Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—Hollywood has a gender problem. But this particular problem isn’t necessarily about a lack of female-driven film franchises, or realistic, three-dimensional characters, or whether films pass a measuring stick such as the Bechdel test. Those are all very real issues that continue to necessitate conversations on gender in Hollywood. But the specific issue I’m referring to can best be highlighted by the existence of two separate, upcoming Ghostbusters reboots: One with an entirely female main cast, and one entirely male.
When Paul Feig’s upcoming Ghostbusters 3 was first announced to feature an all-female cast of four team members back in January, it seemed, for better or worse, to be a fairly progressive idea. Yes, some fans of the classic, 1984 original were upset. Yes, those people expressing their disappointment IN ALL CAPS, by and large, had a tendency to be male. Go figure. But the casting made sense, particularly in conjunction to Feig, the director of Bridesmaids and The Heat, and one of the only bankable male directors in Hollywood who has taken a particular interest in championing women for leading roles in comedies. (That would be roles where they’re not playing “girlfriend of main character,” by the way.)
The revelation of the second, “male-centric” reboot, however, throws not only itself but the Feig reboot into a more negative light. In short, it hints at the way Hollywood is not only ignoring a divisive gender gap but actively encouraging the widening of that gap by preying upon a polarized, partisan audience in an attempt to make them fight a gender battle with their wallets. Instead of coming together in a symbolic way to create something together, the producers of these films see those all-caps shouters as their target demographic—and if there are two sides, why not make two films? Each gender gets to enjoy their own little slice of pandering ghost-busting that way, right? The studios get to profit off people who are ensconced on both sides of a bitter dialog and laugh all the way to the bank.
Let’s ask the question, then: What would be so awful about a team of Ghostbusters that wasn’t immediately defined (and marketed to audiences) via its gender? Would the all-female reboot not work with a male on the team? Would the all-male reboot lose its precious market share if a woman put on that brown jumpsuit? Could we, heaven forbid, conceive of a film universe where those two genders were treated as equally likely to be interested in busting ghosts? I realize that I’m really asking people to venture out on a ledge with that one.
Consider first the idea of a male actor joining the Paul Feig female Ghostbusters reboot. Is that somehow more awkward than simply sticking with four women, as if both the characters and writers are physically and mentally incapable of dealing with the fallout of a world where male and female characters would have to be in steady contact without their defined roles boiling down to “protagonist” and “romantic object”? Would the one male on a team of female Ghostbusters have to be a gay guy in order to fit Hollywood archetypes? Who knows—perhaps this all boils down to there not being space for two locker rooms/changing areas in the Ghostbusters firehouse base.
Conversely, I shudder to think of the indignities that the one woman on an otherwise all-male Ghostbusters team would be subjected to. Is Kate Upton available to play the role of that buxom team member who the whole rest of the group is leering at and attempting to woo? Well, maybe not the whole team—she could be playing the “hot sister” of one male team member to give us a traditional triangle between the other two. Convention dictates it; our hands are tied. But hey, they’ve got Dan Aykroyd on board behind the scenes to produce, right? He has great ideas for Ghostbuster movies—like that Ghostbusters 3 script he tried to get made for 15 years revolving around the Ghostbusters fighting Satan in hell. Except the devil is named “Luke Sifler.” That’s the creative mind you want involved with your new Ghostbusters movie, no doubt about it.
The single biggest problem with the existence of these two films, though, is that being announced one after another, they’re positioned as inevitable rivals in some ideological war, some “battle of the sexes” that implores the online peanut gallery to hurl the most base, pointless rhetoric at one another. Worse, the box office outcome will all too likely be treated as gospel by the studio heads and producers looking on. Paul Feig’s film does a smaller domestic gross? It must mean that audiences hate seeing women in film! Meanwhile, for the average audience member, it’s as if the duo of Ghostbusters films is laying down some kind of gauntlet or feminist-cred-testing material—should I avoid Channing Tatum in Ghostbusters if I want to see a fairer, more inclusive Hollywood system? Is me buying a ticket for Channing’s Ghostbusters somehow an arbitrary vote in favor of the patriarchy?
Just thinking about the economic projections that likely went into these decisions makes another hard, crusty layer of cynicism calcify around my heart. This was already a project, from its very start, that would have to bear harsh scrutiny—you’re remaking one of the most beloved comedies of all time with none of the original cast. Was it really necessary to pit two teams of gendered Ghostbusters against each other as well? Or is capitalizing on a polarized, unreasonable audience really the secret to box office bank in 2015?
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he’s seen the original Ghostbusters so often that he could probably give a fairly detailed scene-by-scene description to alternatingly entertain or torture party guests. You can follow him on Twitter.