When silence is deafening.

Leslie Jones has had a rough summer. Between the launch of her well-received (if not high-grossing) blockbuster, a renewal of her SNL contract, and her invitation to the 2016 Olympics she’s had a great summer. But she has had a rough summer. And it’s all thanks to trolls.

et_071016_lesliejonesscandalhuluIt started when Ghostbusters was released, and Jones began receiving a near constant barrage of hate-filled messages. When she decided to not hide the racism and sexism she received on social media any longer, it drove her off Twitter for a few days. And then just today her website got hacked, with malicious hackers posting photos of her and her passport/driver’s license, and even her phone number.

On Twitter it’s lead to an outpouring of sympathy, anger, and love for Leslie. But none from her coworkers. And that silence is speaking louder than anything else.

At worst they’re turning their back on a co-worker who’s on the receiving end of a firehose of personal, harmful attacks just for starring in the same movie they did. The most optimistic way to look at it is that, as her friends, they are reaching out in real life and ways more effective and out of sight of the public than social media. Perhaps they’re doing so to not wade into the fray or paint a target on their own backs (or, as high-profile women on social media, simply turn around so people can see it).

But how can that be the best case scenario? How can we continue to accept the barrage of sexism, racism, and hate spewed at women—and in particular women of color—on social media as a “norm”? Why do companies seem to think that this isn’t a flaw only a byproduct?

What luck, for these trolls, that they are able to just represent the status quo and not stand out as a black woman. What luck. What a fucking curse.Lemonade Gif smashing window

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Like Reboots through the hourglass…

Ways Old-Busters and New-Busters diverge to reflect their times:

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  • Villains:
    • In 1984, “big government” and this crazy EPA guy who’s worried about polluting the Earth can’t trust a private business to do their job and protect the people.
    • In 2016, four women run into a sulking, ostracized nerd who feels that something he held dear is corrupted. (Even clumsily drawing the line that if he had a friend growing up like Erin did he might’ve turned out differently.)
  • Joke Structure:
    • 1984’s classic was built on the back of its leads: Aykryod, Murray, Ramis—Second City and SNL alums, who had established themselves as reliable comic mainstays. They embued the movie with a story and a tone, and the jokes followed along, keeping it feeling very natural. It’s not just about placing funny people in a place they could be funny; it was a solid example of storytelling.
    • 2016’s reboot style is more in the style of director Paul Feig: Get four comedians—with plenty of SNL alum themselves—in a room together, give them a story and let the improv zingers fly. It feels more like situational comedy, having them do their thing (at a PG-13 level) in a way that feels a bit more like flat riffing when it’s tried to mash into a good, solid story.
  • Relationships
    • The boys in 1984 had mostly established relationships and it’s almost entirely about how their team rises to the occasion of ghosts. The main “relationship” at play is between Peter and Dana; his relentless pursuit of her almost uncomfortably wedged into the plot as a sort-of obligatory 80s film mainstay.
    • The girls of 2016, however, have no romantic interests, and barely objects of lust. Their story is (unevenly) driven by them coming together not just as a team but as friends.
  • New York meets the Ghostbusters:
    • Back in the day four men saving the city from an onslaught of ghosts brought cheers, magazine covers, fame, and fortune.
    • Now (or at least, now with four women) it brings government conspiracy, downplaying, and undermining.

It will haunt you every night…whatever it is, no one should have to encounter that kind of evil. Except you girls, I think you can handle it.

Through Confirmation Bias Glasses

Everyone’s got it. You form an opinion, you see a pattern, and your brain starts working to confirm it. Most of the time it’s no big deal. But it can be dangerous as soon as you encounter anything that seems to fall in an “other” category.

It’s how police officers overwhelmingly suspect people of color of crimes, even when the cops are 50 percent people of color themselves. It’s how shows like Black-ish or Fresh Off the Boat can become the black or asian (respectively) family show, even when their families are closer to the average American family unit than Modern Family. It’s also how you get reporting like this, from The Mary Sue about the rumors that Sony is passing on the Ghostbusters sequel because the first one lost them money:

In fact, within the body of the article it reports that Sony has made no such decision either way, but weirdly connects that to its other Ghostbusters plans in order to draw conclusions:

Sony won’t comment on whether it has banished a sequel to the netherworld, but perhaps tellingly, a rep says the studio actively is pursuing an animated Ghostbusters feature that could hit theaters in 2019 and an animated TV series,Ghostbusters: Ecto Force, which is eyeing an early 2018 bow. Both are being guided by Reitman, who firmly is back in charge of the Ghostbusters empire via Ghost Corps., a subsidiary with a mandate to expand the brand across platforms. (It was former Sony film chief Amy Pascal who first embraced Feig’s vision for the live-action reboot, not Reitman or Rothman.)

