On Ghostbusters, Gender, and Hate

The Ghostbusters reboot has been at the center of much controversy and mud-flinging ever since the all-woman cast was announced back in January 2015. When the film premiered in the UK on Monday to pretty decent reviews— a certified fresh 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—a Ghostbusters Reddit thread appeared, claiming they needed to undermine the film’s success via social media rumors. While the post has been debunked as fake, one fact remains: this film has endured, and continues to endure, a large amount of hate. And much of it has to do with gender.

People have of course argued otherwise, claiming that the vitriol is less about the female cast and more about how Hollywood shouldn’t be rebooting classic films. But that’s a pretty disingenuous line of thinking. After all, reboots like the 1998 Godzilla, the 2001 Planet of the Apes, the 2009 Friday the 13th, the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street, or the 2014 Robocop or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t garner anywhere near the amount of widespread disgust as Ghostbusters has. Sure, some of those films were just plain awful, but they didn’t exactly inspire year-long hate campaigns.

Because it really has been a year’s worth of constant attacks. Some have argued that the dislike stems from the trailer being pretty unfunny and corny looking (a point that for once, I actually agree with), but that doesn’t explain the highly gendered comments on articles dating back to January 2015, before we knew anything about the film except for the cast. If you look at any of the articles before the trailer was even released, you’ll see comments like: “female comedians are just not as funny as male comedians, it’s a scientific and evolutionary point of view”; “Is there anything women WON’T ruin for men?”; “Proton packs are very heavy…That fact alone makes this all woman cast practically unreasonable on top of already making me feel sick for the other obvious agenda based reasons”; “Having SOME females in the cast would make sense, but having an ALL-female cast screams that this is a gimmick.”

While I firmly believe these commentators represent but a small, angry portion of the overall population of film lovers and internet users, we can’t disregard the fact that these people do indeed exist, and they really, really don’t like the idea of women taking up space that they perceive as rightfully theirs.

We can also look at the fact that the film’s trailer holds the spot for top disliked movie trailer in the history of YouTube. The second most disliked film trailer on YouTube is…the second trailer for the Ghostbusters reboot. Even the Fantastic Four trailer, which, you know, was a legitimately terrible reboot, only has 7,000 dislikes, compared to Ghostbusters’ over 900,000.

Furthermore, Ghostbusters is not premiering in the U.S. until this Friday, and yet IMDb tells us that over 1,000 people, most of them male according to the site, have already given the film one star.

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Credit: IMDb.com

As for the professional critics who actually gave the film positive reviews, there are numerous people on Twitter who believe that Sony has paid them all off. “Did Sony pay off Rotten Tomatoes?” a user asked on the film’s YouTube trailer. “How much did they pay you?” one user asked Jason Inman, the co-host of DC All Access. “Way to sell out,” another told Nerdist. One user told Comic Book Resources, “Great is a strong word. How much were you paid?” And somebody said to Gizmodo, “How much did Sony pay you guys to write this. Lost respect for you.” And another Twitter user claims that the Metacritic score would be much lower if “movie critics didn’t lean so far to the pro-feminist left.”

And then we can look at the fact that several of the negative reviews by people who have actually seen the film point out how unfairly the film treats its men, even going so far as to cry reverse sexism. Richard Roeper calls Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin “monumentally stupid — but also narcissistic and annoying.” One IMDb user calls the film a “man-hating mess,” and another complains, “Every male character, every single one, is either inept, a creep, or the butt of a joke.” And another user says, “The fact that every man in this movie is portrayed as either an incompetent idiot or evil, while literally every female in the movie is portrayed as a hero made me want to walk out after the 20 minute mark.”

The irony of all this is, of course, that women know exactly what this feels like, and yet they haven’t spent time downvoting a film trailer into oblivion. Women are often portrayed as disposable, as inept, as trophy wives. There’s a reason I stumbled across numerous comments that said they’d be more okay with the Ghostbusters film had they just cast “hot chicks fighting ghosts in bikinis.” On the whole, women are woefully underrepresented in film, and when they are represented, they’re often wearing sexually revealing clothing and act as just a love interest or worse, get killed in order to motivate the main male protagonist.

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Credit: New York Film Academy

I can’t emphasize enough that reverse sexism simply does not exist. If we look just at film portrayals, Dr. Martha M. Lauzen’s study “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” found that only 22 percent of the top films in 2015 featured a female protagonist, and women represent only 33 percent of all characters found in all the films.

Let’s be honest, Ghostbusters may end up not being a great film, but it’s a film that’s taking one tiny step in remedying that great gender imbalance—and that, it’s clear, is where much of the hate seems to be stemming from. From the pre-release comments, to the trailer reactions, to the lambasting of the film as man-hating, to conspiracy theories that Sony paid off the positive reviewers, we have to conclude that gender is a driving force behind a lot of this hyperbolic anger.

And that’s not to say the film is free from criticism. I was personally bothered by the trailer making the only black woman on the team the street smart, loud-mouthed stereotype, while the white women get to be the smart scientists. As I’ve written about before, it feels like yet another film where white women inch ahead at the expense of women of color. I welcome critical reviews that actually look at the film from this angle, and I’m hoping the film treats Patty better than the trailer did.  

But as for everyone else having a conniption because a single film dares to have all women protagonists? I advise you take a chapter out of a woman’s book and do what we’re always told to do when something happens that we don’t like: grin and bear it.

Gretchen Smail

Gretchen Smail

Part time Bay Area journalist, full time loungewear enthusiast

One thought on “On Ghostbusters, Gender, and Hate

  1. “But as for everyone else having a conniption because a single film dares to have all women protagonists? I advise you take a chapter out of a woman’s book and do what we’re always told to do when something happens that we don’t like: grin and bear it.”

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