I am seven years old and I am standing in the shade of our playground out in the school yard, holding a fat, rainbow colored pen. You know, those chunky plastic pens that were really popular in the 90’s, the ones that had 6 different color ballpoint tips inside. I am standing in the shade and it is hot and I am bored, so I click through the colors really quickly, and practice tucking it in the waistband of my shorts like it’s my secret weapon, but I don’t dare leave my post.
Because I have a very important job, you see. Or so they tell me… the crew of boys running around the open field in front of me, while I wait. We are playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I am “April”. I’m actually not allowed to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I have no idea who April is, but the boys fill me in. There are four turtles, and a rat, and everyone lives in a sewer, and fights warthogs. I’m not really sure, exactly. I don’t care. April is the only girl in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and she delivers important messages to the turtles, so they need a girl to play with them today, and I consider myself lucky.
Second grade is a weird time, suddenly full of strange paper things called “fortune tellers” and frequent cootie outbreaks, and it is suddenly harder for me, a tomboy, to find my place in the school yard at recess. I do not want to trade Lisa Frank stickers by the monkey bars with the girls, and I am not welcome on the jungle gym half dome where the boys play army base. There are two rare times I get to play with the boys, and that is when we are playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or when we are playing Ghostbusters (another movie I have never actually seen).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best, because April has a name. Nobody cared to remember the name of the receptionist in Ghostbusters, so I just get called “Hey!”. It doesn’t matter. Both roles are the same. I wait under this playground structure, holding my prized possession — — the rainbow pen I snuck outside to make myself feel cooler — — til I get a “message” I can deliver. I pretend to scrawl the message on my hand, then I run across the playground to the intended turtle/ghostbuster, and frantically shout my message before the bad guys get there, when I usually am captured and spend the rest of recess under another yet playground structure, in “jail”.
Sometime during the school year we had all been invited to a birthday party at a roller rink. There’s not a lot of things I can say this about in my life, but I can remember the first time I heard the Ghostbusters theme song. Kids started screaming and clamoring to get in the rink as soon as they heard the opening bars. The exhilaration was palpable. The overhead lights went down and neon laser lights were shooting all around us as we rocketed faster and faster around the rink, hopped up on pixie sticks and pop rocks and pizza, my hair blowing out behind me and my face flushed as we all screamed “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?!” and the triumphant answer: “GHOSTBUSTERS!”.
I still had no idea what a Ghostbuster was. It didn’t matter. This song would be the anthem I chose to hum under my breath as I ran across the school yard at recess for the rest of grade school, whether it was as “April” or as “Hey!”. Something to pump me up a little during these few seconds I was actually important. My own little theme song as I secretly pretended, for a second, that I was the hero.
1992 was a long time ago. I don’t think about it much anymore. The reason I am telling you all this is because I needed you to stand with 7 year old me on that playground for a second to understand who I was, so you understand how surprised I was this Saturday night to find 7 year old me sitting next to 30 year old me in the theater.
I hadn’t followed any of the controversy surrounding the new Ghostbuster film coming out. I didn’t see the original film until I was in college, and while I thought it was funny and was glad to finally see where the theme song came from, I didn’t have the nostalgic ties to it that seemed to make people (ok, mostly men) literally froth at the mouth in anger on my Facebook timeline anytime news of the release showed up. I didn’t even realize it was a remake, not a continuation of the franchise as I expected. Nothing annoys me more than Hollywood remaking the same film over and over again, and had I known that we probably wouldn’t even have gone at all. But… my husband and I had a rare, amazing opportunity for a date night. The movie options were “Independence Day” and “Ghostbusters”. And I love Kristen Wiig so…
So there we were. The movie was fine. I laughed quietly, then sulked a little again that I was supporting a remake, then laughed more, and then slowly realized we had made it halfway through the film without any of the female characters discussing their romantic interests or their body issues or their dissatisfaction with their lives. The tide was already starting to turn when all of the sudden, the moment happened.
I don’t want to ruin the moment for you, if you haven’t seen it, but I kinda need to explain the moment for you to understand, so you’re just going to have to promise to see this movie when you’re done reading this, ok?
There is a moment, in the film’s climactic fight scene, when each of the Ghostbusters have exhausted their weapons and had a turn at battling the ever encroaching hoard of ghosts. One of the Ghostbusters, played by Kate McKinnon, remembers her last resort. She whips two hidden guns out of her proton pack, licks the barrel, and, with the Ghostbusters theme song wailing, absolutely DESTROYS every evil thing on screen, in one of the most amazing 30 seconds… 60 seconds? Eternity? Longest moments of my life.
