Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gender Swapping Takes Hollywood by Storm (and we're already tired of it)

After the critically-praised and box office failure Ghostbusters (2016), Hollywood is on a roll with not just remakes in general, but ones featuring gender-swapping. The latest is a female-centered Ocean's Eight set to star Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina. Upon release of this news, a supposed Ocean's Eleven fanclub came out in protest with battle cries of "How could women do this?" and "Hollywood has run out of ideas".But it's not like remakes are anything new.

Consider: the newly announced A Star Is Born (2018) is a remake of A Star Is Born (1976) which is a remake of A Star Is Born (1954) which is a remake of A Star Is Born (1937). The upcoming Steven Soderburgh produced Ocean's Eight feels right at home in following Soderburgh's remake franchise of the original Frank Sinatra version from 1960. (Is your head's spinning yet? Mine is. *sigh*)
If most stories in books to comic books and films are recycled and remakes have existed since yesteryear, is gender-swapping a problem? how do we solve it?

As superhero franchises, adaptations, sequels, and spin-offs take over the movie calendar, remakes prove Hollywood has run out of ideas. And, gender swapping may gradually worsen the genre's already poor reputation.

As female actors replace roles previously assumed by male actors, news of the casting is designed to create buzz. However, the news is more or less coming across as boring. Instead of movie goers growing excited about the go-to tool Hollywood is using to get butts into the seats, it seems flipping sexes is only engaging people into man or woman hating. Adding to the misogyny and misandry pot, flicks focusing on female gender-swapping receive more negative feedback than male-swapping.

Splash is another remake on the chopping block. The film centers on Tom Hanks' Allen falling in love with a woman who is secretly a mermaid and living out this wild fantasy of being her beau. In the newer version, Channing Tatum will star as the merman while and Jillian Bell takes over Hank's role. The details have already received positive support across the board. As audiences ride the waves until Tatum scales the scene, Ocean's Eight is already looking to avoid a misogynist reception.

In all of this effort to empower performers and audiences, Hollywood is essentially missing the point. Women can offer more representation without having to be forever associated with re-creating "men's films". Or without the one male role in a female-flick being the sexy idiot. The truest way for remakes to succeed is not to just switch sexes, but ensure that the quality in how characters are written, directed, and portrayed is good or better than the average remake.

Ghostbusters might have not been a box office success, but it was praised by critics and audiences for giving women the opportunity to be seen as funny, smart, and capable individuals who kick ghoulish asses. It's one of the reasons I loved the revamp, and the same could be said for Ocean's Eight if turns out that all of this gender-swapping is just white noise. But the vitriol reception director Paul Fieg's recreation received cast the film into the ether before it's official release, only furthering a reflection of rampant sexism. And it hasn't halted Dan Aykroyd's plans for his all-male reboot set.

Real opportunity for layered characters exists. But Ghostbusters failed in this regard when it came to Chris Hemsworth's role. As tongue-in-cheek commentary on the male gaze, he's pretty much reduced to the beefcake secretary, he's funny but dumber than dumber and just there to be a eye candy. While there's nothing wrong to slobber over celebrity hotness, the Thor actor wasn't used to the best of his abilities - especially considering his hilarious stunts hosting SNL. Just like the wives in the Ocean's Eleven movies, he's almost so useless he might as well not be in the movie. The movie has great female leads, but his performance is surface-level.

One of the positive qualities Hollywood has going for it with gender-swapping is that, like Ghostbusters, it might improve representation and raise the bar of speaking roles versus shedding clothes. Women, while replacing men, have an opportunity to make their casts as diverse as possible, opening more opportunities to women of color gracing the screen too. However, critics are trying to use the history of women being treated as objects to excuse men to pay their dues. It's sad, that so far, gender swapping is limiting performers into one-dimension.

A dire doubt emerges in these seas of clones: if studios are so focused on remaking male-dominated films, do they believe women can't sell movies? that it's advantageous to tie them to a previously "masculine" franchise? What will happen to our own unique stories if Ghostbusters and Ocean's Eight aren't simply creative anomalies?

In 2015, director George Miller created post-apocalypse action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road. No harm, no foul, the flick was the fourth installment of his series, and it still proved to be one of the most innovative, game-changing movies of that year and years to come. Additionally, women weren't the only driving force of the film, but the production team such as the editor were the heart of his crazy, imaginative adventure. Meanwhile Tom Hardy's Mad Max nor the villain Immortan Joe were reduced to tropes. It wasn't just a "she movie" or a "he movie"; it transcended type in more ways than one.

The remake genre is notorious for sucking. Fresh stories ignite imagination so much more than cardboard cut-outs. Unfortunately, wholly original mainstream movies that aren't a spin-off, an adaptation, a sequel, apart of a franchise or a remake seem all too rare. In actuality, movies should incorporate all people; not "assign a gender" to tick off certain boxes. If remakes are going to tackle gender-swapping, they can't rest on being carbon copies.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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