Spoiler alerts for numerous movies and TV shows, all more than a year old.
In case you haven’t heard, Splash – the 1984 fantasy romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks as the man who falls in love with a mermaid Daryl Hannah – is being remade, with Channing Tatum as the mermaid.
I like this.
Channing Tatum maybe originally wasn’t exactly my type. But two Magic Mikes and one lip-syncing-as-Beyoncé later, I am so in. I am beyond down. You know what was great about Channing Tatum costumed and performing as Beyoncé? It was hilarious, but also respectful. Worshipful, in fact. Beyoncé herself appeared. I assume she approves. Channing Tatum has seemingly offered up his body for heterosexual womankind, and I, at least, accept.
We also have seen so few mermen on the silver screen. (Where are their penises? Do they have penises? Yeah, whatever. Mermaids have the same problem. I assume the scales are hiding something.)
This isn’t all. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will now star Rebel Wilson. Ocean’s Eleven spinoff Oceans Eight will star Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sandra Bullock, and Cate Blanchett.
This, of course, comes on the tails of Ghostbusters. The one that “ruined” a bunch of dudes’ childhoods while serving as a cathartic healing balm to so many women’s – all as Kate McKinnon nudged millions of those women well up the Kinsey scale.
I like it all. Bring it on (we’ll get to that movie later, actually).
I want to see a gender-swapped remake of every movie. Literally every one. And some television shows.
I will elaborate.
I certainly don’t claim to be some kind of film critic. Just a female consumer who can afford movie tickets but rarely has a good reason to bother. I like light, pop entertainment as much as anyone, but I am bored by watching the same damn movies over and over, and I don’t like to spend money to be insulted.
I will now list some movies I’d like to see gender-swapped.
Weekend at Bernie’s – Two party-loving women discover that their crooked old-lady boss is dead, so they drag her corpse around. Hijinks ensue! Somehow, despite this premise, there is a sequel. I would watch this.
All the King’s Men will now portray the dramatic rise and rule of a cynical female politician during the 1930s. A 1930s in which the government is made up entirely of women. The only male character in the movie is the narrator’s childhood sweetheart. Nihilism ensues.
Citizen Kane. A fabulously wealthy newspaper magnate dies and an entire movie is spent retracing her cutthroat career. Show me that, please.
Rumble in the Bronx. A (female) Hong Kong cop visits New York (really Vancouver) for a wedding but gets caught up in (entirely female) gang violence.
The Sopranos with women mobsters. One of the husbands wins awards for his strong supporting role.
Bring It On with male cheerleaders. Does it seem a little weird that a 37-year-old writer is enthusiastically recommending a film starring sexy teenage boys in revealing outfits? LET US THEN THINK ABOUT SOME THINGS THAT ARE NORMALIZED IN OUR CULTURE.
All the superhero movies will now have four female superheroes and one male superhero. The female superheroes will represent a variety of archetypes, while the male superhero will be young and sexy and wear a costume ill-suited for combat.
Glengarry Glen Ross, in which four salespeople, terrorized by a “motivational” trainer, shout at each other and sell shitty real estate. This was performed in 2013 as a live all-female reading with Robin Wright in the Al Pacino role and, perhaps even more interestingly, Mae Whitman in the Kevin Spacey role. Kevin Spacey is great, but I would also be very interested in seeing Mae Whitman reprise all of his roles.
Blue Velvet. Extra disturbing! A female Frank. Imagine that. Imagine it.
What else has David Lynch got? A Twin Peaks with a female detective solving the murder of a kind and beautiful male teenager. The demon is female. As are all the cops. The weird dad who runs a brothel? Now a mom with a man-brothel. WAY MORE INTERESTING; you haven’t seen that before. Mulholland Drive features two young, sexy male actors, one of whom is jealous of the other’s success. They have sex. Gay sex, but filmed for the female gaze.
Black Swan. Beautiful male ballet dancer starves himself and goes mad while perfecting the role of the Black Swan. Handsome young actor spends years learning to dance for the role. There’s a gay (male) sex scene with another beautiful young actor, again clearly filmed for the female gaze.
Every dance movie where a female ballet dancer and a male street dancer come together to make beautiful love and fusion dancing. (Do something about the racial politics of this too, thanks!)
