I always saw myself in John Hughes’ films, even if he couldn’t see me in them.
I don’t say this lightly. Hughes’ body of work is consistently characterized as the pithy zenith of coming-of-age movies, enduring due to his representation of real teenagers with typical problems. Yet people of color were either absent or horrifically stereotypically represented in his films. How American. In Hughes’ iconic film about the joy of young white mischief, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the only POC are:
1) Two garage hands who take the Ferrari for a joy ride, which is exactly what Ferris & co. have done but somehow the narrative holds them as more criminal.
2) The Asian chief of police (legit a rare and brief non-pejorative caricature—and he’s a COP which is like “oh hey assimilate and enforce the police state and you’re cleared for representation kthxbye”).
3) An entire cadre of black people who magically appear and do a “Thriller”-esque choreographed scene during the parade sequence.
Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles is the filmic heir to Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. His name alone is a violence it hurt to type. That one in particular I find excruciating to watch. Some Kind of Wonderful, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Breakfast Club—all of these spoke to a Carrie growing up in the 90s, a decade after they were made. I was that Baby Dyke (#ijs) in Some Kind of Wonderful. I was that girl making her own clothes from what she found at the thrift shop in Pretty in Pink (and I maintain I could have made something *WAY* cuter than what Ringwald ends up with from what she had to work with). I was literally EVERY CHARACTER in The Breakfast Club. I was a jock and a nerd and a weirdo and (sometimes) a pretty girl and (always) an angsty rebel. But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was aspirational. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a bunch of shit my black ass would have gotten arrested or killed for doing. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was FUN. If Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” had been a movie, maybe I’d have seen it and not had a need for Ferris. That said, it bears mentioning that I was a black girl being raised by a white mother, around white people. I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the very first time on VHS with my cousins who were actual white teenagers. Not seeing myself, but finding some connection, some familiarity there, is a function of my intersectional privilege. That’s right. In our America, it can be a privilege to even have access to a child’s representational wish.
Which is one reason why generally I’m a “parallel structures” bish, i.e., I don’t believe in asking white people for shit, least of all to be “included” in their movies—I’d rather we have a redistribution of resources and get to make our own, or even be left the fuck alone long enough to enjoy the amazing shit we make sans resources without being locked up or shot at or micro/macro-aggressed. I hold that at the same time as I hold teenage Carrie’s giant crush on the FBDO trifecta. On John Hughes’ sense of story and angst and innocence. On that moment Cam’s sick and disabled (I said it) self jumps up and down with angry anxiety behind the still and empty interior of his little basic car. On that moment Sloane and Ferris kiss in front of the Chagall windows at the Art Institute. On that moment Jeanie (pre-nose job Jennifer Grey) does the dorkiest turn-n-squee move on the stairs at the police station after making out with a nameless leather motorcycle-jacketed Charlie Sheen. And especially on that carefree fast-talking irreverent life that Rosa Parks and Sandra Bland and Mya Hall and all the beat and dead black grrrls, who deigned to do a thing as irreverent as sit in the white section of the bus or fail to signal in the face of white impunity or exist as a transgendered woman, were denied.
This past spring, 30 years after Ferris first captured the hearts of teenage white America, somebody offered to take me to Chicago for a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off date. Teenage Carrie said YES. She got to have her day at the Art Institute with a handsome-high-school-boyfriend type in a bomber jacket. She got to lean out into the Chicago sky from the top of Sears Tower and feel large and small at the same time, wondering what would happen when the season changed. She hashtagged her adventure #LaSloanePeterson’s #SnowDayOff, a nod to the (oft racistly derided) brilliance of black baby-naming, Mia Sara’s quiet glamour, and Chicago’s March weather. We took pictures*, and I made a video about the whole thing (watch it below).
The day after #LaSloanePeterson’s #SnowDayOff, I went down to 2337 W Monroe Street, on the West Side of Chicago—the place where Black Panther Fred Hampton was murdered in 1969 by the FBI as he lay sleeping next to his pregnant fiancé. I left flowers there, red ones for the black blood that continues to spill from state violence. Carnations for love and Gerbera for joy and Alstroemeria because it was the most bountifully blooming stem my broke black ass could afford. I lit a candle, and left a page torn from a notebook on which I transcribed “Youngblood” by Assata Shakur.
2337 W Monroe is unoccupied and bears no marker. The neighbor saw me fussing at the gate and came to help. I scribbled these notes in the airport later:
Dave left his
next-door porch in
a Obama/King pantheon tshirt
in 35 degree weather
to block biting wind from
killing the light i lit
at Fred Hampton’s gate
“i’ve been living here 50 years” he said
& then, “i wish i had more free time.”
Even though 1985 Black Chicago was living with this near-past legacy, Ferris and Sloane and Cam were not. To be black is to never get a day off. John Hughes never considered this. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is often called his “love letter to Chicago”—it follows that there was no love for Black Chicago or any other Chicago apart from the bucolic suburban/downtown urban white-flight universe of Ferris & his squad. So LaSloane’s Day Off is a disruption. It’s me saying that I’m going into that art museum and up to the tippy top of Chicago with Fred Hampton and his baby mama in my heart. It’s saying I am gonna BLACK JOY all over this bitch, John Hughes. Thanks/no thanks and may you rest in peace.
Grown As Fuck 2016 Carrie is talmbout: #BlackJoyOrDieTryin. This hashtag is absent hyperbole. It’s Joy or Death out here for a Black Grrrl.
P.S. Currently accepting offers to be taken to Kellerman’s for Queer Black disruption of Dirty Dancing, to make offerings to the enslaved people who built that place.
*Film stills via IMDB. All other photos by Jamie Chung.