- June 13th, 2023, 1:58 am#4983623
I personally never perceived anything about Winston's treatment as being racist. But then, I've owned the book Making Ghostbusters since the 80s. Here are two sidebars from page 54:
In the July and August drafts, Dana's appearance at the firehall is preceded by a scene in
which Winston Zeddemore — armed with enough references to nail down a job as security
chief for the White House —- presents himself in reply to a trifling 'help wanted' ad for a guard.
The inclusion of Winston was in clear response to a perceived notion on the part of the
filmmakers that the team needed to embrace a fourth member who could serve as the
on-screen voice of the viewing public —a no-nonsense professional, with a major streak
of skepticism when it came to the avowed objectives of his employers. On further reflection,
however, it was decided to delay Winston's introduction until after the Ghostbusters' first
big score when, conceivably, they could really begin to need some augmentation.
''As writers, we'd never done a black character. Nor had we ever written women very well.
The Writers Guild sends out letters about this regularly —'let's see more women and more
minorities.' So when we wrote Winston, l think we had our own little reverse backlash going.
We bent over backwards to make Winston's character good— and in doing so, we made him
so good that he was the best character in the movie. We looked at it and said: 'Jesus! He's
got all the good lines.' At the same time, everybody was saying Bill's character was a little
weak. So, little by little, we started shifting Winston's attitude to Bill's character— which
made perfect sense — and we also ended up delaying Winston's introduction until much
later in the film."
~ Harold Ramis
So here's a book from 1984/5 where Harold Ramis states that the impetus for introducing a positive black character to the script actually came FROM the Hollywood establishment, who specifically wanted to see scripts with more diversity as well as more female characters in the ensembles.
Later in Making Ghostbusters, p. 99, at the point in the included script where Winston finally appears, we have two more sidebars:
Unable to keep up with their crushing workload, the paranormal entrepreneurs place a
‘help wanted’ ad which draws the fourth member of their team —Winston Zeddemore.
Until the final shooting draft, Winston had been seen in the script as a security man for
the company. When it became apparent that the Ghostbusters had no real need for a
security man, he became instead a full-fledged — if not altogether convinced — Ghostbuster.
"l think the original concept for Winston's character was younger and hipper. At one
point, we were talking with Gregory Hines about playing the part. We also considered
getting a young, black comedian — somebody like Eddie Murphy. But, in retrospect,
it's probably just as well we didn't. lt would have been just too much. As it is, there is a
nice balance among the four characters. Winston is the moderate character against which
the other three can play."
~ [producer] Michael Gross
This reveals that turning Winston into an actual team member was a late change to the original concept. Take this with the first sidebar mentioned above, and what they're saying is that originally, Winston was introduced earlier in the script NOT as a full member of the team but rather just as their security man. They decided to instead make him an equal-status Ghostbuster in the final shooting script, but felt that his introduction worked better later in the story, building the team when they need more help due to the increased workload illustrated in the montage sequence.
The original Aykroyd-only concept was for the team to be a trio consisting of Dan as Stantz, John Belushi as Venkman, and Eddie Murphy as a third buster then called 'Ramsey'. The three roles in Aykroyd's original 'unfilmable' draft were, according to Ramis in the book's foreword, totally interchangeable personalities. The death of Belushi and the non-involvement of Murphy led to the script being restructured heavily with the input of Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis.
Once Murray was on board, they realized that the biggest star in the film had no good lines. So, as Aykroyd says in the Movies That Made Us retrospective, the role intended for Murphy did NOT become the role played by Ernie Hudson, rather he was "replaced by Billy, really, as the main comic voice."
The book also states that the character we now know as Winston was NOT one of the busters. He was conceived first as a security guard. He was elevated to buster status at the eleventh hour, and his first appearance delayed until the point in the story where it made the most sense.
So, the thread's title asks was his role diminished due to Hollywood racism? Let's go point by point.
Was Ernie Hudson's role (Winston Zeddemore) *diminished*? If we accept the Ramsey and Winston roles as distinct, then no. Ramsey became what we know today as Venkman, while the different character of Winston was *elevated* from company employee to equal team member, as well as the Everyman audience surrogate.
Was this alleged diminishment *due to Hollywood racism*? From these insights recorded at the time the film came out, the entire reason both the Ramsey and Winston characters were originally created was because the Writers Guild was calling for more diversity.
Did Ernie read and audition from a script closer to the Ramsey take on things, before that specific character evolved into Murray's Venkman? Undoubtedly.
But was the evolution of Ramsey into Venkman indeed racially motivated? Ask yourself this... if Eddie Murphy had played Ramsey, would they have still taken all those good lines and given them to Bill Murray?
If you think the answer is no, then the script's final evolution had less to do with skin color than it did with star power.
Lastly, will anything I've typed here change anyone's mind?
Not one whit.
And I know that.
But at the same time, there seemed to be a great deal of speculation in this thread on why things occurred the way they did, without anyone citing the writers' and filmmakers' own explanations from almost forty years ago. Not what they might say today, if they were asked to justify it in the current climate, but how they felt about it at the time. Harold Ramis isn't here to defend himself anymore, so the quote from Making Ghostbusters is his 'best evidence' of what they did and why. Michael Gross is also deceased now. I wanted to give them a voice in this.
Thanks for reading.
What a knockabout of pure fun that was!