Twins. Two physically disparate female actors star as unlikely fraternal twins created in a lab as part of a secret experiment to combine the DNA of six fathers to make the perfect child. This remake finally creates a starring movie role for some female actor who looks like Danny Devito. The Schwarzeneggar role is played by Serena Williams, or some even more impressively muscular woman who has, for that reason, not yet found a spot in the public eye.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in which the Will Smith role and the Carlton role are both teenage girls. At least one of those teenagers goes on to have a long career as an action hero.
Romantic comedies in which the male leads are all quirky, economically vulnerable entrepreneurs who run whimsical bakeshops.
The original Star Trek. The female Kirk continually lands on planets also run by women, and featuring blue-skinned sexy people who just happen to have all the right equipment for mating with humans. Or: maybe this captain is Uhura. Maybe this Federation exists in a different timeline in which Earth history played out… differently. Maybe there’s an episode in which the matriarch-led Enterprise encounters an Enterprise from our actual timeline, with a male Kirk and mostly male crew confused and terrified after a wormhole took them into the matriarchal reality of the show. A thoughtful episode ensues, after which we return to several more seasons of our regularly-scheduled Uhura-led enterprise. If any men kind of like the show but feel somewhat alienated or even mocked by it (I WONDER HOW THAT WOULD FEEL, HMMN), we’ll point to that one episode. “Men’s issues were covered in season one! Didn’t you see it?”
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. We have never gotten our female stoner buddy comedy. Bring it on.
How about unwatchable tripe? Mothers Day. Mad Money. These are not good movies, so you can’t expect gender-swapping to fix their problems. But I don’t think gender-swapping would make them worse.
Shallow Hal where a playgirl (we really don’t have an opposite word for womanizer, do we?) is hypnotized to see people’s inner beauty instead of just their appearances and falls for a fat man. Wait, that’s still a trash idea! Try harder! I have a hard time believing a staff of female writers would keep anything about this premise. We would end up with a whole new movie, which is totally fine.
Okay, let’s pause here. That was a random panoply of examples (I never said I had particularly highbrow tastes).
What about historical films? Surely you don’t want a World War II entirely run by women.
OH BUT I DO.
I should mention here that Hamilton is a very popular musical and the Founding Fathers weren’t really black. This is actually a large part of the appeal.
Oh, and Inglorious Basterds? A Jewish woman didn’t really kill Hitler. A Jewish kid from Boston named “The Bear Jew” didn’t really use a baseball bat (with Anne Frank’s signature on it!) to bash in the skulls of Nazis. But it’s a fantastic fucking idea. Some Jewish viewers had concerns about the film’s theme of revenge; some found it cathartic as fuck. It’s brilliantly interesting either way. Not everyone has to like it.
We need those movies. Wounded Knee could’ve ended differently too.
Here’s a pitch: Dr. Strangelove starring Tilda Swinton as the title character. The entire military is female, including General Buck Turgidson. What will we do about the constant phallic symbolism throughout the film? SO MANY OPTIONS. Will the Soviets develop a secret superweapon that looks like a clitoris? Will the earth be swallowed in a giant vaginal vortex of war? What is birth but bloodshed? Does the world end as it began? WE’VE GOT A LOT TO WORK WITH HERE.
What about children’s movies?
The Smurfs. Basically the same casting ratio as a bukkake film. Fix this.
Winnie the Pooh. Why are all the animals male except Kanga (the kangaroo mom)? The real-life Winnie the Pooh was female. FIX.
Every movie and show where all the animals are male unless they have some lady-stuff added on, like long eyelashes or red kissy-lips. How about all the animals are female unless explicitly designated otherwise, such as by putting a backwards baseball cap or exaggerated pecs and abs or a codpiece on a frog or rabbit or owl? GREENLIT.
But what about movies already starring women protagonists?
Surely I don’t want to “ruin” those by re-gendering them? OH BUT I DO. Allow me to continue.
Legally Blonde. A beautiful young man just wants to be the perfect husband, but when his girlfriend dumps him instead of proposing, he becomes a beautiful young lawyer.
The Devil Wears Prada would become basically all male except for the main character’s girlfriend and I would watch the shit out of that too. The cast could be 90% gay men, or we could create an alternate reality in which backstabbing straight men run fashion (and women, I imagine, would run the banks). We’ve got options.
Elizabeth. YES, I want to see a teenage boy become king and solidify his power in a world of women by refusing to marry anyone and declaring himself “The Virgin King.” The Spanish Armada attacks. It is entirely peopled by women, as is the British navy.
