CONTENT NOTE: This piece contains plot spoilers, and some of the embedded links are NSFW.
With the news that Ghostbusters is to be remade with an all-female cast, I’ve been pondering the topic of movie remakes. For some, the notion of remaking a heralded story from the past is creative heresy.
However, I’ve never been against remakes per se. I’m of the opinion that films like Scarface and Let the Right One In were improved by being remade. I’m also a proponent of a remake having a more inclusive prism, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing what Paul Feig does with Ghostbusters.
So, with this in mind, here’s four movies that I think would lend nicely to a remake that puts people of colour at their centre:
While it’s regarded as one of the finest comedies of its era, I found it an uneven rendering of what is an excellent premise: The female characters are used largely for decorative purposes; after shining in the early scenes, Eddie Murphy is reduced to being Dan Aykroyd’s sidekick; and lest we forget the horrendous blackface sequence.
My idea would be to keep the original setting. The financial district remains an ideal place to delve into the murky world of Western capitalist finance. However, like Ghostbusters, we change the genders of Winthorpe and Valentine from male to female. This allows us to highlight issues like unequal pay, along lines of both gender and race.
While white cis women on average earn less that their white cis male counterparts, that gap widens for both black and Latina women. The Winthorpe character could be the model token woman in the corporate world, in the mould of a Sheryl Sandberg, while Valentine could be a razor-sharp, working-class black woman, with a little bit of ratchet.
What Trading Places did so well was reveal how corporate employees are as disposable as cigarette butts, seen as nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet. I feel this shabby treatment could hit closer to home with two female leads, as it would underscore the way women are trampled over as a quotidian part of our society.
Unlike the original, I’d want there to be equal attention on both main characters, so that even when our female Valentine climbs the professional ladder, we not only see that her race will forever be a hindrance to career progress, but also accent the inner turmoil a black person can sometimes feel being the token face in a white space.
And when our protagonists get their revenge at the end, they could do so by exploiting the weak regulation of the financial system in order to bankrupt Randolph and Mortimer.
So, who’s our leads? Rachel McAdams as Winthorpe, while Jessica Williams would play Valentine. It’s a box-office smash waiting to happen.
The warranted side-eyeing Exodus: Gods and Kings received was the latest in a litany of Hollywood whitewashing African stories. One of the most prominent examples is 1963’s Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Unlike the other movies on this list, an update of Cleopatra isn’t a hypothetical. History is set to repeat itself with Angelina Jolie strongly rumoured to play the titular Egyptian queen.
While Jolie has the acting skill to carry off such a role, it would only serve to ossify the pervasive whiteness of mainstream American cinema. The character of Cleopatra radiates an iconic status, in terms of both gravitas and beauty. Rebecca Theodore-Vachon superbly attested the significance of casting Cleopatra as a woman of colour.
But who? Because more than just a good actor will be needed for this role. It also requires a movie-star quality. This is an important distinction. A movie star has a magnetic effervescence, an imperceptible glow that ensures they remain the centre of attention.
I think Teyonah Parris or Tracey Heggins would ably fulfil this criteria, but there’s one very obvious choice; Lupita Nyong’o.
Cleopatra could be the role of her career. Just imagine her giving the, “You will kneel” speech to an agog Mark Antony.
12 ANGRY MEN
I’m a sucker for a courtroom drama. They function as arenas of combat, but without physical violence. A place where one’s words and wits are the weapons of choice.
I imagine many film purists have seen this on the list, and are already composing irate responses in the comments section. For clarity’s sake, I think 12 Angry Men is a bona-fide classic, worthy of all the superlatives bestowed upon it. But while a remake may not be a better story, it could be an equally important one.
In his review of the film, the late, great, Roger Ebert said, “In form, ’12 Angry Men’ is a courtroom drama. In purpose, it’s a crash course in those passages of the Constitution that promise defendants a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”
To piggyback this point, 12 Angry Men always felt like an acid test for who counts as fully human through the eyes of the dominant culture. The marginalised are always on trial, and not only would a remake solidify this metaphor, it would give us a snapshot of contemporary America.
Obviously, the jury would not singularly consist of men this time. In fact, while credulity may be stretched, I’d take the creative licence to have the jury include a mixture of America’s citizens, along lines of race, gender identity, and disability. My ideal cast would include actors like Laverne Cox, Bradley Whitford, Sandra Oh, Peter Dinklage and Dileep Rao.
What would remain from the original is the claustrophobic tension, as the jury room becomes a space where – like a diamond squeezed from coal – hidden bigotry spurts forth. We would also have the chance to interrogate the notion of reasonable doubt, and just who in our society is entitled to it.
And among it all is our lead. In the original, Henry Fonda played a character who was erudite, virtuous, with a strong moral constancy. Who could embody such qualities this time? Step forward, Jesse Williams.
A film that never got sufficient praise, Brassed Off is about a Northern coal miners brass band, torn apart as the rampant closure of pits in the North of England caused mass unemployment under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.
In this proposed remake, I’d keep the band, but change it to a group of diasporic Caribbean steel band players. And instead of a pit closure, we would see the imminent demolition of the local housing estate in which our characters live, causing inevitable displacement.
Tensions among the residents could result in a schism between those who want to remain, and those who want to take the money from the property developers. All the while, the steel band are the only thing holding the neighbourhood together, a point of pride for a community that’s being splintered by neoliberal greed.
Full disclosure, here. I was part of a steel band as a kid. It’s only with hindsight that I appreciate its cultural relevance. You see it at the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s not only an affirmation of one’s diasporic identity, but can also function as a tool of resistance in a country where 1 in 3 Britons surveyed as being “racist on some level”.
The brass band in the original film compete in a national competition at the Royal Albert Hall, so a natural transition would be to move the competition to the aforementioned carnival, with songs like Yellow Bird, and Cocoanut Woman as key parts of their repertoire.
The original location must remain. Because while films centred around black Britons are rare, it’s rarer for them to be based outside London. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Britain’s black diaspora also exists outside the capital, so the cast would comprise of black actors from the north; Wumni Mosaku, Andrew Shim, Marsha Thomason, and Fisayo Akinade.
Akinade’s inclusion is significant. Part of the original story includes a romance between Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald. This time, the romance plot should be between two male members of the band. Not only because gay relationships are still “othered” in everyday storytelling, but it would help combat the fallacy that black people are more homophobic than other races.
Finally, I’d cast Cathy Tyson as the lead. The sadly departed Pete Postlethwaite did stellar work in the original. But Tyson has the sufficient acting chops to carry the story, and I’d love to see her given a similar speech to the one Postlethwaite gets at the film’s culmination. A speech that could easily apply to Britain circa 2015.
So, those were my suggestions. What’s yours? We have a comments section for a reason.
 – This is the first of many points in this piece that I imagine will cause my follower count on Twitter to rapidly decrease.
 – I await the person in the comments caping for Jolie’s WoC credentials by stating her mother has Huron ancestry.
 – Tracey who, you ask? Watch Medicine for Melancholy.
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A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).
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