The New ‘Ghostbusters’ Isn’t As Progressive As You Think
New movie, same black stereotypes
The first trailer for the all-female, Paul Fieg-directed Ghostbusters reboot hit the internet today, and predictably, it has been lavished with praise. But it’s worth tempering some of that excitement, because for all of the movie’s paradigm shifting with a strong female ghostbusting crew, it still falls victim to some lazy and bad casting techniques with its treatment of the movie’s sole black character.
In the movie, you have three badass lady scientists and…a transit worker. The characters played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon—all white, mind you—are scientists with backgrounds in the paranormal and years of experience. Leslie Jones, the only black character of the bunch, is left to play the sassy, streetwise transit worker. What should have been a moment of unflinching praise has now been undermined by an awkward caveat.
A brief check of the Twitter reaction to the trailer shows that it was largely positive, but there was a small corner talking about the movie’s big casting flaw with Jones’ role:
This is so backwards. Winston Zeddemore had a PhD in the 80s, but Black woman scientist is too radical for the imagination of a ghost movie
— jamilah lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) March 3, 2016
ghostbusters *should* have and *could* have given girls of *all* colors a badass scientist role model
— eggs jennedict (@jennschiffer) March 3, 2016
It's 20FUCKING16 can a Black woman be in a movie without screaming and bitchslapping, and being dumber than her white peers? #Ghostbusters
— Akilah Hughes (@AkilahObviously) March 3, 2016
Why is #Ghostbusters so committed to the tradition of making the black character like "I don't get science. Just along for the crazy ride!"
— Helly (@HellyS) March 3, 2016
Is it too late for #Ghostbusters reshoots where Leslie Jones is working at MTA while she gets her doctorate?
— Donna Dickens (@MildlyAmused) March 3, 2016
When you look at it that way, the movie only goes half way. It’s only dipping its toes in the water of Hollywood-related identity politics. The filmmakers can go as far as to make the crew all women, but thinking of the one black character as a scientist was somehow too inconceivable. While one movie can’t fix all of Hollywood’s issues, the minds behind the reboot are clearly sending out an overt message about representation with the all-girl cast. Would have been so hard to make the token character a little less conspicuous? (Spoiler: nope.) So yes, the excitement over the new Ghostbusters is understandable–it’s always good to see a traditionally-male franchise fronted by all women–but it’s also still worth remembering that this is only part of a much bigger picture.