Identity of a Reboot

This seems to be a popular trend among movie-makers and television show producers, where they take a popular franchise (such as Ghostbusters, Charmed, Rocky Horror, etc.) and change key aspects of the characters’ identity: their race, ethnicity, or gender. This is usually done for the sake of promoting diversity.

Which is a noble pursuit. We live in a diverse world, and our art should represent that. However, when it comes to reboots, if you decide to change a character’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., there are a few things you need to consider.

The first is potential backlash, which could possibly ruin audience reception of your film. Take the 2016 Ghosbusters film. This is a reboot of a classic, well-loved comedy which replaces the cast of male characters with female characters of similar archetypes. Necessarily, those characters have vastly different character arcs than the original characters. Why is that? Because men and women interact with the world differently. And because men and women interact with the world differently, the plot had to change, because the female characters react to events in different ways than the male characters.

Personally, I thought the Ghostbusters reboot was a delight (also Chris Hemsworth is lovely). However, it didn’t do as well as it probably should have. Part of the negative reaction is most likely due to some form of sexism or another, but there is also the valid criticism that it did not have the same theme, or even the same type of humor, as was so attractive in the original. These types of changes are necessary, but not everyone is going to appreciate them. Whether making those changes is worth it is up to the creator.

You also run into similar issues when you change the race or ethnicity of a character. The recent reboot of Charmed is one such example. The Charmed Ones are now Latina, rather than white.

Full disclosure, I have not yet seen the new show. I, like many others my age, get my television from streaming sites like Netflix. The Charmed reboot is not yet on Netflix, and will not likely appear for at least another six months to a year. Even so, without having seen it, I do have certain expectations that, if not met, will most likely color my reaction of the show.

For Charmed, the main expectation is that the system of magic used is going to be a little bit different. In the original, the magic the sisters use is based on European traditions and Wicca. This makes logical sense, because the sisters were white women with a European background.

The new sisters do not have the same background. The new sisters have a Latin American background, which has different magickal traditions and folktales. I would be very disappointed if the directors and producers did not explore this background; furthermore, I would be inclined to accuse them of white-washing if they didn’t. (That’s not to say that Latinas can’t or shouldn’t practice Wicca or European traditions; people should practice whatever works best for them. However, one’s ethnic background does tend to inform many of one’s beliefs and practices.)

But the most important thing to remember when changing gender, race, or ethnicity in a reboot is that your characters are still representative of real people. They should be relatable to real members of that gender, race, or ethnicity. If your audience starts to voice complaints, it may be a good idea to pause and listen.

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