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Leslie Jones: Racist ‘Ghostbusters’ Trolls Nearly Broke Me

In this exclusive excerpt from Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir, the comedian writes about how difficult the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ was for her

Leslie Jones

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“I don’t like this movie,” the journalist said, “and you’ve got five minutes to prove to me that it is worth watching.” The cast of Ghostbusters was on a press junket somewhere in Europe, and some guy with a German or Scandinavian or Russian accent or whatever had just had the balls to say that the movie we’d just made wasn’t “worth it,” and that we owed him an explanation.

Ghostbusters came out July 11, 2016, but before it had even hit the movie theaters it had been the subject of intense online abuse—and no surprise that I was the one who got most of the hate. For a start, sad keyboard warriors living in their mothers’ basements hated the fact that this hallowed work of perfect art now featured—gasp! horror! — women in the lead roles. Worst of all, of course, was that one of the lead characters was a Black woman. For some men this was the final straw.

It wasn’t just racism and misogyny, either. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was playing an MTA worker, as though that was something I should be ashamed of. I’d tried to fight back — I was a comic — I was used to someone heckling me, so for every piece of bullshit on Twitter I had a reply:

“If they made me a scientist you would be mad at what type of scientist. Seriously it’s a f—king movie get over yourself.”

“You haven’t seen the movie yet you don’t know wtf my char is. you [go] by a trailer. omg are y’all that arrogant. So is [an] MTA worker trash?”

“Why can’t a regular person be a Ghostbuster? “Regular People save the world everyday so if I’m the stereotype!! Then so be it!! We walk among Heroes and take them for granted. IT’S NOT A MAN, WOMAN, RACE, CLASS THANG!! ITS A GHOSTBUSTER THANG!! AND AS FAR AS IM CONCERNED WE ALL GHOSTBUSTERS!! STAND TALL!!”

Eight days after the movie premiered, I took my Twitter account down so we could work out who was trying to hack me (there had been multiple attempts to hack me by this point). And there had been so much racist abuse that I had no choice. I wrote,

I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart. All this ’cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the shit I got today . . . wrong.

Earlier that same evening I’d gotten a tweet from Jack Dorsey, then CEO of Twitter, telling me to DM him. He was aware that I was being brutally attacked with racial slurs and worse, and started putting people on my account — this was basically the start of Twitter taking this shit more seriously. (Jack put people on my account to monitor it because someone is always trying to hack me; it’s a daily occurrence — but with Musk, who knows? Either way, I have my own security on that account now.)

Order Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir.

People made such a big deal of the fact of me taking my account down rather than why I had to take it down. It was simple: I was shutting it down temporarily while working out what to do with all these muthafuckas hitting me; and anyway, it was back up the next day.

That night of July 18 was horrible, though. I remember crying and thinking, This is the first time I had ever seen it so bad. How do y’all all get together to bully a person? It wasn’t as if I’d committed a crime or something — I was being bullied over a movie, over playing a part in a movie. (I can’t believe I have to say this out loud.)

The weakness of muthafuckas amazes me. I cried not because I was being bullied, but because this is our world and because I can’t believe anyone would do this shit to someone, anyone, for working. This is awful. I am in a movie. Death threats for something as small as that? The world was not as rosy as I’d hoped it was. But none of that shit was about me.

But then that same night Kate McKinnon came over, we drank some wine, and I went on about my business.

Of all the women in Paul’s remake of the movie, I was the one who got taken through the ringer. I wonder why . . . Oh, right, because I was a Black girl. I was being sent films of being hanged, of white guys jacking off on my picture, saying, “You fucking n****r. We going to kill you.” Why are people being so evil to each other? How can you sit and type “I want to kill you.” Who does that?

And it wasn’t just racist shit, either — when I started doing this movie, this is when I really started seeing not only  racism, but classism. Even the director of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Jason Reitman — who is the son of the original director, Ivan—said something unforgivable when discussing his new version that came out in 2021. On Bill Burr’s podcast he said this about our version of Ghostbusters:

We are, in every way, trying to go back to the original technique and hand the movie back to the fans.

He did try to walk it back, tweeting,

Wo, that came out wrong! I have nothing but admiration for Paul and Leslie and Kate and Melissa and Kristen and the bravery with which they made Ghostbusters 2016. They expanded the universe and made an amazing movie!

