It might be International Women’s Day today, but don’t wish me a happy one. I won’t be happy until we don’t need a day to recognize women because we should be doing it every damn day. Last week’s rant burned through most of I’d planned on blogging about today, but here are a few additional bullet points I missed.
Okay, this might be a bit of a lukewarm take. This was supposed to go up last night, but between Portuguese school, trying to cook dinner, and deciding that watching The Great British Baking Show was a better way to spend my night, this got put off to today.
I’m on the older edge of the Harry Potter generation. I didn’t pick up the series until the spring of 2000. I was in my freshman year of high school, Goblet of Fire was going to come out that summer, and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. By Christmas, I owned the entire series as far as it existed at that point. I’d made my way through the series by checking it out from the library, but seeing those gorgeous hardbacks on my shelf and knowing I could go back to them whenever I wanted was comforting. I loved escaping to Hogwarts. It wasn’t a perfect fantasy land, but you knew everything was going to be okay. The costs might be high, but Harry was the Chosen One and he was going to defeat Voldemort.
So while I missed out on the feeling of growing up with Harry, Fantastic Beasts offered me a glimpse of what it must have felt like to see my peers navigate a magical world. Newt Scamander comes from the magical world we know, but stumbles into a new world that is both terrible and wonderful. We learn about magical America along with him—though some of us may have devoured the supplemental material on Pottermore, first.
If you’re looking for a Harry Potter movie, you may not like Fantastic Beasts. This is a grownup adventure, not a schoolboy romp.
However, if you’re looking for some realistic escapism now that we’re more than a week into the Darkest Timeline, maybe this is the movie you need. Magical America in the 1920s is painfully familiar. Draconian laws are enforced in the name of security. Zealots are out to destroy a misunderstood minority. A charismatic leader with ideas of racial supremacy rises in Europe and threatens America. But at least it was nice seeing an alternate America led by a woman (and a woman of color, too!) ninety years ago? J.K. Rowling couldn’t have possibly known who would have won the election when she was writing this screenplay, but it seems incredibly prescient now.
Newt Scamander stumbles into all this. He’s not the Chosen One like Harry. He’s a magizoologist, an environmentalist crossed with Dr. Doolittle that doesn’t go full PETA. (Y’know, living the #millennial dream of having a steady job that you find rewarding.) He starts the movie being dragged around by MACUSA, mostly in the person of Tina Goldstein, but by the end his magical creatures and his Hufflepuff empathy for others saves the day. Gryffindor bravery is important, I’m a proud bundle of Ravenclaw and Slytherin traits, but what the world needed then as it does now is the unflinching kindness and loyalty of Hufflepuffs.
I really want to talk about Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who unwittingly becomes one of the heroes, but it’s hard to do it without spoiling the movie. (But if you want to talk about him after you see the movie, hit me up. He’s my fave.) If Newt is the audience surrogate for Harry Potter fans, then Jacob is the surrogate for our friends that get dragged into the movie with us. We get to watch him discover the wizarding world as an adult, and his awe shows us that this world isn’t just for kids. After being exposed to the wonders that Newt keeps in his case, he and Newt have this exchange:
Jacob Kowalski: I don’t think I’m dreaming.
Newt Scamander: What gave it away?
Jacob Kowalski: I ain’t got the brains to make this up.
Neither do I, Jacob. But I am so glad that JK Rowling does. I am so ready for the next movie, even knowing now that the Fantastic Beasts series will show the rise of Grindelwald. It was a dark time, but my time feels pretty dark, too.
These days, the escapism I need is a world that looks like mine but still has joy and awe and wonder. Those things have escaped me, and I am just as invested in finding them again as any fantastic beast.
Sabato Jr. knowing what socialism is like me knowing what a dictatorship is b/c my parents grew up in the Estado Novo. #RNCinCLE
— Elizabeth Barcelos (@lavender_ink) July 19, 2016
I was typing fast, feeling furious, and trying to fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit, so go easy on the grammar of that tweet. I watched a bit of night one of the Republican National Convention tonight before heading to trivia. While I’m as aghast and appalled as the next leftie about the isolationist and ignorant rhetoric of the evening (not to mention the parade of corpses that crossed the stage as represented by grieving families turned political tools), Antonio Sabato Jr.’s speech stuck with me because of how close to home it hit me while still being absolute bullshit.
