First and foremost: SQUEEEEEE. Yes, I’m fangirling this movie hard. The queerness and the women and the fact that men are thoroughly secondary all make my shriveled heart sing. The action sequences give me ALL the feels of EVERYTHING I DON’T USUALLY GET. (Especially the super-queer character having the awesome action scene. I love Furiosa, and Rey, and Ripley, don’t get me wrong, but none of them code particularly queer. Well, okay, Vasquez. But she dies.)
When I came out of the theater the first time, I told my wife, “This movie is a gift to my inner 16-year-old, who had to pretend to overlook all the sexist bullshit in the 1984 movie in order to enjoy it. The same way The Force Awakens was a gift to my inner 8-year-old.” My inner 16-year-old is still in tears of gratitude every time I see the movie.
WARNING: SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT.
I love Patty, and I think Leslie Jones has some of the best comic timing of the whole cast. (There are some improvisational clunkers throughout the movie, things I really wonder why they got left in, but Jones doesn’t throw any of them.) I think I’d really like Patty in person (I’m not sure about the others; they’re nice and all, and/or hot, but I’m not sure they and I would hit it off).
That said, I am a white woman, and therefore am not hauling up against the black stereotypes that Patty embodies. I am aware, thanks to the excellent writing and discussion of people like NK Jemisin and the Nerds of Prey, of many of the problematics of the character of Patty.
The most glaring problem is that Patty is, like Winston Zeddemore in the 1984 version, portrayed as an outsider, a non-scientist, who joins for whatever reason the script decides to give them. Patty has to fast-talk and bribe her way into the Ghostbusters (“Come on, you need Patty, Patty comes with benefits”), she “knows the city,” she’s self-educated, she’s NOT A SCIENTIST.
Those of you who have read about Winston in the original movie know that in the first script that Ernie Hudson saw when he accepted the role, Winston was a super-scientist veteran, and all of that was scrubbed out by the time filming began, in a giant bait-and-switch.
Leslie Jones has given us no indication that this happened with Patty. Jones has a history of playing black stereotypes as a method of making her way in Hollywood, including during her time on Saturday Night Live. Still, this excellent article in Ebony discusses the mechanisms of colorism and racism in Hollywood and how they keep dark-skinned black women like Jones caught in playing these roles tailored for the white gaze.
The whole thing pisses me off because it would have been so simple to fix. I don’t write film scripts, and I could have fixed it in maybe three lines of dialogue, e.g.:
PATTY: “Okay, y’all know about the current science, but I’ve got a science background too and I want to join because you three and your research are the most intellectually stimulating things I’ve run into since they threw me out of grad school.”
ABBY: “Oh my god! They threw you out of grad school?”
PATTY: “Baby, it was twenty years ago and who the hell was going to give someone who looks like me a (physics/chemistry/biology) PhD?”
(I will note that I was in grad school 20 years ago in biology. My department generally accepted one African-American student per class, and then forced every African-American student out of the PhD program without the doctorate. I know of the happenings over a period of about a decade. I don’t know if they’ve graduated an African-American student with a PhD YET.)
Anyway. I will reread How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things, take a deep breath, and love the parts of the movie that I really really love. And hope that there is a sequel, where they can expand on Patty’s character the way the sequel to the 1984 movie helped expand Winston. In the meantime, the Power of Patty compels ME to love her and want better for her.
Oh my gods you guys, there wasn’t a SINGLE FAT JOKE IN THE ENTIRE DAMN MOVIE. Do you have any idea how happy that made me? How much I want to hug Melissa McCarthy for not doing any self-denigrating humor? How much I LOVED Abby’s one line, “We just gave a ghost a nuke, I guess we better run,” and the fact that when they reached their destination, NO ONE was out of breath? NOT EVEN ABBY?
I adore Abby. Abby is my Patronus. She’s the best kind of Mulder, the one who wants to believe and has poured her whole life into that belief, and FINALLY has proof.
Also, I love her angry voice. And the fact that she does an amazing job with the sequence where she’s possessed. (Which Hemsworth apparently couldn’t even be arsed to attempt.) And the fact that, given that Rowan doesn’t seem to be enhancing her strength with any onscreen FX (unlike with the jump and the midair planking), she’s probably actually strong enough to pick up Holtzmann singlehanded and carry her to drop her out a window, at least on an adrenaline rush.
Erin is our Every-aca-woman. The portrayal of academia as it impacts a white woman in a STEM field is PERFECT. Just enough to tell us everything we need to know, not too much to make the scenes drag.
“More prestigious than Princeton?” Yes, and you just know that some woman in that department dragged Dude’s research at some point.
Kristen Wiig also does a beautiful job of taking Erin from her stilted, awkward, painful pursuit of tenure to the angry, competent scientist who will, in fact, if challenged to prove herself, release a ghost into some asshole’s face because GODDAMMIT SHE’S TIRED OF BEING TOLD IT’S ALL IN HER HEAD.
For a really insightful analysis of academia in the Ghostbusters, see Is It a Race Thing or a Lady Thing?
I feel like everyone has said everything that really needs to be said about Holtzmann. She builds dangerous things, she’s queer, she’s resistant to patriarchy, she’s everything we ever needed wrapped up in a tiny blonde eccentric-geek-soft-butch package. Because of Holtzmann, there are nearly 400 fics, to date, on the Ghostbusters (2016) tag on Archive of Our Own less than a month after the film was released. (Most of it is Holtzbert, because how can you not react to all the amazing flirtation there?) Holtzmann is a huge question mark: she’s the only one we get nearly nothing about, except for the credits scene with her mentor, Rebecca Gorin (who, I am not ashamed to say, made me squee at a wavelength that only cats and lesbians can hear when she walked onscreen). She’s the one who nearly everyone wants to write about, she’s the one who is a blank slate to write on, she’s the one nearly everyone is gay for, and she’s the one seducing her fellow Ghostbusters (especially Erin) all over fandom. Everyone can project whatever they want onto her.
