Often when I’m driving here and there and a Taylor Swift song pops up on the radio (which, let’s face it, is often), I begin cataloguing all the visual gaffes that accompany her songs. The latest is the whitewashed “Africa” of her music video for “Wildest Dreams,” defended vigorously, and thereby made worse, by the video’s director on Twitter.
I ponder to myself: “Couldn’t that be a job? Just to review media before it gets released and let people know when they’re committing any number of egregious, indefensible faux pas that capitalize on the worst aspects of human history/present reality—colonialism, slavery, racism, sexism, etc.? You review the video concept and go, first things first, that sounds so great, but, and I’m just brainstorming here, maybe do a serious rethink on the whitewashing of whole continents.”
It can never be said that I don’t have the entrepreneurial instinct. But how strong is it? Perhaps if the most basic cultural sensitivity were at all necessary to drive a profit in the entertainment industry, then the position would have already given way to a business plan.
And so, inevitably, I give up on the idea. But the question remains: really?
Yesterday morning I woke up to the first trailer for the new, all-women Ghostbusters. I have only the vaguest memory of the original, as with all late 80s-90s guy stuff that my older brothers consumed. There was a giant marshmallow, and slime.
But whether you actually care about Ghostbusters as kitsch fantasy nostalgia or not, the reboot has accrued additional significance for its challenge to the all-male gaming/fantasy/scifi expectations that roam free in the drudges of Internet comment sections.
The movie’s all-women cast also became the butt of Ricky Gervais’s depressing joke about the pay gap at the 2016 Golden Globes:
“All-female remakes are the big thing. There’s a female remake of Ghostbusters. There’s going to be a female remake of Ocean’s 11. And this is brilliant for the studios because they get guaranteed box office results and they don’t have to spend too much money on the cast.”
So, personal investments aside, I was eager to see the trailer. As I progressed through the 2:38, however, I realized I couldn’t feel good about it, no matter how much I liked the revamped theme song.
Right up front, Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy) introduces us to the team:
Holtzman, You’re a brilliant engineer!
Erin, No one’s better at quantum physics than you!
Alright ladies! STEM careers!
And what of the remaining member of the team, played by Leslie Jones?
We don’t get her name. She appears sitting by herself, and then petitioning her usefulness to the other three women.
She introduces herself by conceding that she is not a scientist like the other women, but knows New York City really well. She also promises the women a car, which Yates sneers at in a joke about Cadillacs.
I had to look up her name on the movie’s Instagram account:
Meet Patty Tolan. Ghost Tracker, Municipal Historian, Metaphysical Commando.
A little more generous, and perhaps (haha, the naïve insertion of hope) the trailer misleads us on the tokenism of Tolan’s characterization in the actual film.
Either way, the movie’s trailer still has the problem of positioning its only protagonist of color as a stranger to the group, someone to be regarded with suspicion and to be made the punch line of the joke.
An important distinction for the new “mainstream feminism”:
“All-female” does not automatically equate to “feminist improvement of the human condition.”
In order for feminism to succeed in the twenty-first century, it must shed its first-wave impulse to celebrate only upper/middle-class white women’s equality, be it material or representational. It must, instead, acknowledge the matrices of inequality that comprise said human condition.
Back to my imaginary new job:
“First things first, great take on the theme song. I’ve been watching the trailer over and over just to bop my head to it. Now, as far as notes, I just have one, and it’s what I’ll call a ‘little-big thing.’ Maybe avoid the horrifying tokenism that will completely undo any feminist potential of the film.”
In conclusion, here is a better, more entertaining version of intersectional feminism with pizza.