Sex and the City where four male friends meet over brunch to talk about women — but again, in a world ruled by women. One of them becomes a dad and it threatens to ruin his career; he can’t find time to get a haircut and one of his friends, the one who’s always being judged for his active sexuality, donates his haircut appointment. The main male characters have female bosses; their nosy, judgmental doormen are, in fact, doorwomen. One character spends seasons chasing “Ms. Big,” an emotionally unavailable financier. When in their second movie they go to Abu Dhabi, it is an Abu Dhabi ruled by women; the men are thrown out for sexual impropriety.
Tomb Raider and every other movie featuring a kick-ass female action star. But just one female action star. She’s always young, conventionally beautiful, not too muscular, and impractically dressed for combat (WHAT IF YOU GET SHOT IN THE CLEAVAGE? THAT IS A MAJOR VULNERABILITY INTENDED TO BE COVERED BY ARMOR.) Ooh, I can feel the empowerment. Let’s regender the shit out of that: Zayn Malik, shirtless and oiled up, is now our hero. (Why not Matt Damon, or The Rock, or someone a little more … realistic? Because women buy movie tickets and Zayn Malik is more bankable, of course. Young actors have a longer career ahead of them. Surely you understand.) His boss is a 45 year old woman, as is his love interest. All the villains are interesting older women plotting with each other. A brainy woman working in a lab suits him up with cool weapons. Is the government against beautiful, shirtless Zayn Malik? It is a government made up almost entirely of women. Security guard almost catches onto Zayn’s plan? Female security guard. Zayn sneaks into an armed fortress? Armed by women. Everyone in this movie is a woman except Zayn Malik. No men over 29 get to be in the movie. If men aren’t interested in seeing the movie, we claim to be baffled: But it’s a male empowerment movie! Don’t you identify with Zayn Malik? THIS IS FOR YOU.
Side note: I recently pissed off a bunch of dudes by declaring my boredom at the promos for Wonder Woman. It’s not out yet, so maybe half the screentime of the actual movie is taken up by elderly matriarchs on Themyscira arguing about politics, in which case I will no longer be bored! Or maybe they blow up Themyscira in the first ten minutes and Wonder Woman is the only real female character in the rest of the movie, in which case I will indeed be bored and annoyed.
But apparently I’m just supposed to see images of yet another woman who looks like a model fighting dudes while wearing a bustier and that should be enough to satisfy me. No offense to Gal Gadot, but I’m bored.
All those “girl power” movies feature one young and beautiful woman succeeding in a world of men. This … is not interesting or helpful to me. It’s not a future I can imagine myself in, the way a (white) dude could maybe look at Bruce Willis or Jason Statham or Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson still kicking ass and banging hot chicks after all these years.
Let us digress for a moment. I’ve got white privilege up the wazoo. I’m going to talk more in this piece about being disserved by pop culture while growing up, and I want to acknowledge that this would have been a bajillion times worse had I been a person of color. Movies told me I was invisible, unimportant, stupid, or only valuable if I could grow up to look a certain way. They didn’t tell me people like me were usually criminals, for instance. There are more articles to be written in this vein by all kinds of writers.
That said: I am 100% not suggesting replacing all the white male characters with white (cis) female characters and calling it a day. I’m not suggesting that we replace a bunch of straight men with a bunch of straight women and call it a day. I’m saying that re-gendering a movie is a starting point. It forces you to get creative.
You might regender a movie and decide to set it in an alternate universe in which the world has always been ruled by women – or you might make some different choice that would require changes to the plot. How would you regender a movie like Knocked Up? I admit to being stumped by that one, but I’m sure whatever a team of mostly female writers would come up with would have to be better than the sexist shitshow that was the original.
You know what movie got regendered to excellent effect? Salt, with Angelina Jolie.
Salt was written for Tom Cruise. When he pulled out, Angelina was cast to replace him. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN, you may ask. Here:
In July 2008, Cruise, weighing his next career move, decided not to make the movie. Sony executives, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Noyce gathered for an emergency meeting on how to save their big summer film. Noyce credits Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal for suggesting Jolie, who at that time was helping carry the action movie ” Wanted.” A debate broke out, but soon they all agreed to take a flier on the actress — she was interested and had the chops — and audiences just might buy it.
Look, there are limitations to trickle-down feminism. We can’t just “lean in” and get women in boardrooms and assume it’ll all work out. But we don’t not want women in boardrooms, if boardrooms have to exist at all. Sometimes it just takes one Amy Pascal in the room.
A recap of Salt: Jolie’s Evelyn Salt is a Russian sleeper agent, trained in childhood by the KGB. As instructed, she has grown up to become a CIA agent. When the Russians call her to action, where will her loyalties lie?
