Midway last week the first trailer for the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot was released, and there was a massive response to it, but not the kind of response Sony would have been hoping for. As of last check the primary trailer video on Youtube has received 17 million views. From that number 153 thousand people gave it a thumbs up. The problem? Nearly twice as many people, 301 thousand to be specific, gave it a thumbs down. This response only mirrors the kind of publicity the movie has been receiving ever since it was announced that they were rebooting the movie with an all-female cast…
…and it’s that last part that has naturally brought about much of the controversy. The loudest opinions, whether they were the majority or minority, were firmly against the idea. They were worried it would be trampling over the legacy of the original movie. The opinions didn’t change when the cast was officially announced or when the first teaser image was released, and the apparent consensus has only grown louder in the wake of this trailer.
So the question has to be asked: Are people against the Ghostbuster remake because they’re remaking a beloved classic, or because they’re remaking a beloved classic with an all female cast? The argument here comes in the middle of a somewhat small but significant battleground that can be found across the internet between ‘radical feminists’ and ‘misogynists’. Those who have been following the reboot from its announcement will know that one side was accusing Sony of sucking up to the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) movement, and the other side proclaimed that if you were worried or against the movie then you were automatically sexist.
The reality of course is not this black and white, and internet culture has a tendency of making a hyperbole out of everything and letting the extreme opinions seem common-place. But it wasn’t unreasonable to ask, in a modern Hollywood where anything that can make money will be remade, whether such a vocal backlash to this particular franchise might have been partially inspired by more than just the act of the reboot itself.
Now before I continue it’s worth addressing two things. Firstly, I’m a guy – so I can only approach a topic like sexism from a certain point of view. I can’t comment on it like a woman can because they have different experiences on the issue. It doesn’t negate my opinion, but it does classify it somewhat. The other thing to note is I’m not a passionate Ghostbusters fan. I watched it as a kid, and again recently and while I enjoyed it I don’t hold it with the apparent reverence that others do. And because I’m not attached to the property like I am with Batman or Mass Effect, I’m coming at the situation differently. Perhaps more level headed, but also without as much riding on it.
When the reboot announcement was made, complete with the intention of it being an all-girl Ghostbusting lineup, to say there was no sexism present in some of the responses would be to be covering your eyes and blocking your ears. Amongst the comments there were plenty of specific references to the fact that they “can’t do an all-female Ghostbusters movie”. There was plenty of non-gender concern like you get with any classic being rebooted, but the all-female aspect of it seemed to perpetuate the issue. And it wasn’t just this movie that was on the receiving end. There were people (a small segment, but enough to get noticed) claiming that The Force Awakens was pandering to SJW’s for making the two main heroes a black man and a woman. There were even those claiming to boycott the movie because of it. Of course that little tidbit didn’t stop it from a monster box office run and critical acclaim, but it was there.
Questioning these choices isn’t sexist on their own mind you. And the lambasting of casting decisions isn’t restricted to issues of race and gender (Eisenberg as Luthor anyone?). But when race or gender becomes the primary complaint, the line between fair questioning/criticism and prejudice becomes thin. Is questioning the casting of Michael B Jordan as The Human Torch racist when the comics have clearly defined that Torch and Sue Storm are siblings – and the actress cast as his biological sister is white? Is complaining about Scarlett Johanson playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie racist? It’s possible to see both sides.
The problem is that this kind of response puts the movies on the back foot, and it also becomes easy – thanks to the nature of the internet – to assume that anyone questioning the casting choices is sexist/racist thanks to a vocal minority that demonstrates the point. Fantastic Four was a bad movie with an awful lot wrong with it, but even if it was good it would have faced an uphill battle to prove that. Ghostbusters was placed firmly in this situation. People were concerned about the quality of the movie, and the concern gets compounded because of all the negativity surrounding it. So now here we are, 4 days after the trailer released, with a like/dislike ratio that you don’t see on Youtube from major work outside of a new Fine Brothers video.
You want proof? Check the Youtube trailer responses for that same Fantastic 4 movie that was universally panned – 40 thousand likes to 7 thousand dislikes on one and 10 thousand likes to one and a half thousand dislikes on another. Transformers: Age of Extinction (a franchise with a history of vocal dislike) has 22 thousand likes to one thousand dislikes. Both franchises, like Ghostbusters, have a passionate original fanbase, but only Ghostbusters has such an errant like/dislike ratio. Every other recent publicly derided movie I could think of (50 Shades of Grey, Pixels, Movie 43) had a heavy positive like/dislike ratio on their trailers, let alone the negatives nearly outweighing the positive by double.
So what of the trailer itself? Outside of the responses on that Youtube clip you can find negative discussion on it everywhere, and its coming from respected online commentators as well, not just people who make a living off of ‘hating’. And if I speak from a partially objective point of view, the trailer did not make me want to watch the movie. Considering a comedy movie trailer needs to highlight the humour, the fact I didn’t even chuckle once is concerning. You can complain about a trailer ‘giving away the best jokes’ but if it doesn’t make you laugh or get you interested, then it’s failed. If it wasn’t labelled ‘Ghostbusters’, then I wouldn’t be giving it a second though, and nor would most of the public I suspect. It doesn’t mean the movie will be bad, we’ve seen poor trailers released for great movies before, but the first impression is important.
It’s not a knock on the actresses. They’re all capable of strong acting performances and have a track record for successful comedies. And director Paul Feig has been behind one of the most successful female-led comedies in recent times with Bridemaids. Even with a negative atmosphere surrounding it, a strong trailer should have at the very least alleviated some of the concerns. But there seems to be less confidence now than there was before. There’s plenty of reason to think the negative opinions on the trailer are because it simply doesn’t work, and not because of what private bits the stars have.
Yes, the trailer was bad, and it’s difficult to find any positivity for it online. But when you do come across an article that does praise it, you’ll always find someone in the comments section calling the writer a ‘feminist’. And frankly it doesn’t look good when dealing with issues of sexism. You don’t have to be a ‘feminazi’ (a word that gets errantly thrown around because everything has to be compared to Hitler on the internet) to enjoy the trailer just like you don’t have to be a misogynist to not enjoy it. It is possible to like things other people dislike, but the response has been so vehemently aggressive that it fuels the issue for both sides.
I can explain why the new trailer has myself and others worried about the movie. What I can’t explain is the 300 thousand dislikes on Youtube when other objectively bad trailers for objectively bad movies have an overwhelming like to dislike ratio. People are taking a far more active role in shunning this movie than we’ve seen before. Maybe this, along with the response The Fine Brothers got, is the start of a trend of mass dislikes on the Youtube videos, but until then this movie, which has had questionable hate already thrust upon it, stands as an aberration. Expressing concern or dislike over the trailer is not sexist, but unless the like/dislike situation becomes a trend, the motives behind some of the hate has to be questioned.