I’ve been thinking a lot about representation in the media lately. As I get older, and as I witness the increasingly terrible things happening by the hour in our country and around the planet, I have begun to open my eyes a bit more and think more critically about what’s being presented to me in the media every day. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve just questioned things in general (“But why?” was my favorite question), but witnessing such dramatic changes in the world recently has gotten my wheels turning even more. So I’ve felt compelled to write a couple of posts about representation in popular culture, specifically in the movies and TV I’ve been watching recently.
This past Friday, I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie. I was pretty excited about seeing it, since I was really enamored with the original two films when I was little. I have adored Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (and Paul Feig) for a long time, and was pumped to see an all-female cast reinvent a classic movie I love. And my excitement didn’t wane at all during or after the movie – it was absolutely great. My favorite character was Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a constant source of comic relief who was given to frequent bursts of genius and bouts of odd behavior. She just spoke to the bizarre weirdo in me, and her unabashed strangeness was refreshing; it’s nice to see a character who is so comfortable with herself from beginning to end. In general, the movie was funny, had well-rounded characters, was filled with impressive special effects (which I normally don’t care about), included cameos by all of the previous cast – minus the lovely and much-missed Harold Ramis, of course – and managed to honor the original storyline while building something fun and new. Five stars out of five, would see it again, for sure.
Now, unless you’re totally disconnected from all media, you know that there has been a lot of hullabaloo about this movie. There have been a lot of misogynistic, ignorant, and frankly stupid things said and written about these Ghostbusters all being women, not to mention the barrage of hatred and racism that Leslie Jones has been dealing with, and it’s all so incredibly frustrating. So the Ghostbusters are women instead of men – boo hoo. It truly makes no difference, and I am over the whole “women aren’t funny” nonsense – it’s so early ’90s. These chicks are damn good at what they do, a lot of which is being funny. Each character is nuanced, each has her own interesting backstory. This isn’t the treatment that women have historically gotten in movies, including the original Ghostbusters, where women were largely just props or love interests. We so rarely get to see four women who are the stars of a major motion picture, let alone women who are allowed to be flawed yet unequivocally brilliant. These ladies aren’t concerned with finding the right outfit to wear, and oh my god, it’s so nice to see women who aren’t obsessed with falling in love or finding the right man. Those things are not even a fraction of what I worry about in life, nor are they the things the women around me spend their time fretting over, so it’s nice to see reality actually reflected on the screen.
And as far as Leslie Jones goes, what exactly is so wrong or different about her? There are women of color all over this country. Some have – gasp – even been in movies before! Why the attacks? What do these trolls find so threatening about her? I don’t get it. Her portrayal of Patty Tolan is fantastic – a tough, opinionated, smart woman whose intense working knowledge of the city’s layout is integral to the film. The character holds her own, supports her friends, and has great comic timing, just like her three counterparts. She did a great job. This hatefulness is upsetting, and yet another unfortunate reminder that racism is alive and well, as if we needed another reminder – but that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just flabbergasted by all of the negative nonsense I’m reading, and I’m not going to spend any more time trying to suss it out or bestow more attention on it than is deserved. There was so much hateful bile being spewed before this thing even came out, I doubt a lot of naysayers will even see far enough past their own noses to appreciate the movie for what it is. The film has been made, it is what it is, and if spending my hard-earned money to see it was a political statement, then I’m happy to have done so.
Before I saw the movie, I came across a photo taken by a guy named Zach Heltzel in this Buzzfeed article that really spoke to me. In the picture, there are two little girls dressed as Ghostbusters (they were apparently part of a red carpet performance) who are meeting Kristen Wiig, and the adoration on their faces is palpable. They are seeing themselves in her, that they can also be the badass heroes of the story. That it isn’t about winning the boy or besting your rival, but about really smart ladies working together to kick butt and save New York on their own. It’s a touching photo. We all consume so much media these days, it’s important for kids to see adult versions of themselves sometimes, to see that they have the option to be models and movie stars but to also be scientists and bosses in control of their own lives.
As a little girl, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster, despite being very afraid of ghosts. My sister and cousin and I would jump around on my cousin’s bed and listen to the soundtrack on repeat. We would beg our Granddad to play “Cleanin’ Up the Town” on the piano while we danced around and pretended to bust ghosts. We were three little girls who didn’t care that the Ghostbusters were boys, because we were fortunate enough to grow up in a family that assured us we could do and be anything we wanted, not in spite of, but because we were girls. But that mentality was not one that the general public has ever really shared, and it’s important for everyone to know that they can be ones making change for the greater good. And it still would’ve been nice to see a lady who was actually fighting the good fight with them back then, not just Annie Potts managing their calls from behind a desk or the love interest Sigourney Weaver, who was strong but also a secondary character susceptible to possession (in more than one sense).
Watching the reboot this past Friday, it was exhilarating to see these four intelligent, tenacious, imperfect, hilarious women doing cool stuff. I felt a bit like the adorable little girl staring up at Kristen Wiig in Zach Heltzel’s picture, honestly. Because now, as an adult, I actually get to see myself in the Ghostbusters too, and it’s pretty cool.