The glamour of being an adult female rocker. The glitter of Synergy’s earrings. The fashion era that embraced shoulder pads. The fame associated with traveling around the world. From what has been revealed by director Jon M. Chu and his recently announced cast, none of this will be a focus of the live-action Jem and the Holograms film.
Now that is truly outrageous, at least to me, who watched it during the 1980s and wrote an entire article about why you should love the cartoon classic.
I must admit that when the film reboot was announced on YouTube back in March, my first thought was, “Okay, so a guy is directing this female-focused film. That could possibly work, I guess.” My second thought was, “Wait, all of the producers are also men. Where are all the women and the original creators?” My third thought was, “Oh no! They’re going to replace the cheesy 80s synth-pop ballads with cheesy Hannah Montana-esque pop tunes!”
I didn’t want to completely dismiss the film just because men were behind it — or because my obsession for 80s music was probably going to be ignored — so I waited to hear more details. I stayed optimistic that the guy who directed G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Justin Bieber’s Believe could somehow help me and my fellow 30-something female friends relive our childhood years through music and dance.
Then I read this synopisis in Variety:
Project will reimagine Jem for a hyperlinked social media age, the producers say, and revolve around an orphaned teenage girl who becomes an online recording sensation, she and her sisters embark on a music-driven scavenger hunt –- one that sends them on an adventure across Los Angeles in an attempt to unlock a final message left by her father.
I threw out all of my old concerns and added a few new ones. For instance, if they’re teenagers, how can Jem’s alter ego, Jerrica Benton, be a record company owner? And what about Synergy, the holographic computer whose magical earrings transform Jerrica into Jem? Will that even be a part of the film? Obviously a lot of questions continued forming in my head as I anxiously waited for answers.
Then just last week more information about the film was released, and everything I had originally feared was reaffirmed. For starters, I learned that Christy Marx, the creative female genius behind Jem and the Holograms, was never asked to be part of the film, or to even give it her blessing. She did speak to director Chu about the film, and said nothing but kind words about him, but on her Facebook page she said:
Many people wonder how I feel about it. I don’t think I can hide that I’m deeply unhappy about being shut out of the project. That no one in the entertainment arm of Hasbro wanted to talk to me, have me write for it, or at the very least consult on it. I wouldn’t be human if that failed to bother me.
Our friend Jamie from Black Girl Nerds, who live tweets during episodes of Jem and the Holograms every Saturday night (check out #JemLiveTweet), got the same answer from Christy on the BGN Twitter account, as well as from Britta Phillips (who supplied the singing voice of Jem) and Samantha Newark (the speaking voice of Jem) during the show:
@BlackGirlNerds Maybe we will be a part of it if that's what people want and let them know. : )
— Britta Phillips (@brittaphillips) March 21, 2014
Jamie goes on to say in her article how it’s an injustice that three females who were instrumental in the show were completely shut out. I have to agree with her, as well as with this comment that was featured in an AV Club article from Twitter user @Lovetherain77:
It also makes me sad to think that the new Jem theme song will probably sound nothing like the original, which many of us little girls danced to while holding our favorite Jem doll. (If the soundtrack includes anything by Miley Cyrus or a rap chorus by T.I., I will lose all hope in humanity).
I was pretty upset that none of the original three women were involved in the film, but I was still willing to give Chu and his reimagined Jem “for a whole new generation with themes of being true to who you are in a multitasking, hyperlinked social media age” a chance. Then they released the movie poster on the official website:
And then they revealed the cast: Aubrey Peeples from ABC’s Nashville as Jem, Stefanie Scott from Disney’s A.N.T. Farm as Kimber, Hayley Kiyoko from ABC Family’s The Fosters — who also played Velma in the rebooted live-action Scooby Doo flicks on Cartoon Network — as Aja, and Aurora Perrineau — an actress/model who recently appeared in A House Is Not a Home with Richard Grieco — as Shana.
Finally, Aubrey released this picture on her Instagram account:
I’m not going to fly off the handle with anger because the cast is made up of up-and-coming Hollywood teenagers. I don’t particularly like it — mainly because of the fact that these girls weren’t even born when the original series aired — but I understand that Chu is making this a modern-day twist on the original 80s take of the cartoon.
My biggest problem with this casting, though, is this:
While Aurora Perrineau — who is the daughter of Lost and The Matrix Reloaded alum Harold Perrineau — is a beautiful young lady who is mixed race African American, she looks nothing like the character Shana, the adopted sister of Jem and Kimber who was a dark-skinned African American on the show. This shared sentiment was stated eloquently by Instagram user @spencerduncan, who left this comment on Aubrey’s posted photo of the cast:
One of the biggest reasons why I loved the Holograms was because of their diverse backgrounds and different features, so it disappoints me tremendously that Chu didn’t embrace this. What kind of message about beauty is he sending to those of us who grew up watching Jem, and who now have girls of our own that may watch the film?
In an exchange with Perrineau on twitter, Jamie elaborates on how her casting may not be racebending but still demonstrates the colorism that remains so prevalent in Hollywood.
@AuroraPerrineau We are near the same complexion. So I get it. I'm just not happy to see the disparities in shade of Shana Elmsford.
— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) April 26, 2014
Really, you should just read Jamie’s open letter to Aurora and the cast of the movie on BlackGirlNerds.com.
So, that’s my take on why I think the Jem and the Holograms movie will be truly, outrageously bad. I feel like those of us true Jem fans who are nostalgic about the cartoon will be disappointed no matter what. Even with so many sites offering their dream cast, like Rediscovering the 80s did, fans will never 100% agree on the casting.