While the rest of the world was celebrating a geek milestone–10/21/15 aka Back to the Future Day, I was cautiously anticipating another: 10/23/15, the premiere of the “Jem and the Holograms” live action movie. Back in the day, “Jem” was my everything! This movie has been a point of contention in for fans of the original series and rightfully so. (Please check out Jamie Broadnax’s 2014 post on BlackGirlNerds.com post from 2014 “Where is Christy Marx?” for a primer in the film’s troubling production history.
While it pained me to think of the eventual long walk to the gallows for the movie, I decided to train myself emotionally and intellectually to view this film. I committed to re-watching the classic series annotated by @BlackGirlNerd’s #jemlivetweet. I familiarized myself with IDW’s “Jem” comic. I even attended the 2015 JemCon near Philadelphia. And just to clarify, JemCon was around before the movie and not because of the movie. (Check out my JemCon 2015 storify for a recap: https://storify.com/ArtsHumana/jemcon2015-recap)
It was at JemCon where I met other “Jem” fans to deep-dive on my favorite “Jem” episodes. But the highlight of JemCon was meeting Christy Marx–creator of Jem (who is brilliant and clearly loves her Jem fans!). All eyes were on Marx as she spoke. There was no vitriol in Marx’s tone when she was asked to talk about the movie. Marx also shared that given the budget realities of the film, the movie could not take on a period piece approach. She also said director Jon Chu was looking forward to telling the “Jem” story in a different way that could lead to more stories. Once I heard that, it was my own personal lightbulb moment: The “Jem” movie was never intended to be a remake, but areimagining. Ok. Got it.
A reimagining is loosely inspired by the original source material. In a reimagining, you expect deviations from the original story lines that don’t detract from the essence of the story and its characters. When a reimagining is done well, you have a movie that does not completely alienate with fans of the original story but can still resonate with new audiences in relevant ways.
In my Thursday night “private screening” of JEM (translation: I was the only in the theater) it was clear the creative team behind the “Jem” movie did not get the same Reimagining 101 memo. Yes, the movie failed to capture the essence of what made “Jem and the Holograms” so great for the original fan base of the property on a number of levels (pick a movie review, any review, for more details on that angle). But in its bid to assert itself as hip and relevant, the film comes across culturally tone deaf to the world that young women now find themselves as learners and agents of their own realities.We are now living in an educational landscape where STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) learning and the Maker Movement are shaping how we think about youth voice and agency. Though created in the 80s, “Jem” was powered by STEAM before STEAM learning was cool (Jem & The Holograms…the Original STEAM Punks…meditate on that for a bit). (Re)Imagine if the creators of the movie decided to take reflect this reality rather than relying on the internet tropes. (Re)Imagine if Jerrica and Kimber were young artist entrepreneurs, or Aja had a knack for robotics and programming, and Shana was a maker maven who was just as adept at making funky power suits and she was handling power tools. (Re)Imagine if the “Jem” movie creative team participated in a hackathon with organizations like Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code to truly get schooled on STEAM, and actually talked to the young women and their mentors in these programs. Or easier yet, (re)imagine if the film’s director Jon Chu actually collaborated with Jem’s creator Christy Marx from start to finish. Marx started her career in comics and is now a game designer at Zynga; surely she has some great pointers on storytelling and authentic female agency.
As a fan of the original animated series, I’m saddened the new “Jem” movie never picked up STEAM. A “Jem and the Holograms” movie properly reimagined could have been a wonderful chance to craft a powerful narrative of young women inspired to use their talents and technology as a mode of meaning-making and greater self-expression, not self-indulgence. This is the truly outrageous life and our future is brighter because there are young women making it happen in so many creative ways. Now, isn’t that a story worth re-telling?