Paul Feig on Trump and the Alt-Rights War on Ghostbusters and Female Heroes
The acclaimed director of Bridesmaids discusses why his ghostbusting movie came under fire and the new book On Story, as well as whether there will be a Ghostbusters sequel.”>
If someone made you select one movieand the colossal, confounding shitstorm engulfing itthat best encapsulates the political climate of 2016, it would be Ghostbusters.
And the opening salvo was fired by none other than Donald J. Trump.
When Sony officially announced the cast for its all-female remake of the 80s classic, led by Bridesmaids stars Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy along with SNL-ers Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, the former reality-TV show host took time out of his busy schedule of eating taco bowls and bragging about sexually assaulting women to film a little video at his desk.
Squinting into the camera, the pursed-lipped provocateur exclaimed, Theyre remaking Indiana Jones without Harrison Fordyou cant do that! He waved his hands around for added effect, as though signaling a squeegee man to back the fuck away from his limo in the 80s. And now theyre making Ghostbusters with only women. Whats going on?!
Now, far be it from me to question the cinema taste of a man whose favorite film is 20 assorted minutes of Bloodsportor, for that matter, the mental fitness of a senior citizen who likes to film six-second Vine videos of himself defending Miley Cyrus for twerking at the VMAs, but Donalds small-minded take did indeed align with that of those on the women-bashing, change-scared alt-right, many of whom would become his most fervent online supporters when the cotton candy-haired mogul announced his presidency with a speech bashing Mexicans a mere five months later.
Oh, Ive seen it. Oh, Ive seen it, Ghostbusters director Paul Feig says of the ridiculous Trump video. If anybody chooses to remember the two together, our movie and this whole [Hillary Clinton] campaign, I think its very hard to say theres not a relationship between the angst that it caused in a certain part of the population. I think they are definitely tied. I think they will forever be tied. Whether people will remember a silly movie about ghosts in the same breath that theyre remembering a president of the United States, I dont know. But I think there is a very interesting thesis that some future student could write about this that Id love to read, because I think theres a very interesting simpatico going on between the two.
Indeed, just as the first female presidential nominee of a major party in Hillary Clinton squared off against the most misogynistic presidential nominee of a major party in Donald Trump, so did Ghostbusters against a myopic horde of keyboard cowboy anti-feminists who spent countless hours downvoting the films trailer to make it the most disliked in YouTube history, or even vowed to despise it sight unseen. Sony even sent out (and later deleted) a tweet from its Ghostbusters account praising Hillary for shattering the glass ceiling, while longtime Feig collaborator Judd Apatow claimed that many of the Ghostbusters haters were Trump supportersa sentiment Feig seems to agree with.
A lot of the things I hear leveled at Hillary are the things I heard leveled at my movie for two years, says Feig. I would never be so bold as to say they were all Trump supporters, but it falls in line with the beliefs of some of them, and I would get angry at horrendous tweets and I would go back and see who said it, and a good amount of the time there would be some pro-Trump thing on there. I dont know how to say it, but things always get crazy before they get better. Everybody screams the loudest before the new normal happens, so if this is the death throes of that old way of thinking, then thats great.
Things took a particularly nasty turn in the alt-rights war on Ghostbusters when alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos sicced his sizable Twitter following on star Leslie Jones, who was subsequently bombarded with racist and sexist memes. Milo was banned from Twitter for engaging in serial targeted harassment, while Joness iCloud and website were hacked, with her hackerspresumably the same alt-right tormentorsposting her nude photos and personal information online.
Jones handled the hacking with grace and deft comedic skill, calling out her enemies in a hilarious rant on Saturday Night Live. Look at how Leslie Jones has been handling her hack? The thing she did on Weekend Update this past weekend was fuckin brilliant, says Feig, beaming with pride. These are strong, smart women who arent taking shit, who are standing up for themselves, who are being empowered and not being victims, and who are using their comedy to make statements and give their world its due. It makes me want to cry sometimes because you realize how it hasnt been that way for so long because these voices werent allowed to say these things. These women have always been there, but they didnt have the forum.
Feig discusses that forumor lack thereofat length in the new book On Story: Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films. His chapter concerns heroes in cinema, and for those who dont know, Feig has been a champion of female protagonists since his breakthrough as the creator of the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks. Hes since gone on to direct the women-fronted films Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and of course, Ghostbusters.
The 2011 film Bridesmaids, in particular, seemed to signal a cultural shift in the way Hollywoodand filmgoersperceived women on screen. It proved what many have known for a long time: that women are not only just as funny as men, but can be just as profitable too, with the movie grossing close to $300 million worldwide against a meager $32.5 million budget.
My hope is that we showed a woman in all her three-dimensional forms as we have been doing with men foreverespecially in comedy, Feig says of Kristen Wiigs Bridesmaids protagonist. Women have been forced into very one-dimensional roles in comedy in recent decades. If you look back to the 30s and 40s, there was a real parity in comedies between men and women, where the women were intellectual rivals to the men. Thats what I grew up watching, and those are the movies I fell in love with.
Some of the movies Feig cites as his childhood favorites are His Girl Friday, featuring Roz Russell going toe-to-toe with fellow journalist Cary Grant, and the Barbra Streisand-starrer Whats Up, Doc? But in the late 70s and early 80s, depictions of women on screen seemed to shiftwhich Feig blames in part on the rise of home video and the Blockbuster mentality.
I always trace it back to the Blockbuster mentality. When they started coming in back in the 70s and the town realized they were making most of their money off of 15-year-old boys, they started pandering to the 15-year-old boys perception of what women arewhich is shes a Barbie doll, a mom whos mean, or shes your girlfriend whos mean and doesnt let you hang out with your friends, he offers. That began to self-perpetuate, and they started to make money, and we just went into this sinkholeand women went into this sinkhole with these ridiculous roles.
He pauses. It really started to become clear when I got in this business and saw all these women that I thought were really funny and talented showing up in those roles, and you thought, Oh my God, theyre not letting them do anything! You have this powerhouse comedic actress and shes just being mean and not being funny at all. Thats when the real injustice started welling up in me and I thought, I want to start getting great roles for these great women, and then let women in the audience see themselves in the way they want to be or feel that they are.
Feig has done just that. Unfortunately, the online campaign against Ghostbusters did manage to hurt the films bottom line, with the movie grossing an underwhelming $229 million worldwide against a $144 million budget. As the Sony hack revealed, Sony had been banking on the film kick-starting an entire Ghostbusters cinematic universe, including multiple sequels and even a male spinoff film possibly featuring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum. According to Feig, even a sequel is still up in the air.
Thats up to the studio because they have to pay for it. Nobodys called me, he says. But I love those characters and I know they are now heroes and mean a lot to a lot of people, so in a perfect world it would be great if we could see them bust more ghosts, kick more ass, and be awesome again.
Looking back on the two years of online vitriol both he and his film experienced, Feig cant help but try to see the positive in it allincluding whatever part the film played in forwarding the perception that women can kick ass and save the day on screen, too.
Now that the movies kind of past all that stuff and were out on DVD and streaming on digital, I get contacted all day long over social media by women thanking me for the movie, and girls and young women sending me pictures of themselves in their modern-day Ghostbusters costumes, says Feig, cheerily. I even get tweets from women saying, If this movie was around when I was younger Id maybe be an engineer now, because I see these cool women who are scientists. So I hope the world will go, wow, we got upset over something that we really didnt need to get upset over. Im hoping that time will rehabilitate us.
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