If you didn’t see it, take a gander. It’s not long:
His story is so close to mine and my family’s that I can tell you all about how absolutely wrong it is. Like my parents, Sabato Jr. is a “good” immigrant. He came from a European country and followed the rules, rules that were stacked in our favor. In my father’s case, he was sponsored by his sister, my Tia Ligia. Google and Wikipedia aren’t helping me much with how Sabato Jr.’s parents got here. This is a #LizsHotTake, not a #LizsWellResearchedTake, but I imagine that they immigrated legally because it wasn’t an undue burden on them.
The thing that really ground my gears was this quote at the 1:50ish minute mark:
Let’s unpack this with a close reading, shall we? Put my English degree (which has still to arrive, goddamnit SJSU) to good use.
Point the first: “There should be no shortcuts for those who don’t want to pay or wait.” Last I checked, the Statue of Liberty asked for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I’m not saying that US immigration policy should be based on a poem, even one as moving as Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” but that sentiment is just so un-American to me. It’s easy for someone with an actor, a realtor, and aristocracy in their family tree to tell you to shut up and wait your turn.
I wish Sabato Jr. listened to the part of his ancestry that survived the Holocaust instead. If the huddled masses had time and money to spare on waiting their turn, would they still be huddled masses? For many illegal immigrants (a term that rankles me because people aren’t illegal even if the means of their arrival in the states might be), they couldn’t wait. More often that not, they’re fleeing poverty that would keep them from being able to pay or dangerous circumstances that leave them unable to wait their turn.
Point the second: I’m not here to lecture you on communism or socialism (other than to say they are not synonymous so kindly stop using them interchangeably to save yourself from looking ignorant, kthxbai). I don’t know how his mother managed to make it to Italy, but I do know that you don’t get to appropriate your parents’ story for political points.
My parents also grew up under an authoritarian regime: the Estado Novo dictatorship. Never once have I claimed to know what it is to live in a dictatorship because my parents did. In fact, I learned way more about it from studying Portuguese history and culture in college (hellooooooo attempted second major that I had to settle for making a minor) than I ever learned from my parents. It wasn’t something they wanted to pass down to us. It’s a completely alien idea to us because we were raised in San Jose, a fairly liberal and ethnically diverse bubble. What little hardships I faced by being the daughter of immigrants had nothing to do with a fallen regime. Considering that I grew up in East San Jose while Sabato Jr. managed to go to Beverly Hills High School, I’m going to make an educated guess and say that my immigrant family struggles were harder than his.
I will fight anyone who tries to dimish what my parents did to get where they are now, but I also recognize just how privileged we are to be European immigrants. Their accents are charming; they don’t inspire jeers of “Learn English, this is America!” My siblings and I speak accent-free English (and have I mentioned that I have a degree in it?) and have no trouble blending into white American culture. I also know that not too long ago, Southern Europeans like me and Sabato Jr. were the ones that didn’t deserve to call themselves American. The goalposts have moved since then and you no longer have to be a WASP to be white. Oops, I mean American. I am aware of both my parents’ struggles and my privilege because it is something I think about all the time.
If Antonio Sabato Jr. put just as much thought as I do into his immigrant story, he would not have appeared on that stage. He’s lucky. I’m lucky. His story is exceptional, but putting him on that stage makes it look like the rule. He’s the right kind of immigrant, the kind of immigrant the RNC wants you to see, the kind of immigrant Melania Trump is too, though I stopped watching long before she took the stage. By presenting his story as the norm, the RNC justifies the narrative that “illegals” (ugh, that word again) shouldn’t be here.
I hope being used as a token and a tool was worth a little under four minutes on stage, Antonio.
Okay, before you read any further: go see Ghostbusters. Go see it right now. It’s not even that this blog post is super-spoilery, though there are some spoilers. It’s less of a review of the film and more of a collection of my reactions before I go to bed and lose my fangirl zeal.
