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'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire' Teases Queer-Coded Characters To Modernize The Franchise

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Teases Queer-Coded Characters To Modernize The Franchise

Actors Mckenna Grace and Emily Alyn Lind embody characters who share an otherworldly relationship in the fifth Ghostbusters film…

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire iced its way into movie theaters last weekend, proving there might still be some juice left in the 40-year-old franchise. The fifth installment in a film series that prides itself on being a direct sequel to 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the new film reeks of nostalgia as it provides enough entertainment to soothe childhood souls with more playing time from franchise originators Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts. However, it is actors Mckenna Grace and Emily Alyn Lind who often steal the movie with a subplot caked in mystery.

The film leans heavily on the supernatural through the use of an ancient spherical artifact that houses the evil spirit known as Garraka. New and old Ghostbusters investigate the artifact’s origins while Phoebe (Grace) has been sidelined by her mother (Carrie Coon) and stepfather (Paul Rudd) for being too young to be a Ghostbuster. Phoebe spends most of the new film sulking about her family’s decision to catch ghosts without her, even though the teenager is more intelligent than the bunch when it comes to scientific discoveries.

Early on in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Phoebe meets a seemingly harmless and beautiful ghost named Melody (Lind) over a game of chess in a New York City park. Melody might be dead, but the human and ghost have an instant connection. Melody, who passed away when she was 16 years old in a fire that took her family’s life as well, cannot move on to the next step of the afterlife due to unfinished business. After an initial encounter and long talks about each other’s troubled family trees, Phoebe and Melody hatch a plan to be in the same space as one another.

That same space means that Phoebe must die and become a ghost in order to fully experience what the other side is like. This is where Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire enters into queer territory, as Phoebe and Melody’s relationship takes a stark turn. Using a lab’s extraction machine, Phoebe turns herself into a ghost for a few minutes so that Phoebe and Melody can physically connect, but things take a turn for the worse when Garraka tricks the plucky teenager into freeing the entity from the artifact’s prison.

Though Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire satisfies nostalgic needs and is pure popcorn entertainment for moviegoing audiences, the queer subplot leaves a lot on the table. Phoebe and Melody are supposed to be teenagers in a franchise blockbuster, so it’s clear that any language about their relationship might be shrouded in creative mystery. However, Sony, the production company and distributor behind the film, evidently hid any such relationship in queer-coded messaging rather than state what the relationship is outright.

Phoebe and Melody both exhibit queer-coded qualities and behaviors, attributing stereotypically queer traits without explicitly stating their sexual identity in the movie. This includes fashion and hair choices, words spoken to one another, and stopping short of saying the quiet part out loud. Yes, these are teenagers in an otherwise family comedy. Still, it’s almost as if Sony chose to leave a lot of the obvious parts of the characters’ relationship out so that they could establish distribution in countries like China, where such characters might be digitally removed or censored altogether due to how queer people are viewed.

The screenplay by director Gil Kenan and Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason Reitman reads as if Phoebe and Melody’s unexpectedly close friendship would turn romantic without actually saying just that. Their friendship isn’t typical, as there are flirtations immediately between the two, and all of their dialogue is laced with indirect themes of both being outsiders from their respective families. Phoebe’s immediate decision is to turn herself into a ghost to interact with Melody upon meeting her, which tracks well with a screenplay that seems to want to tell a story about identity without actually doing anything to dig deep into that story.

Much like how the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Pixar have brushed queer characters under the rug to sell more tickets in countries outside of North America and Europe, it seems that the Ghostbusters franchise has done so as well. In an effort to stay relevant and modern in the eyes of a young audience, a queer-coded subplot is included in the newest installment. 

Unfortunately for LGBTQ+ audiences who expect more representation in the content they consume, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire doesn’t go far enough to give its characters the depth and identity they so desperately seek.

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