Like so many others, I first learned of actress and comedienne Leslie Jones through her first appearance on Saturday Night Live during the episode that aired on May 3, 2014 — and I loved her before she ever uttered a word.
After years of complaints from the public regarding the exclusion of African-American women from the cast, there she was: an in-your-face, loud-and-proud Black woman with a harsh, spiky hairdo, hoop earrings that girls from my neighborhood wore unabashedly in the 90’s (in spite of the popular fashion accessory being referred to as “ghetto”), and most of all, covered in beautiful, bronze-like skin that encased her like a suit of armor. She was, and still is, one of the most gorgeous beings I have ever laid eyes on in my 34 years of life, and that’s saying a lot, because I just so happen to be a proud, gay man.
And then, she spoke; and somehow, I fell even more in love with her.
“The way we view Black beauty has changed,” she explained to the audience, and to SNL co-player Colin Jost. “Look at me — I’m single right now. But back in the slave days, I would’ve never been single! I’m six feet tall, and I’m strong, Colin. Strong! I mean, look at me, I’m a Mandingo!”
The second I heard the shaky, unsure laughter from the audience, I knew that an instant star had just been born, one that wasn’t remotely afraid of being controversial, thought-provoking or real in any way, shape or form. Although my hunch would not be solidified until later that year; when Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, hired her on as a regular cast member, making her just the second African-American woman in SNL history to hold such a position on the show (another great talent, Sasheer Zamata, preceded her by about a year), I became an instant, dedicated fan of Leslie’s at that moment, and still consider myself to be one today.
This past Monday, Jones once again managed to reaffirm my affection for her, although unfortunately, it was through commiseration and sad familiarity, and not celebration and hilarity. Following what should have been a show-and-prove win of the $46 million the Ghostbusters remake brought in during its opening weekend; a film that has been lambasted since before a second of it had even been recorded, she instead found herself battling belittling and racist attacks that were ultimately found to have been spearheaded by queer Breitbart writer and editor, Milo Yiannopolous.
Most of the comments Jones received from the followers of the now-banned-from-Twitter journalist, as reported by the Inquisitr, likened her to, “a big lipped coon,” a transgender male, and worst of all, Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was gunned down to stop him from possibly injuring a young child who had climbed into his enclosure.
The latter relation of Jones to an orangutan was one that I was all too familiar with. Throughout my adolescence, a group of so-called friends — yes, friends — would jokingly refer to me as “Amy,” the gorilla that was featured in the 1995 action-adventure film, Congo. They would repeat the moniker to me incessantly, and every single time they did, they would laugh just a little bit louder and a little bit longer than they had the previous time, which was usually just seconds before.
I remember doing everything in my young power to ignore their teases, which included a demand to repeat the phrase, “Amy loves Peter,” a sentence that Amy expresses through American Sign Language in the movie, for their amusement. However, as a lonely kid who was so desperate to be liked, I could only do so much to defend myself while somehow maintaining the bits of friendship that had been offered to me by them.
Like Leslie, I, too dealt with it for so, so long; years, in fact, because I honestly believed that it was something that came with the territory of such a relationship. “Friends tease each other all of the time,” I remember thinking, “and they don’t complain about it, so why should I?”
Luckily, time and maturity would eventually teach me what a real friend would and would never do, but even now, long after those dreadful moments in time, the feelings those words imparted on to me still linger deep inside, and I suppose they always will. There are times when I catch myself glancing in a mirror and I hear, with crystal-clear clarity, all of the words and peals of laughter about one of the few things about me that I could not, and as I got stood by as I got older, would not, change. It’s a weird catch-22, I suppose: I have long accepted that this dark skin that I am in is so damn beautiful, but it doesn’t make the emotional scars about this physical piece of my being sting any less.
It is a pain that Leslie, just as beautiful and just as hurt, revealed right before she chose to depart Twitter for a bit of self-healing time.
In that wrong, however, Leslie may have unintentionally done something amazingly right, something that I wish I would have understood way back when. Everyday, folks of different colors, different genders, different sexual preferences, and different differences are teased and tormented for factors of their life that are well beyond their control. But, what would happen if, like Leslie, they decided to stop being silent about it? What would happen if everyone who had been demeaned for being Black, being gay, being a woman, being a human being, just stood up to the spewers of vitriol in their life and simply said, “enough is enough”?
It took me so many years to make such a personal statement for my own well-being, and Heaven knows what might have been had I just said it that much sooner (for the record, those former friends — yes, former — have long since apologized for their heinous actions). Maybe I’d have a lot more confidence about my talents, and be further along in this path of journalism than I am now. Maybe I’d be a lot more active in the dating scene, and not worry about how someone outside of my skin tone might perceive me before they actually get to know me. Maybe I’d be sitting next to Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live, writing jokes that would make some people uncomfortable, but make others feel like that there is no limit to their success they can obtain, or the amount of joy they should feel in their everyday lives regarding who they are, without apology.
I don’t know what it would have done for me, to be honest, but I do know what it might do for someone else who, like Leslie Jones, can find the bravery within themselves to say “enough is enough.”
[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]