Cinema audiences invest a lot in their franchises and characters and, like all fans, tend to massively overreact to any news that they dislike, with the noise becoming so deafening that any rational, legitimate points are drowned out by bigotry, prejudice, and simple stupidity.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond films are the franchise’s most commercially successful yet and the actor is commonly hailed as one of the best to play the part, so it’s easy to forget that when his casting was first announced social media was awash with whinges about him being blond.
The reaction of some fans was the mind-blowing ‘Never mind the quality of the actor, let’s start a petition to have his hair forcibly dyed to match the novels.’
Far more seriously, recent reports that Sony bosses might be keen on casting Idris Elba prompted a whole shedload of racists to take to Twitter, Facebook and forums to declare that ‘A black man can’t be James Bond’.
That of course is nonsense, any actor of any race, physical ability, sexuality or even gender can be James Bond, he’s a fictional character whose cinema persona is utterly divorced from the violent, sexist, homophobic brute of Fleming’s novels.
To change Bond from a white 40-something male you’d have have to reboot the franchise yet again – and the collapse of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise shows audiences don’t always respond well to reboots that come too soon after the last one – but there’s nothing inherently white or male about the idea of a suave, sexy spy who takes down their nation’s enemies.
And there’s nothing inherently male abut fighting ghosts in contemporary New York which means those declaring ‘you cannot have an all-female Ghostbusters film’ are also wrong.
But while some see casting swaps like these as pushing the cause of equality – and Hollywood certainly needs to address the over representation of white, hetro, males in its output – there’s a danger that they’re letting studios off easy.
Casting a black actor in a role that’s traditionally been white, or a female actor in a role that was previously male is a quick, high-profile ‘fix’ for an industry that unapologetically gives the likes of Michael Bay hundreds of millions of dollars to objectify women and fill a film like Pain and Gain with homophobic ‘jokes’.
If Bay were overseeing the new Ghostbusters there’s a good chance they’d all be pneumatically breasted models who take down ghosts in their bikinis or crop tops. It’s probably best not to even think about what they’d look like after being ‘slimed’ over!
But even without such overt sexualisation, are women being well served by the four lead roles in a much-loved franchise being cast female or is it, as one fellow journo suggested yesterday, “a poisoned chalice”?
With the exception of the Craig Bonds and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek series, most reboots and remakes suck. They tend to fail commercially, few spawn sequels and most end up overshadowed by the original.
Some, such as the Nightmare on Elm street effort, are so insipid that if they were the first time anyone had seen or heard of the characters they’d never have spawned a franchise to be rebooted.
Everything we know about modern cinema suggests that the Ghostbusters film will be a flop.
For older audiences the only point in going to see a Ghostbusters film is if it features the actual Ghostbusters, and the younger audience Hollywood chases is full of teen males who only want to see women when they’ve got their tits out.
The audience for a Ghostbusters film where the cast isn’t Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson and where their female replacements are dressed, is tiny.
Which means the film will have a “disappointing” opening weekend at the box office and studio bosses will be able to declare that there really isn’t a mainstream audience for films with strong female leads or all female-casts and go back to making films for teenage lads.
This matters – if you look at the films released last year, the vast majority are commissioned in the expectation that a white, male actor will play the lead.
Women are especially poorly served, largely being relegated either to supporting roles or leads in romances or films about ‘women’s things’ like motherhood.
While men got to save the world, or even the universe, quite a lot last year, women spent much of their on-screen time finding themselves a man, getting even with a man or getting involved in their kids’ school.
But improving this isn’t going to be achieved by applauding Hollywood for lazily airdropping female, gay, lesbian or BAME performers into existing franchises in the full knowledge both that this sets the actor up as the target for a web-full of bigots, and that the films most likely will flop.
We should expect – and large parts of the audience deserve – better than this.
What’s needed is for studios to cast strong non-straight, non-white, non-male performers in ORIGINAL films which are well made, supported by decent budgets, designed to appeal outside a niche and marketed to succeed.