They ain't afraid of no trolls: How 'Ghostbusters' shuts down the sexist backlash


Sorry, but ghosts aren’t scary. You know what is scary? Fanboys. On Thursday night, culture reporters Tahirah Hairston and Isha Aran, culture editor Molly Fitzpatrick, news reporter Charles Pulliam-Moore, and associate features editor Caitlin Cruz went to see the most controversial movie of the year: the all-female Ghostbusters reboot.

After all these years, turns out busting still makes us feel good. We were delighted to discover that—in addition to being an objectively fun and funny movie—Ghostbusters is made even sharper thanks to a self-referential streak that mocks the misogynist vitriol that the film has had to contend with online ever since it was first announced.

Trolls, beware. There’s plenty of room for you inside this proton pack. (Warning: Minor spoilers throughout.)

Molly: I loved the original Ghostbusters as a kid, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. There are few human beings I didn’t know personally who meant more to me in my childhood than Bill Murray. But I’m also a huge fan of director Paul Feig—and especially of Spy, his last big action movie with Melissa McCarthy. I am so happy to tell you that I enjoyed the hell out of the new Ghostbusters. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so much fun.

Tahirah: To be quite honest, I don’t exactly remember seeing the first Ghostbusters movie. It feels like some learned cultural memory that I’ve been a part of because everyone talks about it so damn much. But finally, I can say that I’ve seen Ghostbusters—and actually laughed, and wanted to be Kate McKinnon. (Seriously, teach me your ways, Kate!)

Caitlin: I realized on the walk to the theater on Thursday that I have never actually seen the first Ghostbusters films. Now I feel like I don’t need to.

Isha: As I was watching the movie, two thoughts consistently came to mind: 1) Holy shit, the merchandise is going to be so dope. 2) This movie is so important. This movie is important because, yes, seeing women take on roles originated by men is definitely a step in the right direction in terms of sexism in the film industry, but it’s also important because they just don’t give a damn what you think.

Charles: As a self-proclaimed nerd who never particularly liked the original Ghostbusters (or understood why people do), this movie was like an epiphany. It left me thinking, “Yeah, I could totally get into this franchise now.” A good reboot takes the premise of an old film, borrows a couple of narrative beats, and—ideally—puts a modern-enough spin on the story to let it stand as its own thing. Not only did Ghostbusters manage to fit right into the legacy, it did so while being uncannily prescient about how the haters were going to ruin the movie with all of their man-baby tears. The production for Ghostbusters started back in 2014, but listening to the dialogue, you’d think that writers Katie Dippold and Paul Feig sat down and hammered out the script a few months ago, when the sexist trolls came out of the woodwork.

Tahirah: Haters will say—are already saying—that “addressing the haters holds the film back.” But trust us: The clapbacks only make Ghostbusters more enjoyable.

Isha: Given that a bunch of men have decided to unite under the banner of misogyny to make the Ghostbusters trailer the most down-voted video on YouTube, the real question is whether or not the furious comments posted on Ghostbusters’ footage of their paranormal investigations—like “THIS IS THE LAMEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN”—were copied and pasted from the trailer’s real-life comment section. Either way, the movie has shown in form and content that these angry comments are literally a throwaway gag, a blip to be ignored.

Molly: I want to get Melissa McCarthy’s line, “You’re not supposed to listen to what crazy people write in the middle of the night online,” cross-stitched on a pillow.

Charles: These moments are played for laughs, but at the same time, they’re delivered with a knowing scathingness directed right at the audience that says, “Fuck you if you thought women couldn’t fight ghosts, asshole.”

Caitlin: Two of the sort of subtle ways they pressed back against the sexist critiques was their hyper-competence–especially Kate McKinnon’s engineer, Jillian Holtzmann. (Seriously, she can talk science to me any day.) And all the woman were just normal age! I loved that. There was no need to explain away their intelligence or couch it as some anomaly. When Erin (Kristen Wiig)  is up for tenure at Columbia, they don’t try to paint her as some wiz kid; she’s a physicist who has put in her years and research and is eligible. None of these women’s ages mattered and I didn’t realize how refreshing that was until this is point is made even more explicit by a visual gag in the film’s conclusion.

Molly: Without giving too much away, the Ghostbusters have an intimate encounter with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in what was one of my favorite moments in the whole movie—they’re literally being crushed by the legacy of the original, as embodied in one of its most iconic images. The demeaning treatment of the Ghostbusters in the media—shoutout to my NY1 bae and cameo fixture of movies set in New York City, Pat Kiernan—and by the city government, who accused them of perpetrating a “publicity stunt,” was also totally infuriating, not to mention reflective of how all the debate about the very existence of this reboot distracts from the fact that it’s a smart, well-made comedy that’s very easy to like.