She isn’t a princess. She isn’t a prop. She isn’t a love interest. She is the main character, in a movie with no other “greater” male main characters. She’s being a bad ass action hero, saving the day not for the happy ending kiss, but for herself and her friends and the world. But most importantly… and this is so, so very, very incredibly important: You can’t see her boobs while she does it.
Wait, let me repeat this: she’s a main character, an action hero, AND there’s no sexy impossible back bending moves in the scene that show off a tight catsuit or cleavage or the silhouette of her toned butt. She is not leaping all over the screen just to fuel all the fanboy’s fantasies later at home. She is not wearing sexy make up and she does not even have long hair that blows in the wind, still curled, after she defeats the bad guys. Kate McKinnon’s character saves the world in a dirty, baggy MTA jumpsuit.
Suddenly, in the middle of a dark crowded theater, I somehow discovered time travel, because I was watching that scene as two people. My 7 year old self was clutching the arm rests next to me, totally enthralled, the kind of feeling that takes over your entire body, that transports you into the film, where you aren’t just watching, you’re living the character. The feeling you could only have as a kid, when you were so into the film you forgot it wasn’t real, when you are racing across the playground only it’s not the playground, it’s really an underground sewer system and you’re really April, where every single atom in your being is humming with excitement, with the thrill of the moment, the kind of exhilaration you channel later in a dark roller rink under a laser light show screaming “GHOSTBUSTERS!”.
And 30 year old me, beside her, started to cry. Because 30 year old me had never seen anything like that before. And 30 year old me was shocked at herself for not realizing she had never seen anything like that before. How did I go 20 plus years without seeing this on a giant screen in a packed theater, without feeling these things? How did I not realize what I was missing?
It is one thing to go through life knowing you are missing something and finally find it. It is quite another to suddenly find something you didn’t realize you had been waiting your whole life to see. It had never even occurred to 7 year old me, back in 1992, to doubt the logic I was given on the schoolyard. I couldn’t be one of the turtles or one of the Ghostbusters, because there were no girl teenage mutant ninja turtles, and there were no girl Ghostbusters. Simple as that. Now, in 2016, here she was, right up there on the screen, 40 feet tall and saving the world looking exactly like when her male counterparts got to do it. Well, I mean, there she was to 30 year old me. 7 year old me just saw herself.
When we came home that night, I scoured social media for any sign that I wasn’t the only person who had “the moment”. Reviews were few and far between, and almost exclusively from males. Was I crazy? I tried with a friend to name another movie from my childhood where a female main character saved the day and wasn’t half naked. I got a half-hearted “Aliens” as my only answer. Slowly, very slowly, I began to find others that had the moment. Some of them had teared up, one of them had pumped a fist in the air and yelled a triumphant “YES!”. Another told me she looked around the theater in bewilderment, wondering why no one seemed to recognize they had just witnessed something phenomenal and rare. But mostly women told me they weren’t planning to go, and asked “Why, should I see it?”
Listen, those moments on the playground back in 1992 did not define the rest of my life. I did not sit around wistfully for 23 years bemoaning the fact I wasn’t allowed to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle during recess. I cannot honestly say my lack of female action heroes was detrimental to the badass goals I set out to accomplish in life. I traveled all over the world. I sought out adventure. I forged through many obstacles to get my dream job… more than once, in different periods of my life.
How would my life have been different if 7 year old me HAD seen this scene, or a scene like it?
How much MORE could I have done? How much less would I have struggled?
Mostly, how much different would my journey have been, starting from the point where I stood for hours outside at recess under a playground structure, waiting with a pen.
I am glad my own daughter will grow up in a world where this movie exists. 30 year old me knows now that I need her to grow up in a world where many more of these movies exist. 30 year old me knows how much this movie needs my support, OUR support, every woman who was once a 7 year old girl relegated to running around on the playground delivering messages to the heroes of their world. So, should you see it?
30 year old me before experiencing Kate McKinnon’s epic showdown would have answered yes, even though it’s a remake, with an apologetic disclaimer to all her film critic friends about knowing it will not win an Oscar for dramatic performances and high brow dialogue. The 30 year old me after viewing “the moment” does not care about any of those things. She’s sitting with 7 year old me on the couch while I write this article, kicking her feet impatiently and asking “What do they mean, should they see it? Yes! YES! STOP EVERYTHING AND GO RIGHT NOW!! DID YOU TELL THEM ABOUT THE PROTON GUNS?!?”
So, go. Go immediately. Go see it because it’s a fun, funny summer blockbuster with female characters, action heroes, acting in a way you’ve never seen before: normal.