If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably heard that I went to see It: Chapter Two this weekend—by my lonesome, 'cause I'm just brave like that. As far as movies go, I mostly enjoyed this one. I had read a bunch of negative reviews prior to going, so I was aware that one of the biggest complaints was that the sequel had "an identity crisis," but that didn't bother me personally. Sometimes horror movies need some levity and romance, and for characters to crack-up at things that are honestly kind of cheesy. As a viewer, I thought Andy Muschiette (director) toed the line between multiple "genres" well, and reminded us that this isn't just a scary story, it's a story about the ties of childhood friendships.
However, I'm not writing this post to praise It: Chapter Two. I'm writing it because the longer I sit with this movie, the more I become frustrated about a 2019-movie using bigotry for a wow-factor, for tokenizing Native Americans, and for demeaning yet another female role into nothing more than an abused woman looking for love.
Sounds like a fun read, right?! Blame it on the social work degree—I can't enjoy anything without critically analyzing its impact on social constructs.
Okay, let's dive in!
There's Not Gonna be a Pride Parade in Derry Anytime Soon
Like many viewers, the opening scene of It: Chapter Two pushed some serious boundaries, and in all of the wrong ways.
To recap, the movie begins at the Derry fair, where we meet Adrian and his boyfriend after Adrian wins a game and selflessly gives his prized stuffed animal to a girl he'd been competing with. The couple walks away to immediately encounter a group of anti-gay bullies, who follow Adrian and his boyfriend (I'm sorry, I didn't catch his name, and I can't seem to find it anywhere...) to a bridge where they proceed to beat the shit out of Adrian before throwing him into the river below.
As someone with a pretty strong stomach, this scene was extremely difficult to watch, and absolutely unnecessary—and I say that as someone who read the book and understands the importance of this scene in the novel. However, in the novel, the scene is used as the catalyst for a handful of narratives and recountings told by townspeople of strange encounters they'd had with It. Each excerpt adds to the story that Mike Hanlan is piecing together about It and how it came to Earth.
If memory serves, the scene in the book is also a retelling (by Adrian's boyfriend) who is mostly focused on the way the clown bit into Adrian's arm. It's not an up-close-and-personal viewing of someone being targeted for their sexual orientation and then beaten within an inch of their life before being thrown over a bridge to their death. In the movie, this scene is graphically nauseating without any need to be. It: Chapter Two could've just as easily opened with a bunch of "missing children" posters and Mike Hanlan calling the Losers Club, and nothing would've changed plot-wise.
I was reading an interview with Muschiette about his decision to keep the scene in the movie. Muschiette claims that "it was always an essential part of the story" but the way this scene is portrayed in the film, it doesn't feel "essential", it feels gratuitous and goading.
In the interview, Muschiette also goes on to talk about how Stephen King was impacted by a murder of a gay man in Maine at the time he was writing this novel, and how for King, he wanted to include that piece of history into It because it was important to Maine at the time. I can understand that, I really can, and I do believe that King incorporated it into the book well, but I just don't think this scene had any business being in this movie. This is 2019. I am so tired of seeing LGBTQ characters in movies just so they can be victims of hatred and bigotry. There is so much more to the LGBTQ narrative to tell! But, it seems that some people have taken the call to have more LGBTQ representation in media to mean that all they need to do is include an LGBTQ character and boom they've checked that box and now they can minimize said character's existence by killing them off swiftly in a hate crime. If your LGBTQ character's sole purpose is to either a.) sexualize the LGBTQ community, or b.) to be brutally murdered, then I'm sorry to burst your bubble but you're not being as socially conscious as you think and you'd probably be better off leaving that character's sexual orientation out of it.
You know what did work for It: Chapter Two by way of representing the LGBTQ community? WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD... The slow reveal of Richie Tozier's love for Eddie Kaspbrak! Throughout the movies and the book, there are hints to suggest that Richie is gay, but most of them are vague enough that the reader/viewer is never certain. But in the 2019 sequel to It, we finally get the answers we've been waiting for, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a more beautiful love. I would be surprised if there was a single dry eye in the theater when Eddie dies and Richie is sobbing over his body, and again later in the lake.
Why does the relationship between Richie and Eddie work but Adrian's story doesn't? This is just my personal opinion here, but primarily because Adrian is used as a way to score higher points in drama and horror, whereas the love Richie had for Eddie was part of Richie's lifelong journey to acceptance—which, I'm not even sure he's reached yet. Richie's sexual identity is a facet of his complex personality, not something smacked on just for the sake of ratings. It's used as a way to increase empathy for him, not as a way to justify any physical harm he might've endured. Which is to say, it's done in a way to showcase love instead of hate.
According to Hollywood, All Native American People are the Same
I know I shouldn't be surprised here, considering how our country still treats indigenous people, but there I was, watching It: Chapter Two on the big screen when all of a sudden I see yet another tokenized portrayal of Native American spirituality in a horror film.
*Cue dramatic eyeroll*
Is it just me, or whenever a horror movie has backed itself into a corner or needs some bigger-than-life explanation, Hollywood turns Native Americans. Now, for those of you who are scratching your heads thinking, "Isn't it a good thing that Hollywood is being more inclusive of a variety of people," the answer is: this is not inclusivity. Here's why:
First, let's take a brief look at some of America's most brutal history. As you may recall, less than five-hundred years ago, colonizers migrated to the United States and enacted genocide on what is estimated to be 130 million Native American people, and those that survived were forced out of their land and into assimilation schools where they were taught to forget their cultures and beliefs and become "civilized". This is, of course, a freakishly truncated version of history, but for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the assimilation piece.
Cultural assimilation is when a dominant culture strips a minority culture of the values, beliefs, language, and behaviors that make that culture distinct from the dominant culture. One way in which colonizers did this to indigenous people is by criminalizing their spiritual beliefs, their languages, their hierarchical structures and ways of governance.
