I like to keep y’all gagging for more. So every 6 months or so, I swing by the Zoo with a sarcastic review of some mediocre movie I’ve had the displeasure of watching.
Today, ladies and gents, that movie is Ghostbusters.
Not the original, obviously. No…unfortunately, it’s the crappy remake. Melissa McCarthy (ew), Kate McKinnon (❤), Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones all spearhead the cast for this reboot taking on the oh-so-wonderful mantle of being THE Ghostbusters.
Or you know, poor imitations. Whatevs.
Here’s the thing y’all: despite the myriad of problems I had with this movie (and believe me, there is a myriad. An entire buffet full. Like I could feed the 5000, with the problems I had with this movie), the one problem that remains the worst is the absolute butchering of Leslie Jones’ character, Patty.
Why, you ask?
Because she was a trope.
She was nothing more than a stereotype viewed as a joke by those around her. Somehow, she became the comic relief in an already humorous movie. (What even? Ugh) She was the “funny one”, but not in the sense that her character in herself was inherently funny (she actually didn’t get many opportunities to be as such), but rather that we as the audience are invited to laugh AT her and not WITH her.
Kate McKinnon’s character, Holtzmann (one quirky-cool, theoretical particle physicist, inventor/engineer extraordinaire, and general ass-kicking badass) is allowed to be unequivocally herself without ridicule from her peers or any of the other supporting characters. She’s funny in the sense that her quirks and quips are “cute”, “attractive” even (that may be just me, slight crush developing with her tbh) and are undeniably a part of her character make-up. When she makes a weird face or hits us with a quip about something, we’re supposed to laugh with her, not at her and say :”Oh look at this adorably quirky character!”
Her very first scene shows us just how quirky she is and though I was overwhelmed by her level of quirk for a second (I wasn’t expecting it), it’s brushed over so that it becomes just a facet of her personality. It’s normalised.
The problem is that this level of unapologetic individuality afforded to McKinnon’s character isn’t afforded to Leslie Jones’ Patty. Before we delve into that, I should briefly address the fact that in this “wonderful” new reboot, made to “empower women” and be “role models for little girls”, McCarthy’s character in addition to McKinnon’s and Wiig’s, are ALL scientists. Jones’ character, on the other hand, is the Black woman that works for the train station.
When Patty is herself unapologetically happy and comfortable in her own skin. She’s happy to wear her gold-hooped earrings (I’m pretty sure every Black girl has owned a pair of these at some point! I know I did!) and she’s happy to be funny, loud and energetic. Still, we are supposed to laugh AT her and not with her. She’s described by Hemsworth’s character, assistant Kevin, as “the one with the earrings”.
Make no mistake, the decision to point out her earrings (it happens at least two or three times in the movie) is a deliberate attempt to belittle the things that Patty, the unequivocally black and loud-mouthed Patty, loves. An attempt to belittle all the things about her that are decidedly “Black”.
She’s 6 damn feet of chocolately goodness, complete with gold hoop earrings and a gold “Patty” necklace. But these aren’t things we’re supposed to celebrate. They draw attention to her earrings because they’re “wrong”. All you need to do is read between the lines of the movie and you can almost hear the words “ghetto” and “ratchet” with their negative connotations spewing at you through the cinema screen. They look at her earrings as something she shouldn’t be wearing. Something out of place in their world.
The problem with Jones’ character is that her unapologetic and peak blackness (which I understand are a stereotype; I’ll address that later) are undermined and underpinned in a sea of white women and men. Had they ignored her earrings and not drawn attention to them so many times in a negative light, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Had McCarthy’s character not assumed after interviewing Hemsworth’s Kevin for the receptionist job, that Patty was there for Chinese food, and not, I don’t know, AS AN ACTUAL CLIENT, OR APPLICANT, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Had they not all literally sat there, these three White women, looking down on all 6 feet of the brilliant and talented Leslie Jones and said “It’s not a club, you can’t just join”, it wouldn’t have been so bad.
