So… The trailer for the new Ghostbusters film hit today. I am a really big fan of the original first film, and I enjoyed the much misunderstood second. I was really looking forward to this reboot. The new (all woman) cast looked stellar. I love the idea of an all-woman ghostbusting squad. I think there are opportunities for a completely different type of humor that would be a welcome relief from the smarmy, white guy charm of the original two films. I damn near broke my tablet trying to watch it.
As I watched the trailer it felt like I was watching Ghostbusters. The humor was on and the chemistry between the team was spot on. Chris Hemsworth as the new Janine Melnitz was a spot of genius. But the more I watched, the more it felt like I had a splinter in an uncomfortable place. Let me preface this by stating that I dig Leslie Jones. She was the highlight of Chris Rock’s Top 5. She’s loud and boisterous, and this is her thing. But it rubbed me the wrong way in this ensemble.
The three other women, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, are all scientists. Women scientists who hunt and capture ghosts? Sign me all the way up. But Leslie? My girl Leslie is a subway worker? A loud and boisterous cashier who knows the street-level of New York? Granted, I am reacting to a trailer, but come on. Is this the 1980s? Leslie even had a Cadillac hearse joke. Really? This joke was done much better, nineteen years ago, by Bill Bellamy in Love Jones.
As cartoonist and filmmaker, Roy Miles offered: “I was expecting Nick Nolte to pop out and tell a watermelon joke.”
There has been some grumblings on various sites, with most people falling into these various camps: “Is this really the battle we should be fighting?” “Well, there isn’t even a [insert another race/ethnicity here] in the film.” “Ohmygod. Will you people ever be happy?”
I get it, race talk is hard talk for people who don’t have to engage in the talk. But representation is power. To have a black woman whoop spectral ass, as well as solve more complex problems with her intellect and not just her street smarts, that would have been a welcome revelation. In defense of the character, many people have tried to compare her (without seeing the film) to Winston Zeddemore’s character from the original films. Read David Walker’s brilliant assessment of the character right here.
We are living in the 21st century and it is about time that we start updating the roles that black people (especially women) are given to play. Without any loss of humor, you can upgrade black characters from smart-mouthed and sassy sidekicks, to more fully realized (non-stereotypical) characters. We are living in a world where:
all exist and are doing kick ass things in the sciences. Would it have been that difficult to make Leslie Jones’ character an achievement equal?
I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. But I am increasingly afraid that white filmmakers have no idea how to represent black women on screen. This, plus Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone? That was a one-two punch to the black cultural gut.
I need a vacation.