Back in 2016, the female Ghostbusters remake debuted in theaters, prompting a debate as to whether these remakes were warranted or truly reclaimed pop culture for a female audience. Of course, many of the disgruntled fans were misogynistic and their criticisms were ultimately ignored. Four years later, Hollywood has transformed the female reboot into a genre of its own—with mixed results.
It's true that these gender flips have a unique opportunity in analyzing marginalized roles in a context that is typically male–dominated. At the same time, these movies tend to show off “neoliberal feminism” in which studios can profit off contemporary feminist ideals without bothering to actually represent marginalized communities—or more specifically, people of color.
That leads me to Netflix’s highly anticipated release, Enola Holmes. Based on the novels by Nancy Springer, the premise follows the younger sister of the very famous Sherlock Holmes, attempting to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance in patriarchal Victorian England.
Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Enola with a delightfully plucky energy, is absolutely fantastic and shoulders a lot of weight in the movie. Her interactions with her eccentric mother (a perfectly casted Helena Bonham Carter) are thrilling to watch as they paint, read, play indoor tennis, and run around, wreaking absolute havoc in their countryside mansion. That is, until her mother disappears, prompting a visit from her two older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin).
Now, Henry Cavill plays a Sherlock unlike any other before him. He’s ridiculously hot, warm at times, and ultimately admits to his sister’s intelligence. However, Mycroft is ultimately horrified by how unladylike his sister has become, and decides to send her off to finishing school to be put in her place.
Naturally, Enola decides to run away and solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance on her own—until she accidentally rescues Viscount Lord Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge), and becomes entangled in figuring out why anyone would want to kill him. Tewksbury and Enola bond over not wanting to follow the paths their family have set forth for them, and their chemistry is electric.
The stellar cast is probably where my praise for this movie ends. The movie is too long, randomly takes a very dark turn towards the end, and the Fleabag–esque breaking of the fourth wall becomes a bit weary at times. It also unfortunately falls into the same failings of many remakes: Its attempts to be diverse are shallow at best, and people of color are sidelined for the development of white characters. People of color in this film are mere props; they’re meant to spout out a screenshot–able zinger about the importance of politics, only to return to the backdrop of the movie. In one such moment, Chewing Gum’s Susie Wackoma chides Sherlock for not being interested in politics, quipping that Sherlock (or men) “don’t know what it is to be without power” and “have no interest in changing a world that suits [them] so well.” While these words ring true in definition, in the context of a story in which a bourgeois white female detective is ultimately the only woman with any nuance or character development, it's superficial at best.
Set against the backdrop of women’s suffrage, there are surely many parallels between our world and Victorian England. Perhaps these parallels remain so unresolved that the industry continues to use people of color to ultimately uplift white protagonists. In a movie that tries to be political, but not too political, it's ultimately a plea to maintain the status quo, rather than a message of radical change it thinks it is.