As someone who constantly advocates the importance of representation, I try to support fictional works that I perceive to be doing something right in that regard. Maybe they have a diverse cast, maybe it’s an own voices story, maybe an underrepresented group was portrayed with care and sensitivity. And if I’m honest, there are times the representation is problematic but I’m just happy to have a seat at the table.
I admit this affects my opinion on the media I consume, sometimes even before I consume it. I tend to side-eye stories with whitewashing or that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, while getting excited for the faintest hint of representation. If the creators are trying to bring a different perspective to their story, I’m interested to check how that goes.
However, representation alone doesn’t make a story automatically good. So sometimes we really want to love a certain fictional piece and we simply don’t… as it happened for me last week, when I finally watched Ghostbusters (2016).
I didn’t dislike the movie, mind you, I just didn’t like it. I won’t give an elaborate opinion on its merits and flaws (you have Katie’s review for that!), but let me just say that most of the jokes didn’t make me laugh and that’s deadly in a comedy movie. You should still see it for yourself if you haven’t, though, because what didn’t work for me can work for you.
The reason why I didn’t like the movie is not important, but how I felt for not liking it is. You should remember that even before it premiered, the Ghostbuster reboot was highly polarizing. A vocal share of people, mostly young men, was determined to hate this movie, for reasons that I’m sure are entirely due to its artistic merit and not at all misogynistic. As I tend to oppose angry dudebros on most matters, I was determined to love the movie with equal strength.
It turns out I didn’t. I feel bad that I didn’t, because this movie gave me a lot that I was asking for: awesome ladies leading an already established franchise, women in science, female friendships, female-lead action, female-lead comedy, women just being women without caring for the male gaze, all that and much more without cattiness, shallowness, obsessing over boys, or whatever else most male writers think women do.
(That’s not to say the representation is spotless. For example, I’m uncomfortable that the only Black Ghostbuster was also the only non-scientist Ghostbuster, but this has been discussed at length before and deserves its own separate article. I just think this movie makes an effort to represent women better than most movies do, which is sadly not a challenge at all)
This movie was made for people like me and I didn’t like it. This made me feel ungrateful, as if I received a lovely gift and tried to exchange it at the store. I don’t wanna do that. But I also can’t pretend that I enjoyed something more than I did. Lying to myself isn’t gonna make what I watched suddenly better to my eyes (trust me, I tried it before with the fourth season of Game of Thrones).
I was sad this movie wasn’t the perfect movie I wanted it to be, the one to silence the haters and convince Hollywood executives to invest all their money in female-lead action movies (*winks at Marvel Studios*). There is an awful double standard in movie industry, so when a movie lead by anyone other than a white dude is less than a cinematic masterpiece, all its detractors feel validated and a producer somewhere tries to send us twenty representation-years back in time. Despite, you know, several movies focused on white men flopping every year and this never affecting the production of subpar white men-focused movies.
It’s cruel to hold any story to such a high standard. Movies that take important steps in representation should be allowed to flop. They should be allowed to be mediocre or even suck. I don’t necessarily believe in Sturgeon’s Law, but the idea that several movies with great representation will be created and all of them will be equally interesting and successful is laughable.
As Ashley Lynch cleverly said, the whole controversy made Ghostbusters almost impossible to evaluate without addressing gender politics. They certainly permeated my expectations and feelings about the movie. Yet, while I believe that stories don’t exist in a vacuum, I must confess I’m looking for more merits than just representation. I don’t want just a seat at the table, I want the good food too. I want an interesting plot, compelling characters, good dialogue, solid worldbuilding, and several other elements that will affect how much I appreciate a story. This time I didn’t find everything I was looking for, so I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I expected or wanted to, but that’s okay.
I’m telling you this because I had to tell it to myself: you don’t have to like the thing, even if the thing was created for you. Even if it’s a huge success, even if everybody else loves it, you don’t have to like it. Even if it gives you something you were looking for, you don’t have to like it. And it’s possible to not like it for reasonable and fair reasons and not sexist or racist or any other -ist reasons (though it’s nice to evaluate why you don’t like something, especially if you don’t like it without even checking the media in question).
This is a lesson I’m learning for upcoming stories as well. I haven’t watched Rogue One yet, but even here at The Fandomentals reactions have been mixed. I’m not sure where I’ll fall on this spectrum, but I have to be ready to not like it. Wonder Woman will be out this year, and while I’m incredibly excited for it, I have reasons to be afraid that it won’t be as great as I want it or need it to be. That doesn’t mean manbabies complaining about “girls ruining everything” will suddenly be right. That doesn’t mean I’m being a bad feminist for not supporting female-lead movies. That doesn’t mean nobody else will love it. It just means I didn’t like this story and that’s okay. We have the right to demand better stories and we should exercise that right.
It’s okay if you don’t like the thing. Supporting a story and enjoying it can be two different beasts. Of course I still support Ghostbusters. I defended it against misogynists in the past and will continue to do so. I would still watch a sequel with the same cast and crew. I’m glad this movie exists. I recognize its merits and its importance, because the effects of the representation it contains will continue to exist regardless of my opinion on other elements of the story.
After all, the movie was made for me, but not just for me. So it’s okay if I don’t like it; it already did what it had to do.