When the first teaser for the film debuted earlier this month there was widespread criticism of the fact that the lone African-American ghostbuster – played by “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones – is a blue-collar worker for the New York City transit agency, while the other three, played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon, were all scientists.
Jones struck back at critics of the choice on social media. “Why can’t a regular person be a ghostbuster. Im confused. And why can’t i be the one who plays them i am a performer. Just go see the movie!” she tweeted. “Regular People save the world everyday so if I’m the sterotype!! Then so be it!! We walk among Heroes and take them for granted.”
Later, she added: “ITS NOT A MAN, WOMAN, RACE, CLASS THANG!! ITS A GHOSTBUSTER THANG!! AND AS FAR AS IM CONCERNED WE ALL GHOSTBUSTERS!! STAND TALL!!” She also shared a supportive message from a real life NYC transit worker who applauded her representation in the upcoming film.
But when the backlash refused to died down, Jones – who has polarized audiences with some of her politically incorrect routines on “SNL” in the past – floated the idea of quitting Twitter entirely, which prompted a defense from the new “Ghostbusters” film’s director Paul Feig.
“Don’t leave us, @Lesdoggg. You are a goddess & one of the warmest funniest forces of nature I know. F**k the haters,” he tweeted. “And haters, attack me all you want but when you attack and insult my cast, you’ve crossed the line. Grow up and leave my cast alone.”
While African-American comedian Cyrus McQueen considers Jones an “amazing” talent and was thrilled to see her become a part of such an iconic franchise, he told MSNBC on Wednesday that the trailer left him with a “sinking feeling down in the pit of my stomach.”
“Although this is an ensemble, it seemed to me that a black actress was again boxed into the role of sassy sidekick, best friend, the tough talking blue collar worker, there only to provide some comedic sass, some ‘edge,’ yet in no way challenge the flawed and pre-existing views of African-American women,” he said.
And while McQueen concedes that the film is a comedy and an absurd one to boot, it’s still problematic how often black actors are relegated to certain types of roles in the genre.
“I’ll never forget, in my very first scene in my very first improv [comedy] class, my scene partner ‘pimped’ me into being a man that was mugging him. And so, I feel when it comes to this new ‘Ghostbusters,’ Leslie Jones was pimped into being the predictable yet palatable urban black sidekick. Again, I love her and I love that they gave her this opportunity. I’m not hating the player, to again reference the world of improv, I’m hating the game.’”
in the original films. Zeddemore was also an average Joe who winds up teaming up with an existing trio of paranormal investigators, played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Raimis. Some have suggested that the conception of Jones’ character is meant to be corollary to the role of the first and so far only black Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore,
Veteran actor Ernie Hudson, who played Zeddemore in the 1984 original and its 1989 sequel, has been largely sanguine about his part in the series, which was originally a much larger one written for comedian Eddie Murphy. But when the film marked its 30th anniversary in 2014, he expressed more ambiguity about how his role was handled.
“Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page eight, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, ‘If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say,’” he told Entertainment Weekly at the time. “The next morning, I rush to the set and plead my case. And [the director] basically says, ‘The studio felt that they had Bill Murray, so they wanted to give him more stuff to do.’ I go, ‘Okay, I understand that, but can I even be there when they’re established?’ And of course, he said no, there’s nothing to do about it. It was kind of awkward, and it became sort of the elephant in the room.”
All these years later, the new “Ghostbusters” is arriving in a cultural climate that is far more aware and sensitive to the marginalization of characters of color. Ever since this reboot was announced there has been grumbling within the fan base about the decision to recast the series with women, even though all of the original stars have given the new film their blessing. Audiences won’t get a chance to judge the film for themselves until this summer, and some of Jones’ fans have embraced a wait-and-see approach for now.
“I’m not saying that she should constantly defend herself, but she can use the platform to promote her art, and have honest and open dialogue with people that follow her and some folks that have issues with her role,” BET associate editor Taj Rani told MSNBC on Wednesday. ”As an industry veteran she knows that folks won’t like or love everything that she does, but she is important to the representation of black women in comedy and that’s something that shouldn’t go over anyone’s head. And because of that we want her voice and talent onscreen, behind the scenes and on social media.”
Meanwhile, the international version of the trailer for the film includes a direct reference to the race issue. When Jones’ character attempts to crowd surf in one scene and the audience allows her to crash land on the floor, she quips: “I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell.”