When I took my 9 year old daughter to see Ghostbusters, she fell in love with all of the characters. Halfway through the movie, she whispered in my ear that she really liked the women because they weren’t like most people in movies. They were like REAL PEOPLE.
Each of the protagonists was flawed. Not in that adorable Barbie doll princess way of being a little ditzy or too emotional. But in that brilliant geeky quirky way that is usually reserved for male protagonists. And to add insult to injury, these women were all driven by passions and ambitions that did not revolve around male affirmation or a happily ever after love interest. Two of the women were scientists. One an engineer. Jones’ character was a historian. An expert in urban infrastructure. Each character had her own geeky obsession. My daughter has geeky obsessions too.
When a friend posted an article about a vicious hack to Jones’ website, I was genuinely shocked. I was vaguely aware of the fact that some men were offended by the fact that Ghostbusters had an all-female cast of protagonists. I really didn’t have time to pay attention to that sort of foolishness.
But these attacks against her were personal. Vicious. And part of a disturbing trend. Strong black women are being subjected to a wild wave of hate. Michelle Obama. Serena Williams. Olympic athletes.
Their bodies are scrutinized, and found to be flawed. Too many curves, or too few. Their muscles, skeletal structure, weight are problematic. They don’t smile enough. Their femininity is questioned. When content for criticism runs dry, they are compared to gorillas.
So I dug deeper into the Jones attacks. They have been painfully public. The mob mentality took over, like a bunch of kids ganging up against a victim on the playground. Passive observers became emboldened by the actions of others, and joined in on the attacks. They edged each other on. After months of verbal violence, her website was hacked. Personal documents were posted. Alleged photos of her naked. These attacks were choreographed to not only humiliate her, but to strip her of strength. Because she failed to be submissive, they made her vulnerable. Both symbolically and literally.
In Ghostbusters, a group of middle aged women were cast in roles previously held by men. In a male- dominated genre. In a white male dominated genre. All of women all came under attack. But the attacks zeroed in on the sole black woman in a way that was so brutal. So cruel, that mighty Twitter shuddered.
We as a society have reached a crossroad.
Do we choose the “free speech” path? Anyone can say anything because… freedom?
Or do we acknowledge that hate speech is just one point on a spectrum of violence?
As social media transforms the ways in which we transmit and receive information, this is an urgent question. A question which will define us as a society. And Leslie Jones, an actor, who should be simply reveling in the success of her recent blockbuster and planning the next steps in her career, has found herself at the apex of this question.
Have you seen Ghostbusters 2016 with your family yet? Preorder it on DVD.
Or watch it on Amazon Prime!
There are contradictory reports in the news media today about the sequence of events. But apparently Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative commentator who launched the assaults against Jones, and inspired others to join in, has now been banned by Twitter. And Jones, it seems, will stay. The FBI is investigating the attack on her website. And the bullies are bemoaning their lost “freedom of speech.”
Twitter, it seems, has drawn a line in the sand. I imagine that Twitter’s founders never envisioned it as a breeding ground for racism and misogyny. It could serve that role. Or the hate speech could be reined in. Twitter both reflects our culture, and drives our culture. What happens on Twitter is important, whether you like it or not.
What happened as a result of the attacks on Leslie Jones is important. We held a mirror up to our social media culture. And we saw racism and sexism and angry white men seething with hate, searching for a victim. In the era before Trump’s candidacy, I frequently heard (white) people proclaim that we lived in a “post-racial society.” But I don’t think anyone says that anymore. No one could look at these attacks and make that sort of proclamation.
I suspect that for many, Leslie Jones will be remembered as the iconic hero who won the Twitter war, and helped define the boundaries of media culture. But for my daughter’s generation, I hope, she will be remembered as the iconic hero she was cast to be.