On July 2, 1996 I was nearly trampled by an enthused crowd of action film fanatics as we raced to snag the best seats for the midnight premiere of Independence Day. I remember everything about that night: what I wore (Charlie’s Angels ringer t-shirt, Dickies, cha cha heels), what the kid kicking the back of my seat wore (surf shorts and Metallica t-shirt) and that first thrilling moment of seeing Jeff Goldblum playing chess with that guy from Taxi. The previous midnight premiere outing had been for Mission: Impossible and I was pretty certain nothing would top that; I was wrong. Independence Day was quite possibly the most fantastic film experience I ever had at that point. I don’t mean it was the best or most cohesive film of all time, but was transgressive. It was one of the few films which relied heavily on tropes without relying heavily on hurtful stereotypes—unless you’re an Extraterrestrial, elderly Jewish man or an exotic dancer—and it was the film where a white working-class single father, a Jewish nerd and a Black Armed Forces Captain SAVE THE FREAKING WORLD.
I was so moved by this shift in the world saving paradigm—while noting its tired US centric positioning—I entered a radio station contest, where participants screened the film on loop from 8am July 2, until 8am July 4 or until all the participants tapped out (whichever came first). I placed third, tapping out during the rousing speech given by President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) before the epic final battle. By that point in the contest, I had grown so tired of his, “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” line, which I felt did not need day and refused to hear it again. That said, I won’t front; it’s still one of my favorite summertime memories and Independence Day is still one of my favorite films. Independence Day set the bar pretty high, but the NEXT summer was even better! 1997 boasted The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men in Black and Air Force One. I was so hopped up on summer movie happiness I eagerly subjected myself to Contact; I wouldn’t advise it.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park caught me off guard. I was (and still am) probably one of the few people who hadn’t seen the original. The film had me at Jeff Goldblum. I was there for another midnight premiere and again found myself crying happy tears while the rest of the audience gasped at the first introduction of Dr. Malcolm’s daughter Kelly, who was Black. Dr. Malcolm wasn’t shown to be a co-op shopping, I’m so liberal I got a brown kid type of dad. Just the regular clueless kind, awkwardly trying to navigate the thorny terrain of adolescent girlhood emotions, which like the weather in Atlanta, seems to change every couple of minutes - while trying to outrun genetically engineered dinosaurs. Men in Black was a game changer for me. It was the kind of “blockbuster” I thought Hollywood would continue to make; smart, funny, minimal -ism fail. Hell, I even love the sequel and look forward to the third installment—slated for release next summer!
Sarah Linn of She Likes to Watch wrote a recent piece entitled Summer movies suck so far, which finally gave voice to my grumblings regarding the steaming pile Hollywood has been releasing since Memorial Day. While Linn does not delve deeply into the topic, I found her willingness to blog about it quite refreshing. If you’re wondering what summer movies from the stone age have to do with the current crop of awful playing on multiplex screens all over the country, let me spell it out of for you. This summer has seen the near erasure of marginalized folks in nuanced roles. It has seen those same groups who were starting to enjoy some complex treatment in action films demoted to eye candy, harmful stereotypes and the whitewashing of characters who were of color in the original source material. Summer 2010 is one of the worst for feminist action movie fans in years, even with the upcoming releases Inception and Salt. Hollywood, I have supported, critiqued and defended your stellar action offerings, but I think it might be time for us to take a little break.