My nine year old niece wants to be a scientist when she grows up. For holidays and birthdays she begs for science kits and star wars stuff (because she dreams of being a scientist in SPACE). She does experiments and uses her telescope every night she can.
She’s also started getting into older movies about scientists and when she heard that Ghostbusters would be coming out with the core four characters as ladies, she was so excited because she would get to see a super cute Black woman onscreen as a scientist with Leslie Jones’ casting.
Except…that’s not what we’re getting, is it? At least, not from the first trailer…
Halfway through the trailer, the brilliance of the white characters is reinforced as they are introduced as scientists, engineers, quantum physicists. Leslie Jones character is explicitly Othered and different from the other three women because they’re smart and science-y and she —
Has a car and knows how to get around New York.
What message though, does that send to little Black girls (and Black women) when they see this trailer? That white women are so smart and so cool and we black women exist to drive them around and be sassy. Yes, Leslie Jones’ character appears to be a walking, talking stereotype of Black womanhood and it’s not pretty.
I know, I know, this is just a first trailer and there are many more to come, but here’s the thing: this movie is already ruined for me and it would absolutely shake my niblet’s worldview.
She already has heard from boys in her class that she shouldn’t like the things she likes because she’s a girl (as if her gender renders her incapable of understanding how the Force works or keeps her from producing experiments with chemistry sets) and because she’s black.
She shouldn’t have to go to a movie that’s supposed to be about girl power and women working together to see the (mostly likely) only character that looks like her stuck in what’s essentially a servile role.
The trailer is incredibly explicit about delivering this message of imbalance.
Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates is a paranormal expert and author. Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is Yates’ co-author and a master of quantum physics. Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann is a nuclear engineer.
And Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan? She’s a subway worker.
The trailer has Yates talking about her friends’ abilities as it shows Gilbert’s equations and Holtzmann’s techy traps. They’re dorks and they’re weird, but they’re also shown as brilliant.
And then, the trailer cuts to Leslie Jones gushing all over these white ladies.
No joke, she literally goes, “You guys are really smart about this science stuff, but I know New York” while beaming in awe of their little nerdy brains.
And she can borrow a car from her uncle so that the team can have transportation.
Seriously, that‘s what Black girls and women in fields/looking to enter STEM fields get to look forward to? Being three white ladies’ glorified chauffeur and the certified Sassy Black Friend?
Um… That’s not cool. At all.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a subway worker or not being book smart or any of the things that Leslie Jones’ character comes across as in this trailer.
But there is something wrong with how Black women are always the help in things like this, they’re always framed as taking up space and as less intelligent and as physically violent.
(See the “funny” exorcism scene in the trailer where they have her continue to slap McCarthy’s character after the ghost is expelled while shouting.)
The trailer doesn’t frame Patty as just as awesome as her new friends.
It frames her as less than them.
The trailer does this.
How can I be excited for the movie as a Black woman?
You can talk about nostalgia all you want, but it wasn’t right that the original idea for Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore to be the smartest guy on the team got scrapped.
It’s not right that in appealing to nerdery’s hard on for nostalgia, that the film doesn’t flip the script further on the original and make Patty one of the main scientists rather than a new believer in the paranormal.
And it’s not right that Black women and girls are once again forced to kind of choose between supporting representation of their gender or complaining about the mediocre representation for their race.
I’ve already seen some popular white ladies in nerdery gushing over the Ghostbusters trailer like “oh if you hate it, don’t talk to me” without any idea of how it feels to see the one person that looks like you reduced to a serving, sassy role. To them, it doesn’t matter because they’re represented or because Kate McKinnon licks a gun and is kind of sexy.
They didn’t have that feeling of dread, that “oh god she’s not with the main scientists” moment like we did, where we knew that they were going to make her the Other. And for a lot of women talking up this film and talking about it uncritically in terms of “this is my childhood”, they don’t care.
This is White Feminism (TM), something that basically only cares that white women are in roles once held by men. Fuck everyone else and how they’re represented.
The first Ghostbusters trailer is really only good if you ignore the relatively explicit message in it, that white women can do whatever they want while Black women exist to drive them around and prop up their egos.
Maybe the movie will be better, but I know that this is one movie about scientists that I’m not letting my niblet see.
ETA: Check out the difference between Patty’s tag on tumblr and Jillian’s for an example of well… why fandom sucks when it comes to stanning for Black women, but also how the imbalance from the trailer carries over.