No one is more surprised by the lack of female voices in the new Jem movie than the namesake herself.
By now, you've probably heard the news about the Jem and the Holograms movie: it promises to be live-action, crowd-sourced for casting, and brought to you by some very social-media-savvy dudes (director Jon M. Chu, micro-budget producer Jason Blum, and Scooter Braun (AKA the man who brought us Justin Bieber)). The interwebz whipped themselves into a frenzy with thoughts for casting and lots of lamentations that this might very well suck.
I'm taking as a given that even if you didn't actually watch the animated series on Saturday mornings, the recent and pervasive 80s nostalgia wave means that Jem and her Holograms, in all their neon-rock-awesomeness, are at least familiar to this audience. Jem is BELOVED among its fans. It brought an astonishing 187 original songs with attendant music videos directly to a kid and teen audience. The Misfits were soooo cool with their punk-edged music and aesthetic. The Holograms were a big multi-culti hug for those of us who wanted to see more than more white faces on television. Sure, Aja, Shana and Raya were not the most three-dimensional, unproblematic portrayals of women of color, but we took what we could get.
SO MUCH PINK...
More than that, Jem was utterly female-centric. Jerrica Benton (Jem's alter-ego/public identity/romantic rival) ran both a successful record label AND an orphanage. Corporate social responsibility IN THE EIGHTIES?!??! WHAT??!?!? The omnipresent and omnipotent cyber-force-of-good was another female. Synergy, manifested as a hologram, was a clever subversion of the faceless boss of Charlie's Angels. The cunning and ruthless Mistfits were the bad girls we secretly wanted to be: they effortlessly bossed around their ostensible boss and villain of the show: slimy Eric Raymond. Jem made women the focus of all the action and all the creativity of the show, and demonstrated a range of female characters, emotions, strengths and flaws. And it was fucking genius.
It is therefore beyond disheartening, approaching cultural betrayal territory, that Jem creator Christy Marx was "shut out" of the development and production of this film. Ms. Marx really does say it best in her public comment on her Facebook page:
Many people wonder how I feel about it. I don’t think I can hide that I’m deeply unhappy about being shut out of the project. That no one in the entertainment arm of Hasbro wanted to talk to me, have me write for it, or at the very least consult on it. I wouldn’t be human if that failed to bother me.
My other unhappy observation is that I see two male producers, a male director and a male writer. Where is the female voice? Where is the female perspective? Where are the women?
Christy Marx, creator of Jem
Where, indeed, Christy? The mythology of Jem and the Holograms approaches the sacred feminine loftiness of Wonder Woman, for those of us of a certain age and persuasion, and the current creative process and team just don't instill a whole lot of confidence that that mythology will be respected. Hollywood, in particular, and American pop culture, in general, are a parched desert for women's stories and representation. Check out this horrifying infographic for proof of this statement. This is exactly why there's been such an outcry about the lack of a Wonder Woman movie and the pervasive sense that Hollywood might just be too clueless to do anything but fuck it up if there is one. We have so few sacred female icons, so few images of women who are not merely arm-candy, victims, or otherwise passive actors in whatever story they are cast, that to rob us of Jem is pure villainy.
Rather than take Jem in some overly-processed, Justin-Bieber-tainted direction, the creators should have moved more closely to a logical descendant of Jem's legacy, in the offshoots of riot grrrl, a la Le Tigre. I could belabor this point, but I needn't bother when I have such utterly perfect evidence (full disclosure: I'm friends with the editing genius who made this happen, 5fathoms):
This is working for me. And it's Le Tigre-approved.
Women-centric, women-voiced rock just doesn't happen without women. I'm not an essentialist, but it makes no goddamn sense to make a movie out of a show that has fantastic feminist traits without some women in the mix.
In truth, there's just ONE way that I am going to be OK with a dearth of vaginas involved in the making of this movie, and that's only if it's chock-a-block full of wall-to-wall drag. Eric Diaz (Nerdist, Topless Robot) put together a near-perfect casting of drag queens for the main characters, drawing from Ru Paul's Drag Race contestants. The one detail he missed, that I'll add, is that Landon Cider would totally rock the role of Rio Pacheco. THOSE ABS!
Can you see Rio in those abs?
h/t to Jenni Miller of Moviefone for the info on Christy Marx's exclusion from the reboot.