The Case Against Gender-Reversal Films
Okay, So I Don't Have Anything Against Last Year's "Ocean's 8", Per Se
Recently, Hollywood brought to us another gender-reversal blockbuster that I had hoped would fail terribly, in "Ocean's 8". Nothing against Sandra Bullock or the rest of the cast. I mostly wanted it to fail because I want Hollywood to maybe, maybe, get the hint that gender-reversal remakes are complete and utter garbage. It has nothing to do with misogyny or me being a birth-member of the He-Man, Women-Hater's club. It primarily has to do with my hatred of all things unoriginal in Hollywood. Secondly, it has to do with the fact that they keep pushing this as 'empowering women' when neither I, nor anybody else, understands how exactly it achieves this. The fact is that with every one of these loose remakes, they are further stating that women cannot create their own unique characters that are mega-movie worthy and that they need to steal some of the dude-characters that made money in the past.
To my first point, why is this even called "Ocean's 8" and why did they have to take an existing concept in the first place (one that was, itself, already a retread)? Nobody in that artistic hot spring known as Hollywood could come up with some idea worthy of bringing together an all-female ensemble cast? I mean, they did it successfully with Bridesmaids (can't believe there haven't been four sequels to that).
Perhaps the most recent and ultimate example of a female-driven film that got it right was The Hunger Games. That movie (based on the book ... which probably explains why it got it right) was original for American culture and so Katniss wasn't filling in for what we already knew. Jennifer Lawrence wasn't living up to some elevated expectation, male or female. We weren't questioning the casting, the portrayal, or any other number of comparable attributes of the film. That movie made bank at the box office and in spite of that, nobody in Hollywood learned the true lesson from it. Instead, the idiot-savants that they are, went to the white board and equated 'woman lead = money & audience acceptance". That couldn't be further from the truth and is no better than saying 'male lead = money & audience acceptance". Just ask any one of the thousand male-driven flops of the last century.
The reason, again, why it was so successful (aside from being based on a wildly popular book) was because the entire series, characters, and concept were ORIGINAL! And the plot was decent at worst! Audiences want something new and something that makes sense! It doesn't matter if the lead is male or female.
So no, I don't need a remake of an Ocean's movie (and to prove I am a man of principal, I didn't watch the Pitt/Clooney adaptations, either) and I certainly don't need it just because it stars all women. Just like I, and every person on planet Earth, did not need a Ghostbusters remake with all women. I'm pretty sure that disaster has been discussed enough already but I'll add this much: it didn't fail because of wholesale misogyny, as I read one article mention. It failed for the same basic reason knee-high flannel socks would fail - because nobody wants them. Nobody is asking for them.
And the same can be said both ways - do you think I'd want to watch a remake of the Hunger Games starring some young guy with a bow and arrow? No. Never. Because there is absolutely NO need for it. I already have the original so why on Earth would I need a gender-swapped remake? Certainly not for male role models - we already have a billion comic book heroes for that. Certainly not to see the film "in a different perspective". To me, the story is as it was intended to be - a young woman takes up her sister's spot in some teenage battle royale and lives to the end. End of story (well, the first story, at least). No matter what they would do with a remake, it would be unoriginal, uninspired, and probably include swerves and changes just for the sake of swerving and seeming original. "Oh, wow. Peeta the golden retriever got shot. I've been swerved."
Just like the Robocop remake sucked. Just like the new Ninja Turtle movies were snore-fests. Just like the G.I. Joe movies were absolutely awful. Because they are all horrific rehashes of things that were great thirty years ago. These movies are uninspired trash and in the case of Robocop it didn't even scratch at the deeper themes of the original. Don't even get me started on sequels like Indiana Jones or *sigh* Die Hard.
Secondly, they speak to 'female empowerment' by casting women in male roles or making them headline films. How is that female empowerment? Because some male studio executives thought they could make easy cash by producing another movie under an old banner only with women ... just to kick up some talk and free press about it? Women are being used as a marketing tool here more than ever. Some empowerment. They aren't being given full control of the film because it is still written, produced, and directed by men. Really the only empowerment that this proves is 'hey ladies, if you make enough noise, we'll throw more women on screen to placate you but heed no attention to the fact that men are still running the entire show.'