But the damage was done. Bringing up the idea of giving the movie “back to the fans” was a pretty clear shout-out to   all those losers who went after us for making an all-female film.

It was made clear to me at times during the process that I was lucky to even be on that movie, but honestly, I was thinking, I don’t have to be in this muthafucka . . . Especially as I got paid way less than Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. No knock on them, but my first offer was to do that movie for $67,000. I had to fight to get more (in the end I got $150K), but the message was clear: “This is gonna blow you  up—after this, you’re made for life,” all that kind of shit, as though I hadn’t had decades of a successful career already. And in the end, all it made for me was heartache and one big-ass controversy.

Fortunately, I learned a lot from Melissa on that shoot. If  she looked at a shot and she didn’t think it was right, she’d suggest that it be shot from a different side or angle. Back then I didn’t know you could change your shots until I saw Melissa and Kristen do it. And these days I do the same kinds of things that they did on Ghostbusters.

But listen, I had a great time, too. I bonded with Kate. I loved Boston, became a kind of Bostonian. We were right by Fenway. We’d walk from the set through a beautiful park to the hotel. People would recognize us, come by to say hi. I loved that city. And being trained to do, and then doing, the stunts themselves? I loved that. And the crew was fucking incredible, too, really sweet and helpful. (I recently did a shoot in Boston and some of the crew talked about making Ghostbusters. They all had great memories, which helped me see the positives, too.)

I think that’s why one of the worst things about that movie is that it should have been a great film. That crew deserved for y’all to see the movie we actually made. But a lot of stuff got cut for cost.

What no one realizes to this day is that me and Kate had some great moments that you didn’t get to see. There were moments with Melissa and Kristen that got cut, too, that I thought were important in explaining how their friendship came to be in the movie. If they had released the movie as we’d shot it, I swear things would have been different. Paul Feig was awesome during the shooting, and we were doing improv all over the place, and there was even a dance scene that was so dope. Michael Williams, God rest  his soul, choreographed a scene where Chris  Hemsworth was possessed and took over the whole army. It was like a really funny, weird version of “Thriller” — Chris was standing on top of a movie theater dancing, while Michael Williams was in the front of all the FBI agents and soldiers on the ground, just killing it. It was the best thing. The day of that taping we were so excited because we figured that when  people saw this, they were going to lose it.

Nope — it got cut. The reason given was that the special effects needed were too expensive, or some bullshit. But if this film can’t afford special effects, then what the fuck are we doing making a Ghostbusters movie in the first place? Then there was a fight scene I shot that also got cut.

When they later announced the Jason Reitman version, Afterlife, which completely ignored the fact that there had been an all-female version, and all that “giving it back to the fans” shit, I could not stay quiet; I had to say something. I wrote on Twitter,

So insulting. Like, fuck us. We dint count. It’s like some- thing trump would do. (Trump voice) “Gonna redo  ghostbusteeeeers, better with men, will be huge. Those women ain’t ghostbusteeeeers” ugh so annoying. Such a dick move. And I don’t give a fuck I’m saying something!!

Turns out that excitement I felt walking down Fifth Avenue after my meeting with Paul Feig? It morphed into a learning experience, but parts of it were really painful, too.

But maybe something good came out of all this after all — by the end of that shoot, I knew so much more than I    did when I started. By the end I was thinking, This shit won’t ever happen again. I know that I’m not a big star yet, but after this muthafucka, after figuring this out, I’m about to release the Kraken.

Why would the world be so against a female Ghostbusters — it’s iconic! What does that say about everyone? I think if we’d made it now, things might — might — be different, who knows. (Oh, no — I forgot about the reaction to the Black mermaid. . . )

And that foreign journalist who asked us to justify the movie to him?

“I’ve been so good at doing press today. I did twenty-two interviews!” I said to Melissa and Kristen and Kate and Lauren Roseman, the publicist, after they told me about the foreign journalist’s bitch-ass question. “Y’all didn’t let me at him? I deserve that. You didn’t let me get in a room with him and A Bronx Tale his ass? I would have locked the door and said, ‘Now, youse can’t leave, muthafucka.’”

Excerpted from the book Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir by Leslie Jones. Copyright © 2023 by Leslie Jones. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

From Rolling Stone US