Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters recently dropped a new trailer that introduces its plot and main characters. Wiig, McCarthy, and McKinnon—who are all white women—play a particle physicist, a paranormal scientist, and a “brilliant engineer,” respectively. But Jones, who is black, plays an MTA employee.
While a comedy-action blockbuster starring four women is a feminist triumph, there's controversy over the fact that the only main character of color isn't a scientist. Similarly, the original 1984 film also had one minority, and he wasn’t a scientist, either—he just answered a wanted ad.
But it’s not 1984 anymore, and today's audiences are demanding diverse, nuanced representations of marginalized groups.
The 2016 Ghostbusters trailer includes what some are calling tired stereotypes of black women, with Jones playing someone with “street smarts.” Her first line in the trailer is: “You guys are really smart about this science stuff, but I know New York, and I can borrow a car from my uncle.”
Others have countered that people should hold their judgment until the actual film debuts, and that there’s nothing wrong with being an MTA worker, but critics are asking: Why not try something new? Why wasn't Jones cast as a scientist, or is there a limit to how many stereotypes one film can challenge?
NTRSCTN asked four black comedians in New York City for their thoughts on the new trailer, Jones’ role, and minority representation in media.
- Langston Belton is an actor and member of the Peoples Improv Theater. He is also a cast member in Puffs, a parody of the Harry Potter universe.
- Jonathan Braylock is an actor and member of the Upright Citizens Brigade. He also co-hosts the podcast, Black Men Can't Jump (in Hollywood).
- Akilah Hughes is a comedian, YouTuber, writer, and Fusion producer.
- Monique Moses is an actor, choreographer, and member of the Upright Citizens Brigade. She is also part of North Coast, a hip-hop improv group.
NTRSCTN: What are your initial reactions to the trailer?
Moses: We have three white scientists and one black, blue-collar worker in the OG film, and we have this similarity in the reboot. I'm sure each actress will have additional similarities to their OG counterparts, but of course, will bring something different to the table, too. If this casting weren't about paying homage to the original, then we could (or should) have had a Latina Egon or an Asian Venkman (which would've been amazing, I have to say).
Hughes: I think the trailer for Ghostbusters was kind of a letdown. And it sucks that people are crapping on it. Because it is great that women are in the spotlight of this legendary franchise, [but] that's not why it's a letdown. It's a letdown because once again, Leslie Jones is the uneducated, stereotypically loud, and brash character, juxtaposed with poised and intelligent white women. It's fodder for white school kids to make fun of the black kids. It feels like a minstrel show.
Braylock: Ultimately, I am very happy and excited about the Ghostbusters reboot because it has four female leads in a major blockbuster action comedy, and that is awesome. That being said, Leslie Jones' character seems to play into the typical "white people are smart, black people are street smart" stereotypes that [are] pretty disappointing. The trailer was like: You're an amazing scientist, you're an amazing scientist, you're an amazing scientist and you...know New York well!
Does Leslie’s role seem stereotypical?
Belton: It certainly is not sh*tty, and it really is not stereotypical, but it is “lesser than.” It is the idea that the black woman is the same loud, violent, boisterous, and by comparison, less intelligent than her scientists counterparts. Yes, she is there to provide a different voice than the other three ladies, but her extent of reason for being there is “knowing” New York as an MTA worker. It is by no means as large a grievance as there have been in some other films.
Moses: We haven't even seen the movie yet! We don't know. She may be the most integral part of the team, with knowledge that trumps degrees and kicks serious ass! But I get it, sometimes it's not just about the character, it's about the color.
Braylock: I'm not sure if Leslie Jones role is stereotypical because we've only seen a trailer, but from the two minutes I've seen, it seems to fall into a certain stereotype. But I also know that it will play to Leslie's strengths, and if there were more, diverse representation in Hollywood, it would probably be a non-issue. But since the only black female comedians who star in movies are still Wanda Sykes, Whoopi Goldberg, and now Leslie Jones, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Is it better for actors of color to accept stereotypical roles than have no roles at all?
Moses: Not seeing representations of black women in higher-status positions is a problem, but I refuse to discredit this one blue-collar voice as something without merit … Does it really matter if she works for MTA or NASA? As long as she's not a two-dimensional character, I think little girls of all races can look up to her as they do to the women of Shondaland just as equally.
Hughes: I don't know if some role is better than no role. And it sucks to even have to address that, frankly. It's 2016, not 1956; why is it that we have to settle for roles that demean our entire race just to be allowed in a blockbuster film? If I'm starving and someone offers me a spoonful of sh*t, I shouldn't have to say thank you.
Braylock: Now in 2016, is a stereotypical role better than no role? It honestly depends, but you do have to start somewhere, and I would rather have some representation than no representation. I definitely agree that having a non-scientist is key [in the film], and that Leslie's role plays to Leslie's strengths. But it is unfortunate this plays into a stereotype that white people are "smart" and black people are "street smart." I mean it has less to do with this movie and more to do with the lack of representation as a whole, but since this movie is a bit of a "social progressively aware film," it would've been nice to have Leslie smart in something else other than "I know New York."
Belton: On the one hand, yes. At the end of the day, I want to see a more diverse representation of the world we live in and to be onscreen at all is pretty incredible. But I also want to see them elevated beyond playing the type of derivative, one-dimensional, and insulting roles that seem to be the status quo in too many situations. I also want to see diversity mean more than black and white. There are so many other races that are underrepresented.