Like the best big-screen reboots of classic films, the new Ghostbusters pays homage to the original but expands upon its original concept as to say something new and different than before. Having seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 earlier this year, I cringe when I think of how they failed to do said expanding, instead, resting on the laurels of what was enjoyable in the original. I was worried Ghostbusters might fall prey to those same pressures of recreating vs. reinventing, but to my delight, it straddled the line and won me over largely with the charisma of its all-star cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.
Now I was never “concerned” like fanboys were, that it would be some kind of childhood-ruining travesty—that would be Fuller House and Stacey Dash’s newfound political career—but I was worried, like a lot of other women I’ve spoken to, that Ghostbusters would be seen as a failure. And while it has yet to open and reflect any box office stats, I feel the film has already been successful, and that has a lot to do with its out star.
Some of us were familiar with Kate’s early work on The Big Gay Sketch Show, but she’s become a household name in the last few years as MVP on the current cast of Saturday Night Live. Today she was nominated for her fourth Emmy, and her impersonations of Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Bieber and other recognizable celebrities are hugely popular with queer and mainstream audiences alike. But it’s truly Kate herself that is the charming, likable, hilarious and ultimately sexy character that has had people falling for her, and her role in Ghostbusters is only going to further grow her fanbase.
Jillian Holtzmann is very much Kate McKinnon; quirky but never annoying, eccentric yet smooth. Her flirty intonation and winks, largely directed at Kristen Wiig‘s Erin, spark with electricity otherwise reserved for her ghostbusting gadgets. Director Paul Feig did not explicitly confirm that Jillian is, indeed, a lesbian character, he insinuated as much when he spoke of just how “pansexual” Kate is, and the energy she brought to her decidedly androgynous character:
“I hate to be coy about it. But when you’re dealing with the studios and that kind of thing…
“You know, Kate is who she is and I love the relationship between Kate and Melissa’s characters. I think it’s a very interesting, close relationship. If you know Kate at all she’s this kind of pansexual beast where it’s just like everybody who’s around her falls in love with her and she’s so loving to everybody she’s around. I wanted to let that come out in this character.
“I wasn’t like, ‘And now you should wink at them.’ This is stuff that is coming out of Kate! That’s why you connect with those characters. They’re playing versions of themselves. That’s what makes a comedic actor fantastic, when that personality comes out. That’s why it’s so terrible when writer-directors say, ‘Stick to the script!’ Why would you hire these people who have these enormous personalities and then just cut them off?”
What is interesting about Kate’s career since she’s joined SNL is that she doesn’t talk to the LGBT press. SNL is famous for keeping their actors from certain outlets and interviews and seems to have a lot of control over the questions that can be asked. In most stories you read about Kate, it is the writer who mentions she is an out lesbian, that she is the first openly lesbian cast member on Saturday Night Live and the monumental meaning that comes with the honor, especially considering she is now a major television and movie star. (A recent example of this is her Elle cover story.) Her sexual identity is something that she either isn’t interested in or allowed to discuss, despite her queer Cat Lady and Dyke & Fats sketches that she brings to the variety show.
So much like Kate, Jillian is queer, thinly-veiled. It’s not discussed, only hinted at, and something queer women (and women in general) will likely pick up on more than men. Thankfully, Ghostbusters is not at all about romance. It’s not about the women at the center finding love or companionship with a man (another reason fanboys will hate it, I’m sure), but about their intelligence and ability to save the world from ghosts, despite sexism, lack of financial support and all-around doubt from the people (mostly men) who surround them. That said, Jillian’s sexual identity (like the rest of the Ghostbusters’) doesn’t necessarily factor into the story, but it is visible enough for us to see it how we’re used to—through subtext and innuendo and her undeniable swagger.
Would it be fantastic to hear or see Jillian confirm in some way on-screen that she is queer? There’s no denying that would be a huge feat in a major motion picture like Ghostbusters; a film that will have wide reach, from young girls and boys up through adults who enjoyed the original series and are even a little bit curious to see the newest incarnation. But the sad truth is Hollywood is not ready for that kind of move; not when it comes to films that must hit on a global scale, where homosexuality is not accepted and, in some cases, is still punishable by death. So even though Kate McKinnon can be a lesbian starlet, she can’t talk about it, and she can only exude her queerness on-screen without acknowledgment.
It’s a tiny bit of progress, perhaps, that Jillian and the rest of her co-stars weren’t paired up with men by the film’s end; that there wasn’t the need to have male love interests lurking in the wings for when the ghostbusting was done. Co-writer Katie Dippold tells Elle:
“People noticed immediately that there wasn’t a girl-meets-boy aspect, and they wanted to talk about it. My feelings were, although I did love the Sigourney Weaver / Bill Murray relationship in the original film, I didn’t think this reboot was the right place for romantic love. The love story here is four weirdos coming together to form a club, and learning to belong to each other. My feeling is, the world is a lonely place. If you can find people who are like you, and find some camaraderie, that’s special. I wish there was more of that in the world, in general. So I hope kids today can watch the movie and grow up with the goal of finding those bonds, not chasing a boyfriend because they ‘need’ one.”
If we’re to assume that the other women in the film are heterosexual (Erin being the only one who seems interested in men, specifically Chris Hemsworth‘s airhead character, Kevin), then we can just as easily assume Jillian is queer. Because even though it’s not the point, it’s still important to us as queer viewers who are waiting for mainstream movies to stop using us as stereotypes and jokes and as major characters of a summer blockbuster action film.
So yeah, Jillian Holtzmann? Our team.