I was super duper excited when the new Ghostbusters trailer came out. As a huge fan of the original film, this funny feminist reboot was going to be everything my cinematic dreams are made of.
Smart chicks kicking butt in cool costumes? Yes please, more please.
The Twitter frenzy that followed, however, was vitriolic and inescapable.
To summarise, people were upset/outraged that the only woman of colour in the Ghostbusting team was reduced to a “stereotype”. Leslie Jones’s character, Patty Tolan, is the only non-scientist on the team. She’s recruited instead for her “street-smarts” and her knowledge of New York City courtesy of her being an MTA employee.
A couple of days ago, they released a “new” trailer. It replaced many of Jones’ lines, added a ton more Chris Hemsworth (presumably to calm the enraged masses), and was otherwise the same.
Janessa E Robinson made a compelling argument on The Guardian for the film dropping the ball, saying that “as the only representation of race and class commentary in the trailer, [Leslie Jones’ character] ultimately pathologises the working class and blackness by making the two synonymous with a seemingly inept character.” Leslie Jones fought back against such accusations on Twitter, saying:
I’m playing a hardworking woman.The regular one that rep the people. You guys are the racists by labeling her a lowly MTA worker.Not me
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) March 7, 2016
Regardless of personal opinion on the Ghostbusters matter, my broader observation is that female-driven media, be it movies or TV shows, come under far more public scrutiny than “regular white dude” movies and shows.
I use those quotation marks because they are taken from a quote by one of the creators of Broad City. Tired of being constantly compared to HBO’s Girls, because it’s “reductive”, Ilana Glazer said: “It’s like, ‘Women in their 20s, you are all the same!’ If it’s not a white dude thing, it’s compared to whatever group you’re in.” These questions and comparisons continued even after Broad City got signed for a second season and landed a New York magazine cover. It’s like people think there isn’t enough space in the world for two TV shows about young women.
What if I rocked up to a new Mission Impossible film premier and asked Tom Cruise how he thinks his new film defines itself as different from, oh I don’t know, every other Mission Impossible film, and also every other film about a “regular white dude” spy?
There’s a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie coming out and all of the turtles are “regular white guys” but there’s no intense public backlash there. They’re green CGI’s for crying out loud, they could have picked four incredibly talented, diverse voice actors, and it would have made precisely 0 difference to the visual outcome, let alone the plot line. There’s only one speaking person of colour in the new Batman vs Superman movie, and how many times do I see superhero films with a white lead and a black sidekick? Let’s call it the Iron Man effect. Why aren’t there well-written op-ed pieces in The Guardian about any of these exciting new blockbusters?
I think it has something to do with how I’m expected to call my grandparents if they’re unwell, but my older brother isn’t. “It’s just a boy thing.” How female politicians are held to exacting, unfair standards compared to their male counterparts for things like hairstyles, attire, and even the sound of their voice.
When a woman, or a team of women, step out from the well-behaved pack and try to present what they’ve made, they are an anomaly. A peculiar thing. We all turn our heads, crane our necks, and pass judgment. This new Ghostbusters reboot isn’t a “regular white dude” film, and so it’s picked apart.
Really my point is that all films should be held to the same exacting standard female-driven films are. I’m down for that! Diversity has a seriously long way to go (hello #OscarsSoWhite) but until we criticise “dude” films the way we do “chick” films, let’s not lose perspective.
And also, for the record, more smart chicks kicking supernatural bad-guy butt in cool costumes. Okay? Awesome, great thanks.
Image source: Sony and Empire.com.