What the hell is this, Mean Girls?
But instead of a cute White girl “from” Africa, we have an actual Black woman that receives this treatment.
“You can’t sit with us” they essentially said, and indeed they never actually invite her to do so. Rather, she utters an “I’m joining. Ya’ll need me,” later on in the movie and has to insert herself into the Ghostbusters clique, rather than be invited. Baring in mind that when she says this, it’s not an immediate acceptance.
Of course it’s not. She’s not a scientist like the three White women in this movie. She’s not an intellectual to them. She’s not on their level. She has to bargain her way in with the fact that she has “street smarts” and knows the city and can borrow a vehicle from her Uncle. So, they reluctantly “allow” her in.
In a movie where Kristen Wiig’s character flirts unashamedly and all but throws herself on Kevin when they first meet (“You’re hired,” she says), it hurts to see the ONE Black main cast member have to fight so hard and bargain to be a part of their “club”. I realise the interaction between the team and Kevin was supposed to be humorous, I realise that when she looks at him and without knowing anything of him mutters quietly, “you’re hired”, we’re supposed to laugh. He’s fit as f*ck and that’s the only reason she wants to hire him. It’s obviously not for his brain, as he proves throughout the movie how stupid he is.
Which begs the question: What’s so wrong with Jones’ character that they immediately didn’t want her on the team? I mean in comparison to Kevin, she’s a much better choice for literally anything. But going on first impressions, they’d rather hire Kevin. Dumb, air-headed Kevin, over Leslie–who by this point, they’ve fought a Ghost with, and who’s aided in saving McKinnon’s life. She has an in-depth knowledge of the city and its history, (something they brush over repeatedly when she tries to impart some knowledge on them multiple times) and at this point would be a good addition to the team, yet they actively reject her immediately. Why? Based upon what?
Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin is as thick as two planks (both literally and figuratively), yet he’s a straight, White male; so although he’s beneath them intellectually, he still manages to be above Patty, and is accepted immediately. Accepted while Patty has to bargain, and offer them something just to be taken seriously.
This movie places no value on Patty’s head. None, at all. When Melissa McCarthy’s character crowd-surfs at a rock concert, the all-white hardcore audience of rock fans catches her immediately, allowing her to surf on by smoothly. When Leslie Jones’ Patty tries to do the same, the outcome is a *little* different. I sat there, turned to my friend and said “bet money they don’t catch her”, and sure as hell…they didn’t. But, it’s okay, though, because she made a joke, right? She says something along the lines of “I don’t know if that was a race thing or…” and we, the audience, are supposed to laugh.
At what? I ask you. The casual racism you’ve included in your big blockbuster reboot? Your “empowering” movie “for women” is constantly undermining your only woman of colour, and seeks only to empower White women. If it didn’t, you would never have made a point of so obviously highlighting Patty’s race and the casual racism she experiences, whilst actively inviting your audience to laugh.
“Oh look at the poor Black woman! Hahahahaha! They didn’t carry her ‘coz she’s Black! Ahahaha!”
It’s one thing to have a character like Patty (a stereotype if we’re being honest**) and to present her as inferior to the team. It’s another thing to bring her in only as comic relief (to laugh AT, not WITH). Especially whilst the scores of White people in this movie deafen you with their big science words ‘coz they’s smart peoples, and I don’t know, Patty looks at trains and stuff, and compliments customers who ignore the f*ck out of her for no reason!
It’s an ENTIRELY different and altogether downright bloody racist thing to invite your audience to LAUGH at the EXPENSE of your one Black character’s experience with racism. When you normalise casual racism like this, you are perpetuating an existing line of about 15, 000 problems in the world today. I realise I’m dwelling, but after this whole Twitter thing with Leslie Jones being chased off by racist trolls (which Lex will elaborate on later), I find it extremely hard to ignore. And this happened in the same week that Instagram removed snake emojis from Taylor Swift’s pics to, like, I don’t know, stop her from crying and throwing a hissy fit? What, stop her from writing a break-up album on why she can no longer use Instagram?
