By this time now, most moviegoers have seen the new trailer for the reboot, remake, re imaging or whatever this is slated to be. Before we dive further, let’s remember what a movie trailer is supposed to do. A movie trailer is supposed to build buzz about an upcoming movie which will entice a consumer to make an informed decision to go, spend money and time to watch said movie. A movie trailer is also supposed to give us a glimpse at what the story is about and what characters will be in it as well as the roles they will play.
The Ghostbusters trailer did all of that and it was the cause for much conversation on the internet and every last fan picked it apart for many reasons. My colleague Ben gave it a good assessment which some I agreed with. I was mostly on the fence about seeing this movie until I saw the same thing that Ben brought up and that was Leslie Jones’ portrayal of Patty Tolan. Regardless of how else this movie may be problematic, the fact that the trailer does nothing to show that Tolan is on equal footing with the rest of the characters is a huge red flag of the problem Hollywood has with casting Black actors in roles equal to their counterparts.
For those that may have missed it let me break it down simply by paraphrasing what Ben said.
Now depending on who you are, you are either ok with this or you are not. I will be honest and say that I am not 100% comfortable with this. It’s not because of Jones’ casting and even debating who could have been ‘better’ at that role is a separate debate. It’s the simple fact that the trailer alone fails utterly to depict that her character has the same equal footing as her non Black counterparts. What’s really telling is with the debates that have gone on around this topic, I see the same quote that keeps coming back and that’s “well it’s just a trailer, wait for the movie.” Again let’s go back and revisit what I said about trailers are supposed to do. Trailers are the devices used that will help me make my decision in which I will choose to spend my money to see the full movie. It’s like a food sample. When you go to a grocery store and you are offered a small sample of a product that they want you to buy into. If the sample tastes good you are buying into the whole thing. In this case, Tolan’s sample left me not wanting anymore, thus the trailer did the job. For people to argue to just wait for the movie, that’s a NO because unless something greatly changes with the trailer to prove me wrong, you already lost me.
Which then brings me to the second point of ‘if you see it, maybe they will explain more”. That was a problem with Winston Zeddmore’s character which is a problem now. While some are trying to compare Zeddmore to Tolan many either forget or don’t know that Zeddmore actually had a Ph.D. and was also a Marine veteran. Most of this wasn’t really explained in the movie. Worse, when Zeddmore takes the job, the most memorable quote is that, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” Of course in the 80’s, there was no way to Google his degrees. Also it makes it sound like he was just taking the job JUST to get paid. But with stereotypes being the way they are, a transit worker + a Black person = uneducated and some people will assume that unconsciously because it’s been perpetuated in media too frequently.. With the sample being given is of Tolan being a transit worker, I don’t feel like I should have go to a wiki, Google her character or to wait to pay money and watch the movie to hope that somewhere in the course of the story I find out she has a doctorate or maybe even is more qualified than all of her counterparts. Even some people want to say that being a transit worker isn’t so bad. It’s not bad because in some cases a job is just that; it’s respectable, it pays the bills and it’s honest living. But, in the greater scheme of things would have been so wrong with casting one of the other members in that role? Would having a Black woman with a doctorate have been that unbelievable? Audiences shouldn’t be told to ‘wait for a movie’ for something like that to be explained especially in a trailer when it’s made abundantly clear that she is only there because she moves the plot of the movie. Look at the trailer again andstart at the 1:10 mark. Her quote is, “You guys know a lot about this science stuff, but I know New York.” That tells you all that you need to know about her character.
The last point is the one that bothers me the most. Considering the whitewashing of movies such as Exodus: Gods and Kings and Gods of Egypt, Quentin Tarantino’s love affair of a certain word, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, even the Nina Simone issue which has popped up recently, it bothered me that even a few Black women were willing to let this slide. During one debate, one young woman who thought that it was unfair to call out Tolan’s characterization as a stereotype said, “Just let us be in movies, Damn.” In my opinion, the problem with this type of thinking is that it tells others that we are too willing to accept any crumbs that are being thrown our way when it comes to our images in media. On TV, we have Black women who are sidepieces to White men in power, trading a few dollars to tear each other down on reality TV and more. On screen, we are winning Oscars for playing junkies, thugs and slaves, but rarely as leaders, presidents and kings, so sorry if I am unwilling to pay even more money to enable Hollywood to toss about yet another stereotype just because the actor is Black. Hell, if my First Lady can be Harvard educated and hold a doctorate in real life (and one of the very, very few First ladies to do so) why can’t my fictional ones? The ‘just let it be’ attitude worked fine in the early days of film when all we could get are scraps but in today’s world we should be afforded MUCH more especially if the reason why Tolan’s character exists is partially to get me as a person of color into the theater. That attitude is the reason why for every Tom Hanks there is a Michael Clarke Duncan, for every Tim Robbins there is a Morgan Freeman and every Matt Damon there is a Will Smith. We are even seeing this trope play out in our superhero movies. You have seen this meme right?
We are past the point where we should be “happy” just to be in the movies. Black women who know that they are more than subservient should be doubly mad that Tolan is seen in the trailer as a “Stepin Fetchit” stereotype. What makes me sad about some of the attitudes is that many of us rail so hard about whitewashing of other movies that we would be willing to turn a blind eye to something like this.
Some in the Twitter-verse agree:
Is it too late for
#Ghostbusters reshoots where Leslie Jones is working at MTA while she gets her doctorate?
As much as I enjoy the
#ghostbusters trailer…does Leslie Jones have to be the “undereducated street smart public service worker” trope?
Growing up in the not-so-diverse south, role like Leslie Jones‘ in the
#Ghostbusters trailer were what white kids would use to bully us.
To conclude, it’s only a trailer. It’s a trailer that failed to sell me on wanting to see this movie because of an issue with a character. it’s a trailer that shows me that Paul Feig fails to take something as easy as dismissing a steroetype and plays right into by giving potential audiences something we don’t need to keep seeing in 2016. As always, it’s up to us to vote with our dollars which may hopefully send a message to movie makers that abhorrent practices like this has to end. We still shouldn’t have to debate on why it’s wrong for us to be perceived as only having street smarts or under-educated. We shouldn’t have to wait until after we paid money to see a movie TO HOPE for someone to prove us wrong. It doesn’t take but a moment to simply recognize who your audience is and get it right and thus give many of us a reason to come seea movie despite other flaws. If you can’t assuage my fears in your trailer, then you lost me as a customer.