Holtzmann is the character I’ve been longing for forever, the queer woman in an SF&F movie who kicks ass and doesn’t die. I hope in any sequel, they can make her queerness canon and text, instead of playing all the subtext and director’s cheerful assurances.
Every guy in this movie is an obstacle for the Ghostbusters to overcome. Every. Guy.
Dr. Filmore: Is the Patriarchal Academic Gatekeeper that is introducing more and more ridiculous bureaucratic hoops for Erin to jump through, and who finally slams the gate in her face.
Dean of the Higgins Institute: Another Patriarchal Academic Gatekeeper, but one with less gravitas and more of the sort of flippant asshole treatment of women that crawls out of the Internet. Slams the gate in Abby’s face like a teenage boy drunk on power.
Bennie: Constant low-grade obstacular annoyance. Abby, particularly, depends on him for a relatively minor housekeeping item (food) that is easy to perform (delivery, particularly after they MOVE TO THE SECOND FLOOR OVER THE RESTAURANT), but he can’t be arsed to move himself to perform that task with more speed than he feels like.
The Tour Guide: Nope, not gonna even unlock the door for you, not gonna even hand you the keys, just gonna throw them on the ground and you can pick them up yourselves.
Ed Mulgrave: Okay, yes, he’s less of an obstacle than others — he provides the way the Ghostbusters can get their first proof. Still, wow, he’s an asshole to his employees. Also, I would argue that there’s a certain amount of queer coding to his clothing and mannerisms. No, we have no proof, but there’s something subversive — in his assholery and zaniness — going on there that allows him to be the side-channel around Patriarchy’s Gates.
Manager of the Concert Venue: Speaking about queer-coded white dudes. Still refers to the Ghostbusters as “girls.”
Martin Heiss: I don’t even need to really discuss this, except can I say how fabulously cathartic it was to see Bill Murray defenestrated? I don’t like the actor, I hate Peter Venkmann, and Heiss was pretty much everything about the Amazing Randi that I loathe.
Mayor Bradley and Agents Hawkins and Rorke: So we have the Godfather and the Men in Black throwing monkeywrenches into the Ghostbusters’ research and trying to make the world think that they’re hoaxers, even moreso than Heiss.
(Jennifer Lynch: We wouldn’t have patriarchal gatekeepers without having at least a token collusive woman. Notice that she’s the actual thinker of the Mayor’s office, and the mouthpiece through which he conveys any support, secretly. He cannot be arsed to call in the Ghostbusters to thank them himself — he only talks to them when they need to be shut down.)
The Cabbie: Yeah, looking at you, Dan Aykroyd. Need to stop Erin from getting somewhere easily? Have a cabbie spout “entertaining” lines at you and then abandon you during the apocalypse. Fortunately, Erin was wearing her tennis shoes.
Rowan: Oh, yeah, our antagonist. Him. He was creepy and anti-everyone, but super misogynist when given the opportunity. He recognizes that Abby is the motive force behind the group, and without Holtzmann, they won’t have the equipment to take him on. He goes straight for their HQ and tries to take them out, then absconds with Kevin because he’s handy, and at the end, tries to take Abby with him out of revenge. Rowan crawled straight out of Reddit, just like Darth Emo from The Force Awakens and Immortan Joe from Fury Road. He’s just from a different subreddit.
Kevin: Fandom keeps wanting to make this guy some sort of innocent child-like individual. Aw, he can’t figure out the phones. Nah. The luggage in a pile next to his desk is the key here: he just doesn’t care enough to do the job he’s being paid for. He won’t invest the emotional labor to be attentive, answer the phone, listen to his bosses.
He refuses to acknowledge, at first, that the phone is ringing and that it’s his job to answer it. (He just doesn’t seem to hear it, much less acknowledge that it exists on his desk. He remembers that there’s a phone in the fish tank, though — that he can’t reach.) When pushed to answer the phone, he immediately hangs up on the caller. (He’s “not into that conversation.” Probably because the person is upset and would require some listening. How many of us have been receptionists who “aren’t into” those conversations?) He has to be asked who was on the phone. The women have to walk him through every step of the way, repeatedly. He refuses to think through to the logical conclusion the fact that he has to take messages and let the women know that, for instance, they have a visitor waiting.
See ref: all the men (and some women) who, for instance, “just don’t see” mess that needs cleaning. They don’t exert themselves to do that emotional labor in terms of maintaining their own environment.
Notice that when he’s interested, he’s willing to put in the emotional labor to actually do something. He can dress and groom himself, perform extensive workout routines, and ride a motorcycle, after all. He suddenly becomes competent enough to find an outfit and acquire a motorcycle (tricked out in the logo and with the ECTO-2 license plate — he claims to “borrow” it, but someone had to sit at DMV and get that license plate) when he wants to join the Ghostbusters because he thinks it’s cool. And then at the end of the movie, he attempts to take credit for saving the city. He includes himself as a Ghostbuster, horning in on the women’s accomplishments without a blink of conscience.
Kevin is not (particularly) stupid: he’s a typical cishet white man with the volume turned up to showcase the lack of emotional labor and the imposition of himself on the women in all the normal ways that men do, with all the casual narcissicism that cishet white men are taught to spew around themselves.
Holy crap, I love this movie. Even with all its problems.
Safety lights are for dudes.