Trailers Drop For 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Ghost in the Shell,' and 'Jackie'
By Andrea Thompson
A trio of very exciting, very female-centric film trailers have just dropped, and part of what has me so excited is just how damn different not only the movies are, but also the women at the center of them.
First is the trailer for “Beauty and the Beast,” which is of course the next film in Disney's very successful live-action relaunch of its animated classics. But after viewing the trailer, I sense a problem with adapting a film where practically every aspect of it is iconic in some way. Yes, the other films Disney has redone to great acclaim, “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” are also incredibly iconic. But the thing about those movies is that while many of the characters, songs, and certain plot developments have become cultural touchstones, they can still be reworked and redone because much of their story components can be scrapped and still be recognizable. But can you name anything from the beloved 1991 classic, the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture, that isn't iconic? Can Disney change the plot as drastically as they did with those two, and will undoubtedly do for their upcoming remakes of “The Lion King” and “Mulan,” just to name a few? I say no, partly because “Beauty and the Beast” walks such a fine line of giving us an independent, bookish princess who nevertheless falls in love with a literal beast who is holding her captive. And this is a potential problem. Emma Watson seems like she'll be a great Belle, there's a boatload of talented actors involved, and the effects look amazing. But it seems as if the film is in danger of becoming a retread of the original, with a little more action tossed in to keep modern audiences engaged. From the beginning, Disney has marketed this with a heavy emphasis on nostalgia for the 1991 version, so here's hoping it'll be able to stand on its own two feet with everyone, and not just the younger generation more unfamiliar with the original.
Next up is a trailer for a film which has a hell of a lot more baggage, “Ghost in the Shell.” It's yet another remake, this time of an anime series. The series was set in 21st century Japan, where most people have “cyberbrains,” which allows their minds to connect with various networks, some people even going so far as to replace most of their brains and bodies with prosthetic parts and become cyborgs. One such person is the Major, who is part of a police agency that specializes in cyber crimes, a very intense position in a world where people's brains can be hacked. The film has caught some deserved heat for casting Scarlett Johansson instead of a Japanese actress, and the trailer doesn't exactly reassure. Sure, the setting looks exciting, beautiful, technological, and very Japanese, but there sure are a lot of white faces around her, along with some very stereotypical images. While there are some more diverse casting choices, this would be a lot less of a problem if this weren't the latest in a rather disturbing trend where diverse roles are not being translated from page to screen. Recent examples of this include “Drive,” “Argo,” “Prince of Persia,” “Aloha,” “Lone Ranger,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Pan,” “Doctor Strange,” and...okay, this is just getting really depressing, let's move on. Anyway, Scarlett Johansson looks frigging irresistible as always, the effects look creative, and the action looks entertaining. But...that plot. That pesky, pesky, plot. Looks like “Ghost in the Shell” is gonna be pretty dependent on the same tired old tropes we've seen before. Johansson's Major looks to be another tortured hero with a mysterious past she tries to uncover, which could still be entertaining if the show that inspired it wasn't so concerned with philosophy, intellectual discussions, and the future in general. What will humanity look like when machines are so much a part of us we relate better to them than each other? The film doesn't seem concerned with any of this, a real problem with material that has such a devoted fan base. And from the looks of Scarlett's skintight costume, it also seems like the movie also had trouble remembering a lot of that fan base is female. I'm not opposed to sexy costumes on women, but this one looks like it's yet another example of Hollywood catering to the male gaze at the expense of anything new to offer.
However, there is hope on the horizon, because the last trailer is not for a remake or relaunch. Rather, “Jackie” is being lauded for showing a new side to Jacqueline Kennedy, a woman who has been written, filmed, discussed, and generally dissected to death. But such wide discussion does not correlate to great understanding. The popular First Lady is often depicted as more of a quintessential perfect wife, one who was beautiful, elegant, fashionable, and silently acquiescent to her handsome husband's many affairs, who nonetheless gracefully helped guide a nation through one of its most traumatic periods. But if the reviews are to be believed, “Jackie” shows us a more human woman who struggled to maintain her husband's legacy, grieve his death while reassuring a shocked public, and defy those who tried to direct her behavior for their own ends. Its rave reviews are even more amazing considering it also takes place in the days surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination, an event which has also been thoroughly documented, with critics calling Natalie Portman's performance in the title role as even surpassing her work in “Black Swan.” Small wonder, then, that this is the film I'm most excited to see.
But there is one thing which is even more interesting. Although each film has a female lead, and looks as if they're trying to capture very different aspects of a woman's experience, none are actually directed by a woman. “Beauty and the Beast” is directed by Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Kinsey,” and “Mr. Holmes”), Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) is directing “Ghost in the Shell,” while Pablo Larraín (“No,” “Neruda,” and “The Club”) is doing the same for “Jackie.” Collectively, it's a good indication of Hollywood's attempt to tell different, more inclusive stories, and just because these projects have men at the helm doesn't necessarily mean these characters won't be done justice. But as long as stereotyped and/or underrepresented groups have little to no control over the stories that are told about them, there's still a long way to go before any sort of onscreen equality is even close to achieved.
“Beauty and the Beast” opens March 17, 2017, “Ghost in the Shell” opens March 31, 2017, and “Jackie” hits theaters Dec. 2, 2016. Here's hoping the latter is one of the brighter parts of 2016, while the other two help bring us a better year than this one. I think we can all agree that 2016 has sucked in every way possible.