Molly Ringwald penned a fantastic article about John Hughes, his films, and her complicated relationship with both a couple of weeks ago. I was apprehensive about reading it since Hughes’ films represent exclusion, racism, sexism, and homophobia to me. I’ll admit that I enjoyed them when they were released but I remember being very uncomfortable with the character of Long Duk Dong because, even as a teenager in the 80’s, blatantly racist interpretations of Asian men was abhorrent.
I did read the article, though, and was relieved to see her acknowledge the problematic issues with the films that are beloved by many of my peers. She mentioned that a gay, black man told her he loved the films and when she asked why, he explained that it was because they showed other teenagers struggling with their identities and trying to fit into traditional, white, heteronormative environments. Okay. I get that, even though I never identified with Duckie, Bender, Clair, Andy, Brian, Allison, or even Geek Girl.
That being said, I understood the article way more when I started watching ‘Anne with an E’ this year on Netflix. I’d forgotten how much I loved Anne Shirley Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables as a child, until I watched the pilot. Like Issa Rae, I was an awkward black girl growing up in London, Ontario.
I set a goal to read 500 books by the age of 12 when I was 9 years old and crushed it. I read the dictionary and Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias for fun (we only had A-M because my parents stop paying for them), and I loved using big words (lavatory is still a good one).
Watching Amybeth McNulty, who plays Anne, respond to the world with rapturous, unironic joy reminded me of myself as a child. I understood using imagination to escape a mundane and, sometimes oppressive, life. In elementary school I was not considered pretty, popular, or the cool girl to hang out with at the lunch table. I read Wuthering Heights in the old English and collected interesting looking rocks. I was told, repeatedly, that I was weird. I spent hours in the woods behind my house hoping to photograph rabbits and birds; and wrote a lot of tortured prose about musical artists like Wham! Thompson Twins, and Swing Out Sister (I was also a huge Anglophile, but that’s a whole other pathology).
I must be clear about one thing: I am not an orphan. I have two wonderful parents who found me bewildering, and for a brief period I was an only child until my brothers showed up (yup, I’m still bitter). I was, however, a child that daydreamed a lot, spoke like a character from an Enid Blyton novel, and was convinced I’d experience an early, tragic death (probably from TB, hemophilia, or malaria). I was melodramatic, had gigantic glasses for my near-sightedness, wore corduroy that made that swishing sound when I walked, and kept my hair in tight braids: I totally understood red-head Anne Shirley of PEI.
As a kid I knew, with thick glasses, high forehead, and snaggletooth grin, that I wasn’t a great beauty, so instead learned to cultivate a sense of humour and performative skills; you’d almost say I took a page from the Anne Shirley playbook. If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables, or seen either of the tv interpretations, that doesn’t always work out so well and, like Anne, I was bullied. Thankfully, I had two brothers and a Jamaican father who taught me not to take crap from anyone. I was little, yes, but I knew how to throw a punch. Needless to say, I wasn’t bullied for long.
Unlike Anne, I gave up my dream of being a teacher, and chose the lucrative career of acting and writing. I still love a puffed sleeve, talk to ladybugs that land in front of me, and relish using the word ‘delicious’ to describe food, men, films, and experiences. I was a verbose little sprite 35 years ago who’s grown into a bit of cranky Tinkerbell; yes, if your applause stops, I will keel over, but in the most beautiful, and scrumptious fashion. Pray you catch me.