'Ghostbusters' Director Paul Feig: What I Learned About Being a Woman This Year (Guest Column)

Bill Brown

When the director announced his reboot of the iconic '80s movie with an all-female cast, he unlocked something scarier than a supernatural horde — angry men on the internet: "The film was never meant to be political, but it became just that."

What did I learn about being a woman in 2016? While I would never dare pretend to know exactly what women go through on a daily basis, as an advocate for women onscreen and in the industry, I definitely learned a lot more than I expected. Mainly, "Wow, the will of women is much stronger than even I thought."

Over the past few years, I've loved making movies with female leads. The fact that people came to see these films, often multiple times, showed me just how much we still need good, three-dimensional roles for women — not to mention female leads in franchises. And so I thought a Ghostbusters with female leads would be embraced and celebrated, especially given we already had two male Ghostbusters films. I love funny women and thought it would be an interesting take on the long-dormant franchise.

And I was thrilled that the initial response to the announcement was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The day I put out the first tweet two years ago saying I was rebooting Ghostbusters with hilarious women, people were ecstatic. They couldn't wait. Everybody was trying to figure out whom I would cast in the roles.

But then the second wave of reactions came in the next day — after the news hit the more guy-centric fan sites — and it was one of pure outrage and ugliness. Simply put, it was like a punch in the gut. I never expected so much blatant hostility.

Look, many people said they were upset we were touching a classic, and I totally understood and respected that. Rebooting a beloved film is always risky. But the truth is, there were a lot of men critical of the mere fact it would have women in the leads.

The original starred four funny men — Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis — and it was great. But at the end of the day, what gave the film its power was it was a movie about four funny, smart people who fought the paranormal using technology. That's just a great idea. It's not a male idea. My goal in doing this new Ghostbusters was to assemble the funniest people working today, just as original director Ivan Reitman had done. And I did, recruiting the hilarious and talented team of Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig.

But what excited me so much was that the overwhelmingly male disapproval that the press then began reporting endlessly on became something that many women rallied against. Every day, as the negativity poured into my feed, so did a much larger outpouring of support and excitement from women around the globe. And honestly, it was not just women. The outreach from both women and men was overwhelming and constant and far outnumbered the trolls and haters. As I would share photos and news from the set, enthusiastic responses flowed in not only from people in the U.S. but also women and men everywhere from Asia to the U.K.

Sadly, the media kept reporting only on the negativity and insisted on referring to us solely as the "all-female Ghostbusters." I mean, it's 2016. Are we really that shocked that four women can star in a movie? Did it have to drive all our coverage? It points out that gender can still divide folks not just in politics but in entertainment — and boy, do we need to fix that. This film never was meant to be political. But, ridiculously, it became just that.

However, in the aftermath, the positivity has only grown. I am daily inundated by tweets and correspondence from women and girls (as well as men and boys) who have been inspired by our Ghostbusters, who made the costumes for Halloween and for all the Comic-Cons worldwide and who have told me, "If I'd had this movie when I was younger, I would have been an engineer or a scientist now."

That's when you know, OK, we're moving forward, and there are people who needed this. And we reached them and we succeeded.

Those of us in entertainment can't let ourselves be stopped by disapproval, false outrage and resistance from a vocal micro-minority. My team and I created an inspiring group of heroes for women, and that's a big deal. Our Ghostbusters are now owned by the millions of people around the world who have claimed them as their own.

And that is a victory that no troll can take away.

This story first appeared in the 2016 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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