What The Boss got wrong about “cool”, class, and capitalism

If you don’t want spoilers but want my abbreviated take on the film click here.

In 2016, I reached a new level of maturity and began to take myself on solo dates to the movies, #adulting. In addition to most of my community being dispersed across the country, I like the freedom that comes with not needing anyone’s approval or co-sign on the movies I want to see. I can admit that sometimes I’m curious to see movies I know will be ridiculously lackluster; sometimes I even enjoy them. Perfect example: I knew I would get adamant refusals if I invited anyone I knew to see Zoolander 2. And as expected, it was a pretty bad film, but I still found myself riddled with laughter in the empty theater and was grateful that no one was there to see me.

But I absolutely did not expect the mediocrity and problematic elements that I encountered while viewing Melissa McCarthy’s new film, The Boss, earlier this week. McCarthy wrote and executive produced the film, which is about an obnoxious female entrepreneur and millionaire, Michelle Darnell, who is sent to prison by a resentful ex-boyfriend, resulting in divestments and the loss of her fortune. Once she is released from prison, she must rely on the hospitality of her former assistant and single mother Claire Rawlins, played by Kristen Bell, whom she encourages to become her business partner after she hatches a plan to rebound from her financial troubles. The film depends on poorly curated elements of banal “bro” humor – like swearing from little girls and middle aged women, exaggerated falls, and the self-realized sexualization of Darnell, who is assumed to be the opposite of attractive because of her age and size – for its humor. I have no doubts that a group of pre-teen boys would have loved this film. But, unfortunately the film is R-rated and marketed toward adults who don’t find shoving troop cookies down someone’s pants during an overdramatized girl fight to be worth a giggle. Yes, that happened.

More than the epic comedy fail, though, were the problematic elements related to ideas about race, gender, and capitalism. One of the opening scenes involves Darnell giving a motivational speech about entrepreneurship at a packed arena. She makes her grand entrance with a choreographed remix of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win.” T-Pain himself, who sings the catchy hook on the track, joins Darnell on stage at one point. This tired tactic, that relies on Black people and Black culture to mark white subjects as rebelliously cool, prompted an immediate eye roll on my part. I hoped that this would be the only reminder that Blackness is a commodity that can be easily accessed for the right price. But immediately after, we are introduced to Darnell’s yes-man, a Black man named Tito. Darnell also instructs her Black helicopter pilot to remove his shirt so that she can gaze upon his body. Both of these characters are used to accentuate Darnell’s massive success and alterity. I couldn’t help but feel awkward at what was such a gross enactment of on-screen diversity.

Ad then there is the fact that Darnell is single, childless, and was raised in an orphanage where she would live between foster homes that ultimately rejected her. It is highlighted that this character was able to obtain her level of success through a commitment to detachment as a result of not having a family. This trope is of course based on the stereotype that women are not able to balance the demands of entrepreneurship and family at the same time; and the resulting implication that women must choose one or the other. Furthermore, women who choose business and career are inherently conniving, lonely, and overall lacking in morality – themes that were all injected into Darnell. In fact, when Rawlins and her young daughter get too close to Darnell, treating her like family, she runs away and sells the business that they built together.

On the other hand, Rawlins is a single mother who, after being underpaid and under-appreciated by Darnell in her role as assistant, moves on to another dead end job with another overbearing female boss. Primarily concerned with taking care of her daughter, Rawlins sacrifices better opportunities and work-life balance to ensure a consistent income. In other words, because she is so concerned with motherhood, she is unable to make savvy business decisions and requires Darnell’s inspiration and help. The experiences and skill sets of these women merge together when, after being forced to accompany Rawlins’s daughter Rachel to her Dandelions meeting (a fictional rip off the Girl Scouts), Darnell decides to start a competing company called Darnell’s Darlings, relying on Claire’s homemade brownies (another sexist cliché in itself) as it’s selling product. As opposed to the allegorical results of patches, projects, and building birdhouses as the reward for selling cookies, Darnell’s company offers her (mostly white) girls 10% commission and another 10% to be added into a college fund. In other words, Darnell’s version of girl empowerment relies on a Sandberg-esque investment in capitalism, which works best in the interest of white, upper and middle class communities, per usual.

The film missed the mark on so many levels, hence its negative reviews despite box office success. So if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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