21 Jump Street star Channing Tatum was talking to Sony about teaming up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo for a Batman Begins-style Ghostbusters flick co-starring Tatum’s friend – and Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World megastar – Chris Pratt. The studio, in negotiations with Paul Feig at the time for what would become the female-lead Ghostbusters, was interested in the idea of the two films co-existing. Should the Tatum / Pratt Ghostbusters receive the green light – still a possibility – would it receive the same level of hatred? Maybe. (It is the internet).
One thing is a given: the sexist comments that have plagued Feig for nearly two years straight wouldn’t be hurled at anyone making a Ghostbusters moving featuring Channing Tatum and Chris Pratt. “The first wave when you make an announcement like [Ghostbusters] is overwhelmingly positive. Everyone’s so happy and you’re like, ‘This is great,’” Feig said last March. “Then comes the second wave and you’re like, oh my God. Some of the most vile, misogynistic shit I’ve ever seen in my life.”
If Ray, Egon, Winston, and Peter were replaced by a male team – even a mixed-gender team, as the potentially Drew Pearce-scripted project was said to feature – does it become an easier pill to swallow? Would a mixed-gender team, with this particular film, have helped ease some of the qualms? Possibly – probably. We wouldn’t see accusations that the newest incarnation of Ghostbusters is nothing but a gender-flipped remake. It would just be a new Ghostbusters, and that’s exactly the point in what Paul Feig is hoping to accomplish.
Rebooting a beloved franchise is always going to draw out the loudest and most vocal of commentators – but flinging sexist, misogynistic, and vile comments at a film’s cast and crew isn’t going to get you that Ghostbusters III you wanted. It’s only going to put a collective black eye on the fanbase – a fanbase filled with both men and women who are passionate enough to quote the films, don their own jumpsuits, wield their own proton packs, and even personalize their own Ecto-1 vehicles. Ghostbusters is a franchise filled with iconography that’s impossible to top – but Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation, The Heat) intend to revive Ghostbusters in a fresh, new way.
“We would debate it a lot about what to bring back, and what are the things you want to see? And there was a lot I wanted to see. It was very important to Paul to make sure we were doing something new, because if it just felt like we were re-doing it, that’s just not right,” Dippold told The Verge. “And then we talked about the stuff we really liked from the original. And I was surprised by how many things from the original I wanted to bring back! Maybe that’s weird, but I just want to see it! At a certain point, we had to stop thinking about what everyone else would want, and as fans ourselves focus on all the things that we would want to see.”
“Everybody says we’re making the female Ghostbusters, but I say, ‘No, we’re making the funny Ghostbusters.’ Yes, it happens to be four women,” said Sony Pictures head Tom Rothman of the criticisms fired at the female team. “It’s original. You get pissing and moaning on the Internet — sexist comments – but, you know, f— ’em.”
When it comes to a Ghostbusters revamp, who ya gonna call? Whoever can do the job.
Thirty years after the original film took the world by storm, Ghostbusters is back and fully rebooted for a new generation. Director Paul Feig combines all the paranormal fighting elements that made the original franchise so beloved with a cast of new characters, played by the funniest actors working today. Get ready to watch them save the world this summer!
Ghostbusters hits theaters July 15th.