We all heard about how it would ruin the collective childhood of a certain segment of the population. I thought it was a man-child tantrum being thrown over yet another Hollywood remake that we didn’t need but that I would go watch anyway to spite the haters and because I liked the Ghostbusters cartoon when I was a kid. I eventually saw the movies but the cartoon and Hi-C Ecto Cooler were still what I first thought of when someone mentioned the Ghostbusters franchise.
Okay, so I still think it’s a man-child tantrum. But I understand their anger now. I understand it because I never had hilarious badass science heroes and I would be pissed off too if they were removed from continuity and replaced with new faces.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t. Not only that, I didn’t realize what my childhood was missing until Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Holtzman pulled out her sidearms and went to town on some ghosts in the final act. I don’t have words for the badassery of that scene, but here’s a gif that encapsulates my reaction to that scene:
In that moment, someone like me was the big damn hero. She was weird and brilliant and awkward and so familiar. For all that she felt like me, I still wanted to be her. (I’m already looking into being her for Halloween.) I’ve been devouring a pretty steady diet of American pop culture for the past thirtyish years and never had a moment like that.
On the drive home tonight, I was talking about this need for female heroes that I didn’t even know I had with my boyfriend. He brought up Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens as another example of movie franchise heroine/target of a certain demographic’s ire. That led to this exchange:
Me: Yeah, Star Wars was great. I knew it was going to be great. I expected it to be great. I even expected Rey to be a Jedi all along. But I liked Ghostbusters better.
Me: Yeah. I just wanted to see a fun summer action flick and stick it to angry meninists. I didn’t expect the oooooh, wow moment. I expected that from Star Wars. I had high expectations for that movie and it met them. I had decent expectations for this movie and it exceeded them.
James: That totally makes sense.
My new fangirl obsession with Dr. Jillian Holtzman isn’t the only thing that I love about this movie. I loved that it took tropes that I was used to re: female representation in pop culture and subverted the hell out of them.
I expected Kristen Wiig’s Dr. Erin Gilbert to be my favorite character because she was set up to be the smart (but uptight) one and I usually gravitate towards that character in all female casts. Sailor Mercury was my favorite scout, Blossom was my favorite Powerpuff Girl, Jeanette was my favorite Chipette, Piper was my favorite Charmed One, etc.
But here’s the thing: there is no smart one. Three of the four protagonists have Ph.D.’s and the fourth possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City. Since all these women are brilliant, there has to be more to their personalities than just slapping a pair of glasses on them and telling but not showing that they have brains. I got my choice of smart female characters. I identified with Erin’s ambition, Abby’s heart, Patty’s ability to absorb and apply supposedly trivial knowledge, and Holtzman’s embrace of her quirkiness. (And not that cutesy and twee Manic Pixie Dream Girl quirkiness, either.)
Chris Hemsworth’s gorgeous and delightfully dimwitted secretary Kevin made me uncomfortable sometimes with just how objectified his character was. He’s the token male and I’ve got so used to the token female being put in that same position of dumb eye candy that I’ve learned to ignore it. There is no ignoring Kevin’s buffoonery. It may come off as over the top, but I think it’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. You’re supposed to feel like creating a character like this is wrong because they just can’t be real.
As for the other major male character, Rowan, the socially inept antagonist that decides to destroy New York because he doesn’t get the respect he feels he’s entitled to? He’s a huge fuck you to the haters and I loved it. Any woman who engages in geek culture knows that guy. His entitlement is so real that it makes him genuinely scary.
This movie needs to make all the moneys so that Hollywood keeps making movies like this. Go see it in IMAX 3D: it’s actually worth it. (And not just because it will make the box office profits even higher.) I normally get nauseous in 3D movies but the effects are well done in this movie. I definitely jumped in my seat a few times, but they didn’t abuse the jump scares, either.
I’m the drooling aunt to two adorable six-month-old twin girls and I don’t want them to grow up to be Tia Liz, hurrying home to blog about finally seeing a hero in a movie that looks at feels like them. They’ll have Rey. They’ll have the Ghostbusters.
That’s not enough. Maybe they don’t want to be a space knight or a science hero. Give us more heroines. More choices. More stories. Not more of the same.