Now, we’ve known about this upcoming Ghostbusters animated film since the end of 2015, and reported on the film finding a director in March of this year. Yet, with the sly phrase “perhaps tellingly,” this article presents its existence, as well as the existence of Ghost Corps. as a direct result of Ghostbusters’ box office. Ghostbusters was also a Ghost Corps. project! And yet, if you were to read this with no other information or context, you’d think that Ivan Reitman had nothing to do with Ghostbusters as a film, and created Ghost Corps. as a response to its failure.

What’s “telling” is the unnecessary dig at Amy Pascal, separating Reitman and Rothman from her as if Reitman didn’t also produce this movie. Why did that need mentioning? Oh right, because we want to make sure that people know that it was the woman in the equation who thought this movie was a good idea, and let’s all remember she’s not working there anymore. What’s frustrating is that a female writer wrote this piece.

Confirmation bias can be a tricky drug to get a handle on. It takes constant checking of what we know to be true versus what we believe to be true. And it causes real damage, from police brutality all the way to showrunners and directors of color who feel afraid to make experiences around their lives (as opposed to white lives) because then it “wouldn’t be universal.”

And the fault can be spread everywhere: Even when critics, for instance, are trying to build momentum around a show lead by women or POC, they often do so at the sake of its universality. It goes from being the critically acclaimed new show on the block to the critically acclaimed girl show coming out. And in that sort of instance, anyone involved in making it who is that characteristic (girl, POC, LGBTQ, etc.) becomes implicated in its success—and more notably its failures.

Amy Pascal greenlit hundreds of movies during her time, will she be held to the fire on Spiderman: HomecomingFuryJames Bond? Probably not.

Too often creators are conflated with the works they’ve done, if they’re anything aside from a straight white guy. Don’t let confirmation bias lead you to misunderstand what they’re doing.

 

 

 

Ghostbusting politics

Ghostbusters is iconic, and now that the new one is out we’ve got a legacy going. I just wish it didn’t have to do its black characters the way it has.

When the 2016 trailer was released crowds went wild (and so did MRAs)—with the exception of one thing: Patty; played by Leslie Jones, the only woman of color on the team; was a MTA official. Whereas the other (white) girls knew science and research, Patty “knew New York.” Why couldn’t a black woman be a scientist, some asked?

And it could’ve been a question that should be reserved until the movie was seen. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was history repeating itself.

When Dan Aykroyd was first trying to get Ghostbusters (1984) off the ground he had written Winston to be a bigger, more prominent character. And when actor Ernie Hudson showed up for shooting, he found a haunting what-if was left largely in place of his character:

I look back on Ghostbusters in a very fun way, but it’s got so many mixed feelings and emotions attached to it. When I originally got the script, the character of Winston was amazing and I thought it would be career-changing. The character came in right at the very beginning of the movie and had an elaborate background: he was an Air Force major something, a demolitions guy. It was great.

Now I’ve heard, over the years, that the part had been written for Eddie Murphy—all of which Ivan Reitman says is not true. But it was a bigger part, and Winston was there all the way through the movie.

…The night before filming begins, however, I get this new script and it was shocking.

The character was gone. Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” So that was pretty devastating.

Call it racism, call it carelessness, call it Hollywood, but it’s an odd thing that both Ghostbusting teams feature characters of color that aren’t allowed to be scientists, or even really distinguished. Ghostbusting knows now gender, and it shouldn’t know any race either.

Bad news: Your “universality” is rife for reboots

Sorry “Ghostbros,” but you can’t have this both ways.

We live in a world where there’s a certain kind of default that’s so ingrained in us it takes some work to root out. That default is white, male, straight, or some combination of these traits. Critics can rant about the dangers of “identity politics” all they want, but the truth is—at least for now—Hollywood sees these as not just safe bets but as the basic. And those outside the scope who aren’t represented, just have to accept it. In fact, we’ve been subconsciously training for this our whole lives; grafting bits of ourselves onto characters who don’t look like us, delighting at the little nuggets that dig deeper.

Which is why the gamergate threats of rebooting female comedies to give us a taste of our own medicine is so off-point. As I’ve written before, stories about women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. are naturally imbued with another layer of storytelling. Historically comedies with mostly female cast members are about characters in specifically gendered situations. “9 to 5”; “Clueless”; “Mean Girls”; “Legally Blonde” all exist because the protagonists are female, and dealing comedically with how that affects their world. You can lift these stories and gender-swap them (You could argue that’s what “Horrible Bosses” did with Charlie Day’s storyline) but it would remove the foundation of the gender dynamics from the story.

Male stories, on the other hand, not so much. The stories are built to be “universal” even if they aren’t actually trying to represent anyone. There’s no gendered byproduct to an all-male ghostbusting team. It’s inherently designed not to be; it’s just the default.

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So as “Ghostbusters” (2016) continues to rake in cash and goodwill, let some men stew in threats about gender-flipping their own reboots. Frankly I’d love to see you try. By design it won’t be as easy—though, they’ll probably have an easier time with studio heads.

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