Reel Representation: Diversity can revitalize Hollywood’s routine of remakes, reboots
(Claire Sun/Daily Bruin)
February 4, 2018 11:31 pm
Another day, another remake.
Sometimes it seems like Hollywood is relying on sequels and reboots to make up for its lack of original content. In recent years, the film and TV industries have produced remakes of everything from action films like “The Mummy” to sitcoms like “Will & Grace,” with more projects on the horizon. The culture of constant remakes is exhausting and produces projects that feel like they’re simply cash grabs. However, a recent trend in Hollywood has managed to breathe fresh life into the fad.
Certain reboots, such as “Ocean’s 8” and “One Day at a Time” have modernized old source material by bringing much-needed diversity to the projects. Using diversity to revitalize remakes can provide opportunities for representation, accentuate pre-existing themes in the narrative and add relevance to projects in an industry of saturated content.
“Ocean’s 8” is one of several all-women reboots that have been announced, following in the footsteps of the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot. Both draw upon the original films’ concepts but have created new characters rather than simply gender-swapping the existing characters.
But for some fans, all-women reboots aren’t enough – they argue Hollywood should simply make original films that center on underrepresented demographics. Instead of changing the “Ghostbusters” and “Ocean’s Eleven” canons, surely the studios could make an independent and original comedy about women fighting ghosts or a female-driven heist movie that has nothing to do with Danny Ocean.
I absolutely agree with their views and would love to see studios making more major blockbuster films that feature diversity. But it’s important to acknowledge the systemic hurdles facing inclusive projects. Although Hollywood is slowly shifting toward a more inclusive range of films and TV shows, beliefs that films starring women and people of color are inherently less likely to be successful and marketable continue to persist – even in spite of research showing the contrary.
By revamping classic material with an already present, built-in fanbase, projects that feature diversity are able to sidestep some of Hollywood’s movie hurdles – a sort of Trojan horse that might help projects sneak diversity through the gates of Hollywood backlots without the usual scrutiny and skepticism.
Diverse reboots have provided leading roles to underrepresented demographics in genres that have been typically dominated by white men. I personally can’t call to mind any all-female heist movie, especially one that includes women of color, which is part of what makes “Ocean’s 8” so exciting. What’s more, the diversity doesn’t have to serve the plot or theme – instead, the film just happens to be diverse, which is thrilling in and of itself.
However, it’s important to note that diversity shouldn’t counter the existing narrative, which the upcoming all-female “Lord of the Flies” reboot seems to do. Diversifying the cast by casting more women doesn’t make sense because it misses the point of the original source material, which examines male aggression and hierarchy. Because the story’s theme of toxic masculinity is so central to the plot, reimagining the narrative with women undercuts the intent of the material.
The opposite, however, is true for Netflix’s sitcom “One Day at a Time” – the diverse nature of the reboot in fact serves to underline some of the themes of the original Norman Lear sitcom, while modernizing the story’s portrayal of family. The original “One Day at a Time” debuted in the 1970s and told the story of a divorced mother raising two daughters in the Midwest.
In the new adaptation, the family is Latinx, which affords the show distinct opportunities to discuss relevant themes. For example, the show’s most recent season contends with the shifting political atmosphere for families of color, touching upon a range of issues, such as racism in schools and the looming threat of deportation. The on-screen diversity not only distinguishes the reboot, but also provides representation in a way that allows the expansion of potential storylines – the original was about the challenges a single mother could face, and this reboot also presents opportunities for characters to deal with questions of identity.
And the use of diversity as a tool for innovation is only growing. A few weeks ago, Freeform announced that it is rebooting the classic show “Party of Five” about a family of kids contending with the death of their parents in a car crash. In the new iteration, the children come from a separated Latinx family whose parents were deported. The CW is also rebooting “Roswell,” a show that was originally about three alien-human hybrids living in Roswell, New Mexico. In the new version, the protagonist, who will be the daughter of undocumented immigrants, falls in love with an alien – both threatened by an atmosphere of fear and hatred.
It can certainly be frustrating to watch Hollywood make the same movies and TV shows over and over again, but if they continue to find small ways to diversify and differentiate, maybe the culture of remakes and reboots can change for the better.