Why Leslie Jones was the heroine we needed in 2016
Comedian and actress Leslie Jones is a household name to some, but to others she’s only just hit notoriety as the hilariously funny and real-talking Patty in the female reboot of Ghostbusters that was released in July. However, Leslie Jones is also turning into an important pop culture figure due to recent controversy, and making a name for herself as someone who is having tough conversations that are long overdue.
At 48, Jones has been in the comedy world a long time, and as many already know, it can be a tough place for women to feel safe and appreciated. Black women face even more discrimination and it can be hard for them to find success because of it. Leslie Jones is one of the few who has stuck it out and paved the way for a younger generation of black female comedians, but her own path still isn’t without struggle.
It’s no secret that the new Ghostbusters garnered a lot of attention even before the movie was shot due to its all-female cast. There were many cries of “you ruined my childhood!" When the trailer was released, there was some dispute over the different professions of the women. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon were all scientists or engineers, but Jones’ Patty worked for the MTA. What the film eventually revealed was that Patty was essentially an historian, who knew the history of New York City to an invaluable degree and definitely pulled her weight in the team. She wasn’t reduced to a “common worker,” nor did her role have anything to do with her race as some people concluded.
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However, her wonderful portrayal in the movie still didn’t satisfy some. After the film’s release, Leslie Jones was the target of racist harassment on Twitter.
Harassment, if you speak to any famous black woman with a social media platform, unfortunately comes with the territory. Many women like Jones’s Saturday Night Live co-star Sasheer Zamata, comedian Akilah Hughes and writers like Roxane Gay and Jazmine Hughes all receive daily harassment in their Twitter mentions, on Facebook pages and in Instagram comments. It’s never-ending. If these women are lucky, it’s one or two daily trolls with nothing better to do and plenty of spelling mistakes to make. But sometimes it’s more sinister. While most women try their best to ignore it, Leslie Jones did something brave and necessary: she called it out.
When she appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers to promote Ghostbusters she addressed the hate she received, saying that hate speech and freedom of speech are two very different things. “Unfortunately, I’m used to the insults, that’s unfortunate, what scared me was a gang of people jumping against you for such a sick cause," he said.
The level of hostility Jones received from Twitter users after she spent hours retweeting and calling out her abusers left her saying, “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart. All this cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the shit I got today...wrong” and lamenting that she felt like she was in a “personal hell."
Once Twitter staff finally got involved, it was discovered that the targeted streams of hatred were orchestrated by a noted conservative journalist named Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos works for Breitbart News and has been in trouble with Twitter for his racist comments before, but it wasn’t until these new attacks that his account was banned. Thankfully, once this action was taken, the hatred directed towards Jones subsided (but has not completely stopped).
However, it’s worth noting that it shouldn’t have taken several days for Twitter staff to investigate, and their intervention should have been harsher. Jones isn’t the only black woman being targeted and it shouldn’t take her having to retweet and literally point out her harassers to get justice.
One thing is clear in all of this though: Jones is a strong, beautiful woman who while she shouldn’t have to, has risen above the drama. Calling her abuse out and letting people know it hurts is a powerful position to take and hopefully her bravery will compel more women, whatever their race, sexuality or religion, to point out how wrong it is. The internet shouldn’t be a place that only some people feel safe. It should be a place where everyone feels like they can share their voice and take up space.
Leslie Jones is the heroine we need to lift us all up, reminding women that we deserve everything the boys have, including our own movies.