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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Commodified Feminism Is Gonna Kill Us

I mean think about it for a second.

How else do we get fragrance creators telling us what female empowerment smells like? Or articles telling us that Stranger Things is “not the feminist show of our dreams?” No duh; that’s why it’s of our dreams. And that’s all before we get into how the article slights teenage girls for making irrational decisions about dating and moms for grieving their missing kids, all the while slamming those teens for wearing makeup and yelling at the moms (cash-strapped and frantic as they are) for not.

st_107-108_unit_0754_r_cropThese are the sort of ghosts of philosophies that
are haunting modern feminism discourse. There is something to be said for the fact that narratives frequently dismiss women who don’t fit a standard (attractive) archetype, or how a character who undergoes abuse is doing so because the creator framed it that way. But there’s a difference between Game of Thrones‘ quick trigger on putting any and every woman through sexual assault, and showing that sometimes teens—even teens who have sex on the regular—can be assholes about people having sex.

To flatten all feminist concepts into basic buzzwords—”slut-shaming,” “looking pretty,” “love-triangles”—ignores not just what feels fresh about shows like Stranger Things who feature an array of female characters, but tramples all over the progress that got us here. In another world Stranger Things would’ve been just about the men in Will’s orbit, finding Will by kicking ass. In Stranger Things, it’s about a community.

Shows aren’t perfect; lord knows Stranger Things wasn’t. Ideologies aren’t perfect. Neither are the people that hold them. But holding things you love to dichotomous standards of “feminist” or “not feminist” is a sure fire way to ruin things you love and feminism.

All the ladies, who independent

In the wake of a couple, disastrous pieces written by male journalists about female movie stars—one on whether Renee Zellweger was the same person if she’s changed her face and voice, the other that starts with a lecherous lede on Margot Robbie—there’s been a lot of examination of what profiles of celebrities mean, how we talk about famous women, and why we need to do better. But I’ve also heard a lot of runarounds.

“The piece was bad, but I’m uncomfortable with straight-up banning men from writing about women.”

“What’s the big deal? They make their living with their face, it’s fair game.”

“We write about male actors’ bodies and faces all the time anyway.”

Here’s the thing: We don’t; not nearly in the same way, to the same degree, or placed within the same societal context. And while no one is suggesting that a ban on men writing profiles about women is something that could actually happen, it is worth interrogating what people mean when they suggest it.

They mean that they’re tired of profiles being written about women in a way that no women would ever write it. Not because all writers are special snowflakes whose words are delivered by their individual Pokemon of creativity, but because there are things men just won’t pick up about writing for, and about, women. I can ask any woman in my life and they can tell you the difference between a female character written (or shaped) by a woman, and one shaped by a man. Sometimes it’s the little details—The demented takedown of the “Cool Girl” trope in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn—other times it’s the whole shebang that gives it away (most comic book “empowered” ladies).

Take Harley Quinn: A long, tortured history has lead her to become what many view as one of the most flawed and engaging comic book women ever. She’s strong, she’s grown into and away from an abusive relationship, she’s sexual, she’s fun. But in the hands of male comic book writers and directors she’s merely strong, fun, and—perhaps most prominently—sexy.

“Margot Robbie does have fun with the character. When the film gives her room to breathe she nails Harley’s acrobatic and madcap personality. But the movie refuses to reckon with the clearly abusive nature of her relationship with the Joker (played by Jared Leto), who spends the film trying to save her,” writes Angelica Jade in Nylon. “[Director David] Ayer can’t help gazing at her body and having characters remark on how hot she is…Instead, Suicide Squad is more content to ogle her and have her shoot off one liners that act as paltry representations of agency and humanity. ‘I sleep where I want, when I want, with who I want,’ Harley says to a guard early on in the film before licking the bar as a come-on. It’s a frat boy’s idea of empowerment.”

It’s that difference that men—even well-intentioned ones—can’t often pick up on. It’s the difference between a fictional comic book character being forced to wear skimpy clothes while crime-fighting and Beyonce choosing her next leotard for a performance. Both exist within the male gaze, but only one is able to exist (at least somewhat) independent from it. uh-your-final-warning-you-know-i-give-you-life-you

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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#InternationalWitchesDay

I really enjoyed The Witch. It’s the kind of horror movie that doesn’t go for jump-scares, but creeps under your skin and makes itself at home for days after you’ve seen it. But there’s one thing that bothers me about it.

