Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Parallel tokenism

If you look up the term "tokenism" in the dictionary, there's a picture of Ernie Hudson next to it.

This is to take nothing away from the greatness of the comedy classic Ghostbusters, in which Hudson's Winston Zeddmore actually comes off rather well. But isn't he kind of the first character you think of when you think of adding a token representative of another race to a cast? And isn't tokenism disproportionately, inevitably, a term applied to the addition of a black person in an otherwise white cast?

If so, Paul Feig is taking more lessons from the original Ghostbusters than we were anticipating.

The internet buzzed on Tuesday with the finally sort-of official announcement of the cast for Feig's Ghostbusters reboot, whose pictures were tweeted out by Feig. There should be a certain familiarity to these faces to anyone who saw the original: three are white, and one is black.

Tokenism is alive and well in 2015, ladies and gentlemen.

Casting is supposed to be race blind in this day and age, isn't it? Even some of the cinema's most iconic characters are being considered for actors whose race is not the same as the iconic character's original race. Most people thought Marvel blew it when they failed to cast Captain America as someone who better represented what America looks like today, though that has ultimately turned out alright. And I think people will shit if the next James Bond is not black.

So did the new Ghostbusters -- allegedly so progressive by starring four women -- really have to be three white chicks and a black chick? Couldn't one of the chicks at least have been Latino?

It's not my only complaint about the casting of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. (Note that I myself further the perniciousness of tokenism in the semantics of the previous sentence, listing Jones last, though I would argue I am listing them in order from most to least famous. I actually had to look up Jones, but not McKinnon, since I stopped watching Saturday Night Live a half season after McKinnon started, and a whole season before Jones did. Though that picture above is careful not to picture Jones last, and you can bet that was intentional.)

Where was I? I also complain about the fact that Melissa McCarthy is on a major losing streak (and I'm not sure if she's ever been as funny as the popular perception of how funny she is), and that McKinnon is basically a poor man's Wiig (she was clearly meant to fill the spot vacated by Wiig on SNL, as the pretty girl willing to humiliate herself by setting aside her vanity). So I'm already worried about one cast member being overrated and two others being too similar to each other. Jones is the one I don't know at all, as I have not seen even a second of her work. (Not true: IMDB tells me I have seen her in both Lottery Ticket and Wrongfully Accused.)

I just think in this day and age, there are only two possible explanations for a choice that clearly has such a potential to invite derision:

1) They are serious about it being a reboot, mirroring even such details as it being the "black Ghostbuster" who joins the team late, or

2) These really are supposed to be the daughters of the original Ghostbusters.

That was a theory that was tossed around but supposedly proven incorrect in the end, maybe only because someone at Sony clarified that it was a reboot, not a sequel. If these are indeed the daughters of the original Ghostbusters, that's a sequel under the traditional definition of the word, right? Though that traditional definition does tend to get blurred in our current climate, where the line between a reboot and a sequel is a fine one indeed.

But think about it. You've got four characters who are the same races as the original foursome, with ages that are not only similar to each other, but around the right age to have been born just after the events of the original movie (or movies, if you count Ghostbusters 2).

If this is true, of course, you'd have to ask yourself which of the three white guys had which daughters.

McCarthy would be the easy one, I guess. She's got a few extra pounds on her, and so does Dan Aykroyd these days. He's the most likely of the original cast to show up in a cameo, so him being her dad seems to make sense.

But then you've got to decide between Pete Venkman and Egon Spengler for the parentage of the other two. One would need to play a wiseass to show her kinship to Venkman, while the other would have to play a nerdy eccentric to come across as Spengler's girl. My money would be on Wiig playing the young Venkman, just because I can see her pulling off wiseass a bit easier than I can see McKinnon pulling it off. Which leaves McKinnon as the nerd, which I can see her doing better than Wiig -- if she's the poor man's Wiig, I understand she may go even further in setting aside her own vanity than Wiig did, so this would be another case of that.

Alas, I worry that this is actually giving them too much credit, and indeed it is just knee-jerk tokenism. Cast one non-white actor to reach out to additional demographics, but don't shift the racial balance so much that white audiences won't consider it a movie aimed at them.

I mean, they say there's nothing new under the sun, and there's a lot of sun over Hollywood.

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