On the one hand, I couldn’t believe this title hadn’t been used for something before; on the other, I realize that might be because the ‘defence’ I’m writing about is for shows – and showrunners – that haven’t actually started yet.
First, there was the announcement of a Buffy reboot –which said that showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen, who created Midnight, Texas, would be showrunning, with Joss Whedon as exec producer, which obviously means that creatively, he has given the reboot his blessing. Whedon is a complicated figure these days, especially for the millions of people who saw Buffy as their first introduction to television feminism, but the people who are mad about it don’t seem to see that he’s involved in the reimagining.
I’ve slightly buried the lede here, and if you clicked on the headline above, you already know what it is: the Buffy reboot is to have a black lead actress. When I heard this caused outcry I snarled impatiently, but I’ve begun to realize it’s not for the reasons that I expected… thankfully?
That is, people aren’t mad at the idea of a Black lead slayer, they’re mad that the series is going to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer— a reboot, not a sequel. Erasing the lives of the people who existed in Sunnydale, and who so personified the 90s existential angst we didn’t know would still be so relevant 20 years later.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Mary Sunshine and we have proof daily that some people are still racist as f-ck, but from what I understand, a lot of fans would be fine if this were a sequel-slash-universe-expansion series called Slayer, or even one called “Kendra” (which would totally work, P.S, because Bianca Lawson, whom you may know as Miss Tina’s ‘bonus daughter’, has not aged a DAY since she was first introduced as Kendra The Vampire Slayer in Season 2. Yes, I know Kendra died. So did a lot of people.) But people are reacting to the idea that there will be a new Buffy in Buffy, or that it seems like pandering, or both.
The concern is about reboots, and whether they’re necessary – an argument that has pursued everything from Anne to The Great Gatsby to…I assume there are people somewhere who are still pissed about Dukes of Hazzard. Not all of that angst is misplaced – Anita Sarkeesian worries that it’s ‘exploiting nostalgia for profit’ and look, media companies aren’t known for the preservation of what’s already been good.
But I’m disturbed because, yeah, people are reacting to the announcement of an idea for a show. One that could be great. Could be terrible. But it isn’t anything yet.
Now, it’s one thing if it puts me in the position of being an old bag who shakes my fist at ‘Twitter Groupthink’, but I was shocked that the showrunner, Monica Owusu-Breen, responded:
This feels incredibly heartfelt and genuine, and as an avowed Buffy fan, I am excited to see what Owusu-Breen imagines for the new version of the show. She doesn’t expressly say that Buffy is the reason she became a TV writer, but it’s certainly one of the reasons I did. If I wasn’t already confident, I am now… but I still feel weird that she had to write this at all.
I think my biases are all up front, but in case they aren’t – I love TV and I love making TV, and I think being a showrunner is an incredibly hard job that takes a million people’s opinions into account. As my friend Shelley explained this weekend, more succinctly than I ever could:
A show runner isn’t a novelist.— Shelleeeee Scarrooooo (@chocolateyshell) July 29, 2018
Every moment of a show is subject to a thousand factors & literally hundreds of people’s actions/input/lives. THEN it’s watched through the viewer’s own lens.
You’re more like a pinball wizard than a single-minded brain in a jar.
That said, audiences are totally and completely free to like or not like anything you put out there. TV and film are democratic, and I don’t think there’s much point in explaining what you meant for audiences to see if they tell you that’s not what came across.
There’s a difference, to me, between something like this and the reaction to the trailer for Netflix's upcoming Insatiable. The showrunner of that show, Lauren Gussis, also wrote a response to the negative reaction to the trailer, imploring people to try the show before they judged. But even though a trailer is a tiny fraction of a season, it’s exponentially more than the announcement for Buffy, which basically amounts to ‘An Idea Has Been Had’. Even Confederate, the bad-idea-jeans “alternative-history” show from Game Of Thrones showrunners Benioff & Weiss (that HBO is mayyyybe gonna let us all forget they were hyping) had clearer details about what the story would be – one they’re probably happy to tiptoe away from now. Not just a line in a press release.
Am I a dinosaur? Is part of a showrunner’s professional task now to defend their program before it even hits the air – or the page – so that they and everyone else who works for them continues to have a job? This is the part where it’s not just about ‘everyone gets to have an opinion’ – as we know, the number and heft of your followers is now a real-life showbiz metric, and something like this has the power to make the powers that be reconsider their multi-million dollar decisions.
Twitter has grown incredibly powerful, and I will never scowl at the way it’s been able to raise otherwise-unheard voices. This is where #OscarsSoWhite began, where #MeToo exists, and there are millions of other connections that make it an incredible, if complicated, place to be. But I just want you to tell me the truth - am I now old if I think some of the things people are mad at feel a bit like judging a book by its cover?