So I may have stepped into it yesterday with a Tweet I made on Twitter and Facebook regarding the new Ghostbusters movie. It wasn’t something I hadn’t said before; but this time round it got some attention and started a bit of a debate. I wanted to clarify my point as Twitter isn’t the best place for a nuanced argument and heck I have this website why not use it right?
“I’ve been keeping mum on Ghostbusters because I don’t want to dump on someone’s good time. I’m still not sure if I’m going to see it. And my original gripe is still why I’m leaning towards not seeing it. While I can recognize the how great this moment is, it is sullied by being another bad moment when it comes to equality and representation. In my mind Leslie Jones’ character just go to show that in 2016 POC are still in the same place as when the first Ghostbusters got made. And it is frustrating (bordering on infuriating) that the Progressive/Feminist/SJW movement (or whatever title you wish to give it) has given this movie a pass since it’s an all female cast. If equality and feminism leave behind women of color what’s the point?”
Like I said I was going to keep mum because I don’t want to piss on anyone’s parade. For many young women this is a big moment. And you can’t understate that. It’s a moment where they can be leaders in a bad ass capacity. Not to say there weren’t women kicking ass before these four. We’ve had Ripley, Sarah Conor, Katnis, Furiousa the list goes on. But this time round it does feel different, bigger. Maybe because it’s a reboot of a beloved franchise. Maybe it’s because the female protagonists are front and center and don’t have to share the screen. Maybe it’s because of the backlash. Whatever the reason it feels important. Which led me to the gripe.
When I saw the first trailer one thing that hit me was that Leslie Jones’ character was not a scientist like the others. I found that a bit dismaying because it feels like a prime example of how far we still have to go in terms of equality, representation, and inclusion. 30 years later and the black Ghostbuster is still “man of the street”. It all felt like it was feeding into the tropes of black best friend, sassy black person, or magical negro (these are things look them up). To top it all off she’s playing the loud black woman (arrgh again with that one). In all fairness Leslie Jones did come out in defense of the role. Call me cynical; but would you torpedo your own movie? Ernie Hudson has some choice words about how Winston was treated; but those words came after the fact so take that as you will. Since I made this known I’ve heard everything from “You’re just looking for something to complain about.” to “This isn’t a big deal. What’s wrong with being a transit worker?” So I’m going to try and attempt to explain why this IS a big deal and ISN’T just something to complain about.
I think representation in media is important. It’s important because kids of all races, gender, sexuality, etc need to see positive images of themselves growing up. I know this is a truth because it was true for me as a kid growing up. I used to take my Batman & Superman comics and color Bats and Supes black because there weren’t many black heroes (don’t give me War Machine sidekicks don’t count). It was hard to find positive well rounded characters in scifi/fantasy and what we’d call geek culture today that weren’t sidekicks or secondary characters. Enter Deep Space Nine. For the first time someone who looked like me and talked like me was a Starfleet Officer and Captain (even if he started out Lt. Commander; that’s a whole different discussion). It said to me the sky is not the limit. Even for a kid whose father was a Lt. in the Navy (Hooyah!) this was a big deal. And moments like this I wonder do kids these days have that moment? Who is their Benjamin Sisco?
There are too many kids these days who only see negative images of themselves. Subconsciously they internalize these negative messages to their determent. A prime example of this in action I’d ask you to check out the Clark Doll Test. These kids weren’t taught that black is ugly or bad. They weren’t taught that white is good or pretty; but almost uniformally this is what they indicated. This is what society is teaching not explicitly; but definitely implicitly. It is something we’ve been aware of for quite sometime. Something we’ve been trying to fix as well. Which is why ,for me as a person of color, I find it disheartening that in this moment Leslie Jones is ,for whatever reason, not on the same footing as her counterparts in the movie. It’s great that women are front and center and taking on new roles; but what good is the feminist movement or push for equality and inclusion if it leaves people behind. If the things we are promoting aren’t inclusive of us all what’s the point?
This is why I find the response to this movie among progressive types to be so irksome. We should know better. Inclusion is at the core of what we stand for it IS our cause. So why are so few willing to discuss this exclusion. I’ve seen a lot of videos of girls dressing up as the Ghostbusters. Women saying how they had to be stuck being April O’Neil when playing Ninja Turtles and now their girls can be Ghostsbusters. Now they can look up to these women. But if you are a child of color the Ghostbuster most like you the one that looks like you isn’t on the same level as the others. It’s a classic game of one of these things is not like the other. Is Jones a Ghostbuster? Yes. Is that cool? Hell yea. But something is amiss when her character is there (at least I get this form the trailers as I haven’t seen the movie yet) by happenstance and not because of her own merit. The silence on this subject makes me question what the movement is all about and who it’s for. What’s worse is when this question is brought up I see the same responses that we decry the other side for giving. “Why’s it have to be about race?” “Why isn’t it enough that she’s there?” “It’s just a movie who is looking at them as role models?” We wouldn’t tolerate these responses from “conservatives” or the “male hierarchy” why is it ok when we do it? If this were a Michael Bay flick with a loud black woman we’d be screaming about how racist this is; but this gets a pass?
I’m not saying that this one thing makes the whole enterprise a wash. In my humble opinion this is like falling of the high beam in the middle of your perfect 10 routine. Falling off didn’t ruin it but we have to talk about that stumble. Yet no one is. Just because you critique something doesn’t mean you hate it. You expect better from those in your peers because you’re supposed to be working for a common goal. I feel like by not talking about it members of Geekdom are implicitly giving it approval. We can love Ghostbusters and not love this part. That’s where I’m coming from. And if Leslie Jones’ latest experience on twitter is any indication we need to stick together and build on this moment. Inclusion and representation need to become the norm…for the children (I just threw up in my mouth a bit). But that’s just my humble opinion, for what it’s worth.