When I was growing up, I wanted to be a spy or a detective. My idea of what this would look like came from 1980s TV shows, namely Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele. Amanda King was a spy sort of by accident, a mother and suburbanite who lived a double life and was constantly asking when she would be given training. Her partner, Lee, was effortlessly suave and drove the coolest car. I loved Amanda’s character, but given the choice, I would have wanted to be a spy like Lee.
Laura Holt, in Remington Steele, was a private detective, but no one took her seriously because she was a woman. She invented a male boss, and then Pierce Brosnan assumed his identity. She did the work, and he took all the credit.
Somehow, I missed watching the original Ghostbusters. I knew the song, and the catchphrases. I was aware of the premise, but it wasn’t a part of my childhood. Recently, I checked it out at the library in preparation for the reboot. I wanted to see the inspiration.
After the hype of many years, I was disappointed. The special effects felt dated, and I was immediately disturbed by the sexism of Bill Murray’s character, who starts by attempting to seduce one of his students before moving on to a client dealing with paranormal activity in her fridge. While there were fun moments, I couldn’t help thinking: this is it?
Still, on opening weekend, a group of girlfriends and I got together to see the reboot. My expectations were low, but I was hopeful that it would provide a diversion and a few funny moments.
I’m not going to tell you that this movie is worthy of an Oscar, or that it’s great art, but I will tell you that I loved it.
This is a movie with four main characters, all of them women. None of them are painfully thin. None of them have significant others. They are deeply focused on their work, on their team, and on saving the city of New York from paranormal activity, very much in the style of the original. They are nerdy, and human.
I had not realized that this was the movie that my younger self was longing for. I could not have put into words the fact that I’d never seen an action movie where there was more than one woman, and where she was much more than the love interest for one of the main men, often clad in revealing clothing, possibly a double agent. I could not have told you that I wanted to see a movie where women saved the day, unironically, without apology.
As a person of faith, I have only to take a cursory look at the Bible to find similar stories, but I don’t hear them talked about often. While I’ve seen movies based on Mary, Ruth, and Esther, focusing heavily on the “romantic” parts, I’ve never seen anyone take on the story of Jael, who hammered a tent peg through the temple of an important general, effectively saving Israel, or Deborah, who served as a judge. These women, and many like them, stepped into the situations they were given and did what they needed to do. God used them to influence the course of human history.
I’ve long heard critiques of Hollywood’s portrayal of women, the idea that we are valuable because of how we look, and the way we support men. I have talked about these things at length and I have thought that I was above them, that those representations didn’t affect me. But sitting there in the darkened theater, as the credits rolled, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I’d been so starved for characters that I could even begin to relate to that I hadn’t even known they were missing.
The problem with action movies where all (or most) of the good guys are men is not that it’s bad for men to be brave and strong, but that in a world where women are constantly told to be quiet and pretty, and palatable, we need to hear that the world needs our power and our bravery, too.
In the last few years, I’ve become attuned to the women of faith in leadership roles of many kinds in my sphere, my church, and the world. My pastor is female, many of the thinkers, speakers and writers that I respect highly are female. These women may not be busting ghosts, but they are choosing to live bravely, even when others disagree with how they do it. Seeing these women live this way reminds me that God is perfectly comfortable with women who function as leaders, as main characters. I do not have to wait for someone else to show up and be the hero. The Holy Spirit dwells just as fully within me.
In the time since I saw the movie, I have heard a great deal of criticism. Many people are upset with the direction the franchise has gone, and a lot of that is explicitly gender-based. This is the very reason we need this movie, and many more like it. Women are part of God’s redemptive plan for the world. We are integral to it, just the way that men are. I need to be told over and over that when I hear the words: “who you gonna call?” that I and the other carefully created women of the world are an option.