Taraji P. Henson-Led 'What Women Want' Gender/Race-Swapped Remake Fails to Hit the Satirical Mark [Opinion]

In an era of cinema when it feels as though the majority of current and upcoming movies are reboots and remakes it’s easy to hold a level of skepticism about the next Hollywood blockbuster that appears to rehash an existing film franchise. With new comedy What Men Want being the latest remake/reboot to reach cinemas this week, it once again appears as though the largest and most successful film studios are more interested in profit than originality.

What Men Want stars Taraji P. Henson as Ali Davis, an ambitious sports agent that, as a black female, is struggling to get ahead in a predominantly white and male workplace (“boys club”), missing out on a promotion to her white and male colleague. Like the films original, 2000 rom-com What Women Want, where Mel Gibson plays a sexist womanizer that, due to a comedic accident, can suddenly hear women thoughts, Ali likewise acquires the ability to hear men’s thoughts.

Directed by Adam Shankman, What Men Want is the latest in a recent line of gender-swapped films, which most famously includes last years Ocean’s 8 and 2016’s Ghostbusters. Even with a cynical view of Hollywood remakes/reboots, the fact these mainstream movies place women in leading roles should be seen as an overall positive. For young girls, films like Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters provide an opportunity for them to see women in leading rather than supporting roles. Looking beyond childhood aspirations and industry employability, the premise of gender/race-swapping films such as What Women Want, Ghostbusters and the Ocean’s franchise, also provides a great opportunity for filmmakers to cast a satirical eye at modern-day gender and racial inequality.

Perhaps we should celebrate that the film attempted to tackle these political issues at all, however, its ability to give them any critical or even comedic weight falls short. During the course of the film, Henson’s character doesn’t really learn anything new about the patriarchal and racially prejudice world in which she inhabits. She also doesn’t learn about her inner masculinity in the same way that Mel Gibson learned about his inner femininity. Ali is already a woman that tries to be one-of-the-guys in her attempt to become a partner of her firm.

Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want from Paramount Pictures and Paramount Players.

Despite Henson’s energetic performance and a strong support cast, unfortunately, What Men Want is unlikely to reverse any sentiment that these gender/race-swapping films offer anything more than another format for the film industry to capitalize on what has already proven successful. The film industry is in desperate need to become more diverse and it is clear, after a number of attempts, that if they want to make films that tackle issues of prejudice and oppression, there also needs to be more originality and creativity.

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