Remakes have been around since the beginning of movies. Recently, however, there has been a surge in this remake phenomenon, usually featuring underrepresented groups like people of color and women. But not all visibility is good visibility when it comes to rebooting beloved classics and failing to meet audiences’ expectations, as it can sometimes reflect poorly on underrepresented groups themselves.
I have never been a fan of remakes, as I mostly stick to the mantra: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hollywood, however, seems to be a fan of juicing stories that have worked in the past and then changing casts to reflect the ever-changing diverse population.
Nonetheless, there are many setbacks that result from this formula Hollywood seems to love. First, viewers go in with high expectations, expecting a movie better than the original, only to end up disappointed. Jokes often fall flat, or audiences simply prefer that feeling they had when they first witnessed a fresh story they had never witnessed before. This is the case of “Ghostbusters” where an all-female cast paled in comparison to the 1984 original release. Even with many positive reviews, the 2016 “Ghostbusters” did not receive the warmest of welcomes, primarily for the choice of such a beloved classic, which was not even that old of a movie. This was also the case with “Flatliners” with its choice of a majority female-led cast and a Latino male lead actor, which diverged from the all-white cast in the original 1990 release.
This pattern is not solely focused on women-led remakes, but also with minority casts as well. Movies like “Annie,” “Death at a Funeral,” “The Wiz” and “The Karate Kid” are all remakes that decided to swap out their white characters for protagonists of color.
This leads us to the second problem which stems from the first problem with Hollywood’s money-making formula: When audiences see remakes fall flat compared to the original film, minorities are the ones that face the repercussions. Audiences associate the lack of creativity and subordinate films with minorities themselves, as opposed to the Hollywood executives who give these movies the green light. By seeing their favorite movie being remade in a lackluster way, viewers often blame their dissatisfaction with who they can see — the cast — as opposed to those behind the scenes responsible for the movie’s flop. Additionally, this leaves viewers with little insight regarding the lives of people of color, as reboots often fail to contextualize the new movie and leave it feeling awkward or out of place.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that we cannot have minorities or underrepresented groups depicted in films. Instead, minorities deserve better than crappy remakes. Minorities deserve new stories that portray people of color and other groups as accomplished and real individuals, rather than stale and common characters. Having a minority cast should be more than a way to lure in audiences by remaking the same story.
Instead, underrepresented groups should bring in audiences of all backgrounds that are interested in seeing a story with real characters and fresh perspectives. Underrepresented groups have a lot more to bring to the table than the old, stale stories everyone has seen and everyone is used to. However, in order for this to happen, audiences need to stop settling for poor representation in film, where filmmakers simply cast a person of color to avoid being called racist or macho. Instead, audiences have to realize that it’s not just about the quantity of representation, but the quality too.
Rather than making straight-up reboots, Hollywood could be focusing taking the original story and forming a unique twist, such as the upcoming “Ocean’s 8.” This highly anticipated movie seems to be a unique approach to following up the iconic male-led “Ocean’s” films — which also happen to be remakes of the 1960s original “Ocean’s 11.” This star-studded cast has audiences excited to see women of all backgrounds take on their roles as professional thieves. However, this movie seems to make a point that while it is related to the classic films, it will make an effort to differentiate itself from the original and provide audiences with a fresh story.
In order to make real contributions toward constructive representation, filmmakers have to raise the bar and avoid mediocre reboots. While seeing underrepresented groups in major blockbusters can be great for increasing visibility, it has to be done right in order to yield productive results.