Caitlin: I loved that the main villain Rowan (Neil Casey) infantilized men’s rights activists, which is what they deserve. I mean, his master plan was literally illustrated in crayon!

Isha: Oh, Rowan, you sweet, sweet boy. Rowan is weak. Rowan is a deranged, entitled beta. Rowan may or may not have overdosed on the Red Pill (subreddit). We all know a Rowan.

Molly: I choked on my popcorn when Rowan said—to himself, in a mirror, because of course that’s how he spends his free time—”You have been bullied your entire life. Now you will be the bully,” because that so perfectly nailed the essence of the virulent breed of fanboy that has come out in force against this movie. There may still be a few kernels lodged somewhere near in my vocal cords.

Tahirah: Personifying all of the Reddit trolls in the villain was not only hilarious, but it gave the women in the film the comedic agency they deserved. Sure, MRAs have unlimited bandwidth to write hateful reviews and comments, but these ladies used the big screen make a warranted mockery out of their ridiculousness.

Caitlin: If anything, I view Rowan as a triumph for white men who think the world has wronged them. Yes, you will be defeated, but you’ll get to make your speech about the world’s faults and finally be hot (in Chris Hemsworth’s hunky body) before your defeat and women will finally pay attention to you. But you will not win, so get used to it.

Tahirah: Rowan thinks his ideas are the greatest ideas on Earth, saying things like, “I am a genius. I see things that no one else does, and for it, I am rewarded with nothing but scorn and mockery.” When it’s like, dude, actually: You learned everything you know and read this book written by the women you don’t think are on the same level of genius as you. You claim to have been bullied in life and your solution is to also be a bully. Seriously, get a grip.

Isha: I’m just curious what will happen to those IRL Rowans who are “organizing” to take down Ghostbusters just because women are getting to live out their childhood fantasies when they see themselves reflected in that character. Will they get transformed into another dimension? Will they start a r/rowan subreddit? Will the abyss stare back into them?

Charles: The movie also zooms out a bit to make smart critique of nerdy pop culture as a whole. While the film’s villain is basically an anthropomorphized meninist temper tantrum, he’s also an embodiment of the ’80s-era Nerd who got his revenge, but realized that becoming part of the mainstream would mean having to share access to geeky things with the rest of us.

Isha: To the haters: Hey. It’s okay to like a movie starring women that aren’t there for your objectification. It’s okay that these four talented comedians are friends with ur heroes Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson and can handle a proton pack better than you. It’s okay to share. I’m sorry that you’re jealous that this franchise and, um, the world is moving on without you, but it’s not too late to jump aboard. Do some breathing exercises, walk it off, maybe masturbate? I don’t fucking know. But do whatever it takes for you to let go of your highly irrelevant sexist opinions and just enjoy the movie.

Charles: As much as I liked Ghostbusters, I’d be lying if I said that the movie’s treatment of Patty (Leslie Jones) didn’t rub me the wrong way. In short, our worries about the character from the trailer were warranted. While all three of the movie’s white leads are trained academics or inventors, Patty’s the odd woman out as an MTA worker. That would be fine, were it not for the fact that the movie focuses on Patty’s otherness way too much with jokes that aren’t funny enough. Much in the same way that Ernie Hudson’s Winston was marginalized in the first Ghostbusters, Patty meets the same fate here. It’s only fitting that Hudson makes a cameo as Patty’s uncle.

Isha: For the record, I can’t say seeing this in 4D was the best experience of my life. There were plenty of moments when the seats were dancing to some music, and I did not want to dance. Speaking of dance (dance), love me some Missy Elliott, but not sure Fall Out Boy was the way to go with this theme song.

Molly: I would just like to say that I would take a bullet and/or particle beam for Kate McKinnon, American treasure.

Charles: A parting, somewhat unrelated thought: Hollywood needs more stupid, attractive, superfluous pieces of male eye candy sprinkled into action movies. I mean, who wouldn’t order a Clark Kent strippergram? Who?

Caitlin is the associate features editor at Fusion. Prior to Fusion, she worked on features and national affairs at Talking Points Memo and completed an investigative fellowship at The Seattle Times. Will listen to any and all Grey’s Anatomy theories.

Charles reports on comics, culture, and general geekery.

Isha Aran is a staff reporter for Fusion’s Sex & Life section and is worth her weight in salt. Really, she is. She’s salty as all hell.

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion’s Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna’s friend’s Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.

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