I'm bringing all of this up to say that at one point—in very recent history, and in many ways, is still occurring today—many Native Americans were told not to practice their spiritual beliefs, some of which included the ingestion of hallucinogenic herbs, and yet, Hollywood—a predominantly white entity, if not by person make-up, by beliefs and values—perpetually exploits this custom for their own gain. Meanwhile, this custom is still frowned upon by the dominant society.
Not to mention that this is just one spiritual practice of some indigenous people, and yet it is always used to represent the Native community in film, especially in horror films. As if indigenous people have no other stories to tell unless they begin with a peote trip or end at some sacred burial grounds. The simplification is disrespectful at best and contributes to the continual erasure of Native folk at its worst.
If you'd like to read more about why this is an issue, don't just listen to me, a white, non-indigenous woman, but read this article by Nick Martin, a member of the Sappony tribe, and a staff writer with The New Republic Magazine. <--- seriously, I highly recommend this article.
None of this is even taking into account that the Shokopiwah tribe in It: Chapter Two are entirely fictitious. According to Kiley May, one of the actresses who portrayed a Shokopiwah woman, Muschiette's original plan was to invite a real tribe on set. Which begs the question: why the change of heart? Why go out of your way to create a fictitious group of people and claim to be doing your due diligence in representing minority groups, when you could provide a platform for a real indigenous tribe (not that it was much of a platform, considering the cast that played the Shokopiwah didn't even have any lines)?
The good news: from what I can tell, most of the acting cast who portrayed the fictitious Shokopiwah tribe are in fact indigenous people themselves. Maybe Hollywood is starting to give racially and culturally distinct roles to people of similar backgrounds. Another interesting fact I learned while researching is that Kiley May, one of the actresses portraying the Shokopiwah tribe in It: Chapter Two, is not only indigenous herself, but is also transgender. It's too bad she didn't have a bigger part because that really might speak to Muschiette's desire to create a progressive and diverse film, but you also don't see many trans people in major Hollywood films, so I'd say this is still a minor victory, even if May herself admits that she doesn't think Muschiette was aware of her trans status when he hired her.
A Woman's Mission in Life is to Find Herself a Husband
Did we all just collectively groan together when we read that title? Good! Because I can't even believe I'm having to talk about this trite female role in 2019!
As a pre-teen, Beverly Marsh was fierce! For years she put up with her dad's abuse, and though it would be understandable for her to do so, she never let his darkness dampen the untamed heart she met the world with. She was a role model (despite the cigarettes).
But then King and Muschiette brought her into adulthood and she was reduced to nothing more than bruises and misguided affections.
I was equally pissed off about Bev's character development in the book as I was in the movie. It always seemed like neither King nor Muschiette really knew what to do with her, so they made her fall in love with everyone int he Losers Club (this is more true of the book, but I think we can all agree that in the movies she seemed to be crushing on Bill, Ben, and sometimes even Richie).
Adult Bev spends three-quarters of the movie fawning over Bill, which, I guess was sort of what we expected after she kissed Bill at the end of the first movie while they were still kids. I'll admit though, I never felt the chemistry between her and Bill. Not in the movies, and not in the books. To me, it always seemed like she and Ben had more chemistry...but maybe that's just because Ben's love for her was made so obvious—to everyone except Beverly apparently.
But I digress. Shortly after adult Bev and Adult Bill kiss in It: Chapter Two, the group finds themselves in the sewers below Pennywise's abandoned house, and Bev and Ben find themselves trapped together. One thing leads to another and adult Bev learns that Bill hadn't written that Winter Fire poem for her back when they were kids, it was Ben (shocker...). And suddenly, she falls madly in love with him, just in time for the last fifteen minutes of the movie.
*insert another collective groan*
So, you're telling me that Beverly's single purpose in life, ever since that summer, was to find who wrote that poem for her, so she could finally leave her abusive husband and fall in love? Seriously... clearly King and Muschiette both have a very surface-level, stereotypical understanding of women.
Bev's storyline was moderately problematic back in the 80's when conversations about gender equality and portrayal in media were a little less progressive, and is a huge issue now. As the only female in a cast of six, more effort should've been put forth by Muschiette to make adult Beverly more dimensional, despite King's original portrayal of her. Some things don't need to be replicated, regardless of the author's original intent or the social context of when the story originated.
Can we also talk for a second about Bev's husband, Tom, and the rapey nature of their altercation when we were first introduced to Bev's adult narrative? Domestic violence and rape seem to be another one of Hollywood's go-to standard to dramatize a story, and it is yet another trope that I am tired of seeing. It didn't even fit with the moment! "No Bev, you can't leave, but I'm going to force you to have sex with me now." This was done purely to show how weak adult Bev was/is, which I can only assume is Muschiette's view of all women who find themselves in domestic violence situations. Yet another grotesque simplification of what approximately 25% of the female population experiences. And apparently, according to Muschiette, vacating such circumstances is as easy as packing-up a bag in the middle of the night and chasing after someone who wrote you a twelve-word poem twenty-seven years prior.
Poor Beverly Marsh... she deserved a better storyline. Don't worry. I'll always remember you as the brave, fierce, and loyal badass that you were destined to become.
Well, there you have it! Although, as a plain viewer I did admittedly enjoy watching It: Chapter Two, when I put my critical lens on, there are just too many problematic issues connecting to race, culture, sexual orientation, and gender identity for me to be able to proclaim the movie's excellence. I do hope that future horror movies—especially King adaptations—learn from the mistakes of It: Chapter Two though, because I think some of the decisions made in this one were well-intentioned, they just needed a little more intentionality.
That's all for me for now! Let me know what you thought about It: Chapter Two in the comments below!