The rub: she’s married to a sweet, normal guy. (He even has a quirky job! He’s an arachnologist!) Lovely though he is, he is unprepared for the rigors of international espionage. Guess what happens? He dies, thus motivating Jolie’s character to spend the rest of the movie getting revenge. We haven’t seen that before. It’s almost like the male love interest was … expendable.
Look, that’s fucking interesting. Sure, there’s a shot in the movie of Angelina Jolie removing her panties and using them to cover a security camera. Okay. She wears boxy businesswear for some of the movie, and spends some of the movie in drag. Did the original script call for Tom Cruise to wear drag? It did not, because Tom Cruise would not need to dress as a woman to pose as a foreign military officer.
The original script called for the male Salt to have a child. Jolie asked for that to be changed:
I just didn’t feel that a woman would have a child in that position. And that if a woman had a child, I think it would be very hard for us not to imagine her kind of holding onto that child through the entire film. You know, because it would just become all about the child. Which is strange, but I think audiences would allow a man to have a child and the child be with the wife back at home, but it would be very, very difficult to see a woman not be 100% focused on her child.
Again: regendering a movie is a starting point. Things get less cliché from there! That’s just good for moviemaking.
Why? Why is this article happening?
I’d like to talk about a movie from my own childhood that really sums up the lifelong feeling of media disservice that the idea of merman Channing Tatum is currently helping to soothe.
Let’s talk about Revenge of the Nerds.
I watched this movie twenty or more times as a kid, all the while thinking, “I’m definitely a nerd, this movie is for me.” And early in the movie, nerdy Gilbert has a meet-cute with equally nerdy Judy, as they stay together the rest of the movie. That was nice.
But the rest of the movie involves a fraternity of male nerds who ignore the nerdy sisters of Judy’s sorority, and instead concern themselves with sexually assaulting and secretly filming “hot” women, who themselves are portrayed as stupid and shallow. Betty, for one, is only interested in jocks – until head nerd Lewis steals her boyfriend’s Halloween costume and, wearing it, has sex with her (yep, that’s rape, but no one seemed to catch that in the ‘80s). Betty then “redeems” herself in the eyes of the movie by leaving her jock boyfriend for Lewis because he’s “good at sex.” Judy and her friends are in the background for various parts of the movie, basically as scenery. And those were the choices for female characters.
It’s an extreme example, to be sure. I watched the movie repeatedly, telling myself I liked it. What a killjoy I was at nine, inwardly feeling weird about something I that was presented as “for me”!
I had a milder version of the same reaction to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I might describe as my teenage religion. I liked the show so much I was at one point asked if I had a crush on Captain Picard. Sure, I said, suddenly embarrassed to express that of course I was imagining myself being Captain Picard. Doesn’t everyone?
I was so embarrassed by Counselor Troi. If the main cast had been half women, in a variety of roles, then I wouldn’t have cared. She could’ve just been one character for whom gender was not such a defining aspect. If you have enough women characters (and people of color), they get to be individuals. But she was kind of all they gave us. Tasha Yar departed the show early on, and Dr. Crusher was competent, peripheral, and boring – not an aspirational character. And so we were left with Counselor Troi, chief feelings officer. “I’m sensing hostility,” she would say about an obviously angry alien. Really, Troi? Really? I sensed I was being made fun of in some way. Late in the series, they finally put some pants on Troi. Actor Marina Sirtis was delighted to receive pants.
So, I’m not very sympathetic to charges that the new Ghostbusters ruined someone’s childhood. You got to have that childhood. And you can watch those old movies on Netflix anytime.
“We could just write new stories.”
Yes, we could do that too. And we do! But there is a large overlap between the people saying this and the people who want to see more movies about established comic book heroes, or James Bond. Sure, we can make up new heroes. But they wouldn’t be the heroes from your childhood. And, of course, movies about established characters make more money. That’s why studios keep making them.
I take a deep delight in this strange and sudden onslaught (is four movies an onslaught?) of regendered movie remakes. I want my childhood repaired. I want to pay money to watch something that makes up for all the movies that I half-liked but I knew were also making fun of me, or telling me very clearly that I’d better not grow up into one of “those” women.
A friend of mine took her three-year-old to Ghostbusters. At the end, he asked, “Can boys be ghostbusters too?”
“Of course, sweetie.” And everything was fine.
Having to ask questions like that here and there is healthy. Having to ask them all the time isn’t.