Worst yet, they are making women in some of these movies basically "macho men with vaginas". Some will say "WHY DO THOSE HAVE TO BE MALE ATTRIBUTES! THEY CAN BE FEMALE ATTRIBUTES TOO!" Fair point but most men don't even share these qualities with action heroes, so what chances do women stand? Again, get fired up, feminists. How anybody can be so blind as to think that women, in general, can beat up men baffles me. Take that one step further, where most of the male characters in action movies are muscular and 'trained for combat' and the chances for a woman to defeat them are beyond improbable and approaching impossible. Put Brock Lesnar against the baddest female UFC fighter on the planet and tell me what happens. Yet Hollywood would like me to believe that he would sling her through a brick wall and she'd get back up and take him out with a leg sweep. I guess he would be Kobra Kai.
Aside from individuals that misinterpret 'gender equality', nobody sees women as physical equals to men. This can be seen in the fact that nobody really remembers any of the female characters in the last thirty years who have gone around beating the snot out of male goons on screen. There are almost no female franchises because they're doing it all wrong by trying to just replace a male lead with a woman (and did I mention that movie ideas nowadays simply are awful?) Just as much as audiences want something original, they want something that is either semi-realistic or so fantastical that we completely hold our imagination at the door, such as 'The Avengers'.
I think the best example of a truly awesome female lead in cinematic history is Ellen Ripley. That's right - the most hardcore female character in any movie was Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from the Alien franchise. Now, I wasn't even born when the first Alien came out ... so I don't know what kind of backlash or 'shock-and-awe' there might have been when the entire crew died except for a woman. But apparently there was far more acclaim (and cash) to elicit a slew of sequels that stretched over the next two decades. My older brother made sure to show me these movies at a far-too-early age and even then, as a young boy that knew only of G.I. Joes, Ghostbusters, WWF roughnecks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, I knew Ripley was awesome. As adults we put a lot of emphasis on labels and politics when really, if you step back and look at things with a sort of unadulterated innocence, you can see that this all isn't too complicated.
Why did I, and everyone else, love Ripley as an action star in spite of her estrogen orientation? Because she a) fought when she had to do so (like any good protagonist); b) was smart enough to kill the alien (like any good protagonist); and c) she wasn't overcompensating for the fact that she was a woman.
That last point is where Hollywood always seems to get it all wrong. A modern day remake of 'Alien' would likely cast Ripley as some hard-nosed Latina chick that has overly forced one-liners, is an ex-Navy Seal, and is skilled in ten different forms of martial arts. The opening scenes would be her hanging out at a space-colony bar with some glossy-eyed sidekick bro when some stereotypical space-biker dudes show up and give her crap for being a woman (which is apparently a thing). She would then proceed to smash them through tables, roundhouse kick them through pool cues, and use arm bar takedowns and sling men over the bar counter. After beating them all senseless, the bar would go quiet and Mexican Ripley would crack her neck, look at the bartender, and say "I think I'll close my tab."
Everybody watching this movie would hate it and more than half of them would have no clue why. They know they hate this new Ripley but are having a hard time putting a reason to it ... so the studio executives and critics far and wide will call audiences 'racist' for hating the new Hispanic lead. Then the debate shifts to something that it never was. How sad. Through their clouded judgment, they would not be able to grasp that we don't want one-liner smart-ass women because that's not who women are (in general.) We don't want women rough around the edges just like most male characters shouldn't be that way. Men find it unattractive and I honestly don't believe most women look up to such a misconception.
The truth is, Ripley was a woman making ends meet by working what was essentially a space-factory job. She never acted like a commando in the film, was just as terrified as the viewer, wanted no part in going back, and in the sequel did the unthinkable by (gasp) taking on motherly attributes and protecting Newt at all costs. But you didn't see her trotting out there with the marines until there was no other choice. She wasn't leading the mission. She wasn't ever in charge until attrition put her in that position. She was a realistic woman that fought and survived and we all loved her. She did what she had to in order to survive and she did it better than anybody else. Now THAT is female empowerment.
To summarize, if you have a half-decent plot that isn't a knock-off remake of some other movie, people will watch it. If you decide to make the lead character in that movie a woman, it had better make sense to do it and not just be a 'female empowerment' move because audiences will see right through it.