There’s a lot to pick apart in this “New England folktale,” but one of the key components was Thomasin’s role in the family, and in the greater world. She attracts Caleb’s wandering gaze, her mother’s ire, her father’s goals of “bounding Thomasin out.” It’s possible to read The Witch‘s folktale as one that delivers Thomasin from the evil (or at least mistreatment) of her family to a happier life. The movie distinctly notes that Thomasin is budding into a woman, and while her family isn’t sure how to handle her the witches of the forest are. They see all she can be.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.59.37 PMBut that’s only insofar as the movie allows us into her mindset. At the end when we see her make her choice to “live deliciously” as Black Phillip/the Devil offers her it’s bittersweet and triumphant: Her family has died around her (or whatever happened to the twins), the farm fallen to ruin, and she has no where to go where she won’t be punished for crimes she did not commit. And so she chooses witchcraft, and becomes more happy and free than we’ve ever seen her. It’s a happy ending, if the movie pivots itself around her.

While The Witch seems to take pride in not answering all our questions (sometimes justly so) it also leaves us unclear on where Thomasin’s headspace really is: As her brother’s adulthood starts to observe her own, as her mother takes out her anguish on her, as her father lets her take the fall—does she know? Does she care? As Angelica Basten wrote for Vague Visages “We watch many figures gaze upon Thomasin, but never are we privy to her gaze.” It’s a subtle shift in construction, but it’s something that, as Basten writes, might not be so foreign or extraneous to a female filmmaker.

It’s the sort of thing that’s so unappreciated, almost always unnoticed. It wasn’t until yesterday’s #BitchFlicks chat, when they asked how film could change if schools emphasized women’s film history. More people would start to realize the singularity of our film narratives; how few stories are told from a woman’s gaze and how conditioned we are to see men’s as “normal.”

It’s exciting to see a woman throw off the shackles of “the norm” and accept the freedom offered her, even if that comes in dark, mysterious ways. The Witch is a great example of that. I just really hope that was intentional.

All the White Ladies

It’s that time of year again: When Autumn starts to fall into Winter. Or, for me, the time of year when my schedule fills up with movies to see, reviews to write, and opinions to share. For those who might not know, right now is the part in the yearly movie cycle where the films churned out are in prime placement for consideration for Golden Globes and Oscars. Like I mentioned, that also means there’s a sincere uptick in not only the quality (and/or intensity) of the movies coming out, but a significant uptick in speculation around those movies.

I will be among the first to admit that I place no solace in awards, accolades, or even reviews to a certain extent. Movies will resonate with me in their–and mine–own way; if I liked it then I’ll tell you why, and fuck the haters. But I still know a good talking point when I see one, and unfortunately for me award season is that.

Now we’re past discussions that purely talk about what we thought of the movie, or (my favorite) what gems of wisdom, insight, or genius we can mine from the film. No, now it’s all about the politics of what merits an award that pretty much everyone agrees means nothing but we all desperately care about.

And right now we’re at the time when we’re not just speculating about who will win, we’re speculating about who will even be nominated. It’s that much of a circlejerk. Thus press circuits turn to campaigns, interviews turn to stump speeches, and largely that stumping pays off. Almost any film critic or culture writer could write pages on awards that went to the wrong person who played the game better or had a stronger producer backing them (even though they don’t care and they’re total bullshit anyway).

Which is why the latest Hollywood Reporter cover has me disappointed: they basically took the opportunity to convene a room full of white women to discuss issues that “face women in Hollywood.”

Look at that diversity
Look at that diversity

I get it, ok? It’s not like it was a particularly banner year for women of color in media. But since we’re still in the age of speculation, why can’t we even try to think outside the box? The women in this piece gave great performances, some gave outstanding ones. But pretending like that makes them any more qualified to discuss the issues facing women in Hollywood is total horsecrock.

I would wager that there are issues facing women of color in Hollywood that this piece couldn’t even begin to touch on (nor should it, with a lineup like that), so clearly that’s not what the magazine is really trying to get at. They’re all about playing the game.

If The Hollywood Reporter–one of the biggest trade mags in the biz–can’t see the cyclical nature of these sort of self-fulfilling prophecies that go around and around each year, then I don’t know what to tell you. They clearly know that there’s a game being played, because they’re staking a major amount of real estate in their magazine to get in on the action. And with the amount of white in that room I think it’s blindingly clear where they stand.