In the months before DC’s new Wonder Woman came out, there was a sense that the women of this world collectively held their breath, because this was not just another superhero movie, this was to be a deciding moment. It shouldn’t have been so momentous of course, it should have been just another superhero movie, to be lauded like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool, or to flop like Green Lantern, but unfortunately, Wonder Woman did not have that luxury.
Instead, it was bearing the heavy load of responsibility for whether more films with a strong female lead, particularly within the superhero genre, would be greenlit. Considering DC’s track record then it was no surprise that this caused some stress, for despite the abominable quality of Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad, films about Batman and the Joker will never disappear from our screens, but it felt like if there had been just one Wonder Woman flop, it would be the end of all Wonder Woman filmsin perpetuity.
Women are not granted the same liberties as men in cinema, every film made that features anything less than 70:30 split between men and women, or that passes the Bechdel test feels like a risk. It is for these, albeit depressing reasons that gender-swapped remakes need to stop.
There is no question that the film industry as a whole needs more strong female leads, but, gender swapping old scripts is not just a lazy solution to this issue but, more importantly, it sets up female-led films for a fall and is therefore simply not viable under the circumstances. No one ever wants remakes of classics. They are, in fact, notoriously bad. While there are of course exceptions, which have succeeded and are beloved, Scarface being an obvious example, there is a big difference between remaking a quite good, but lesser known, and perhaps underappreciated film, with access to better budgets and technology, and taking a universally loved cult classic and remaking it while it is still very present in the current cultural zeitgeist.
I would argue that the latter can never be anything more successful than ‘divisive’. This is of course entirely understandable, because people do not like the things they love to be meddled with or besmirched. Therefore, when remakes of films like Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eleven, are announced and women are put into the roles of beloved male characters, in addition to the already ever-present obstacle of sexism, then they have to fight the toxic genre they represent. Even if there are strong elements to the film, it cannot escape being relentlessly compared to and automatically tarnished for being less good than the original. And, unfortunately, due to the pressures that ride on every female-led film, we cannot afford to be making films dominated by women, which from their very conception only have a slim chance of success.
Gender swapping is not the issue here; it is the remake element that throws everything into disarray. There’s no doubt that we need more roles for women in film, more Johns changed to Janes, when there are new scripts on the desks of the big executives currently structured as an all-male cast. In the absence of scripted female-leads, we need more directors and producers to say I’m taking this on, but I’m gender-swapping it.
This method is tried and tested, most notably by Sigourney Weaver’s role in Alien, which was originally written for a man, and has now become one of the most iconic female cinematic heroes of all time. There’s usually no reason why the role couldn’t be played by a woman, but that doesn’t mean we can replace the all-American hero Brad Pitt with Cate Blanchett, or Bill Murray with Melissa McCarthy, and then be surprised by the unhelpfully distracting backlash.
While in concept, the idea of taking big male action or comedy hero types and using actresses for the roles to prove women can do anything men can do is understandable it is also far too optimistic for the world we live in.