Social Media came out to protect Swift, but not Jones. This is the same way this movie neglected to protect and respect Patty.
Seeing scenes like this in the movie, I am no longer able to laugh and brush it off. It is NOT funny. Not in the slightest. That crowd knew nothing of Patty or McCarthy’s characters, but they instinctively held up and supported the White woman in her endeavours, whilst literally watching the Black woman fall and fail. If that’s not a damn metaphor for the state of the world right now, I don’t know what is. Y’all are happy to sit in a movie theatre and laugh at the failure of Black and Brown people, the same way you are happy to sit in everyday life and watch as we struggle and fall.
The thing about stereotypes is that people inherently see them as negative. They fail to realise that there are both negative and positive stereotypes. Patty, a dark-skinned, loud-mouthed, Black woman with big hooped earrings and a gold chain with her name on it, is most certainly a stereotype. However, there was no need for her to be a negative one. She is as much a Ghostbuster as the other ladies, and instead of the movie going out of its way to frown upon the things society tells us are “wrong” with Black people like it did, (the earrings, her loudness – I noticed a lot of her smaller dialogue pieces went ignored without laughs [from the audience] or reactions from other characters), it should’ve taken the time to celebrate it. The problem arises when you take Black people and things that are typically Black or indicative of Black culture, and instead of celebrating it, or normalising it, you opt to invite your audience and supporting characters to mock and or laugh at these things. To see them as abnormal, weird, or unprofessional.
In your time on the internet lately, you’ve probably seen this picture somewhere with the caption “representation matters”:
It’s banking once again on the idea that this reboot, this all-female Ghostbusters, is an example to young girls. Heroes that our little girls can look up to and whilst I partially agree with that when you talk about representation for little girls, you need to make sure you include ALL girls. Of course you can look up to and idealize anyone, as the lovely brown-skinned beauty in the photo is. But, how much nicer would it be for her and girls darker than her, to also have a woman of colour who looks like them, talks like them and acts like them–big gold hoop earrings and ALL–in a mainstream film and in a prominent role (a–bare with me–protagonist!) to look up to?
When I was a kid/teenager, I idolized Raven Symone. (Just don’t, lol). I watched Sister, Sister, One on One, and that one sitcom with Marques Houston and Omarion that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. I watched Penny Proud, and her unequivocally Black family and friends, take pride in their Blackness. I looked up to Brandy, as the Black Cinderella, and Moesha, rocking the hell out of them damn braids and being bold, Black and beautiful.
You want a Ghostbusters for a new generation? You want a Ghostbusters that’s representative?
Then you better damn well REPRESENT. Don’t push your single Black cast member aside, isolating her from the prestige of the group, whilst idolizing others less worthy (yes I said that, sorry-not-sorry Thor) of the audience you claim to be catering to. Give me representation for the little Latina girl with an accent no one understands, the dark-skinned Black beauty who’s constantly bullied for her dark skin; the Brown girl with the hoop earrings whose peers call her “ghetto” and “ratchet”; the well-spoken ethnic girl who’s deemed by her friends and family as “acting White”; and the Hijabi Muslim girl who’s bullied for wearing her scarf.
I’ll say it again for those in the back: if you want to represent, if you want to create role models and people for young girls to look up to, you NEED to widen your net. REPRESENT us all. In ALL our forms. However we may come.
Leslie Jones, you deserve better. You deserve better than this movie gave you and I hope to God the sequel gives us a helluva lot of peak black Patty. I want BIGGER earrings. I want a gold-encrusted belt buckle with a “P” on it. I want a goddamn knuckle ring, with her full name spelled across it. I want peak Blackness in the film’s ONE Black character and I want it unapologetically.