When the film Juno came out, people assumed that as a sexologist who works with youth and youth of color, that I would love the film. I didn’t. I still don’t. There were several issues that came up for me while watching the film, not only as a sexologist, but also as someone committed to social justice which includes access to quality care for ALL, media justice, and fair and accurate representations of communities of Color.
Here are my issues with the film:
1. no discussion or examination of class privilege
2. only 4 characters of Color (2 with speaking roles)
3. cultural appropriation (not sure that’s the best term, but I’ll use it for now)
Now, the film is about a young White girl who gets pregnant while still in high school She chooses to maintain her pregnancy and have the child adopted. Ok, fine. Now, I got into a few discussions with folks about what the class status was of Juno and her family. It is clear the adoptive parent(s) she chooses have a different class status than her own. What is not clear is what Juno’s class status is. I argue she is not from a working class family (and I say that knowing the importance of including more people as working class is important to have us acknowledged and fuck with how class is constructed in the capitalist society we live in). I think Juno is from a middle-class family and here’s why (keep in mind I’m viewing this from my particular lens as a working-class person):
1. Her step mother owns her own business (we know that White privilege can play a lot in how folks get loans to open businesses and such)
2. Her father is a skilled laborer, I think a plumber (and this is where a lot of the fuzzy convos about class come up)
3. She has a car she drives to school (it’s a minivan as I recall)
4. Look at all that she has in her bedroom. There are televisions in just about every room she is shown as being in her home.
5. She has money to purchase several home pregnancy tests without having a job (if you don’t know they can each cost up to $10)
6. She has access to wealthy people in her community
7. She's filled with self-entitlement (Yes, I know some working-class and working-poor can have the same sense of entitlement, but the script to me came off as not a witty and clever young teenage girl, but as a self-righteous entitled one!)
When it comes to characters of Color there was a VERY weak attempt to sprinkle us in this film. Look, if this is a film filled with White people and none of us (I mean it already is!), it’s what I expected anyway. But when I saw how they tried to include us in the film, I was instantly turned off and quite disgusted. As a reminder, here are the 4 characters of Color:
1. Valerie Tian plays Su-Chin Qah, a high school student with a very stereotypical accent. We first see her standing in front of the abortion clinic Juno goes to trying to get information and terminate her pregnancy. Tian’s character is shouting in broken English how abortion is murder, she will go to hell, and other religious right anti-choice rhetoric.
2. Once Juno arrives in the clinic, she looks around and sees a young Black woman who is very visibly pregnant (possibly in her second trimester) and has one child at her side who is clearly under 5 years old. She is filling out a form. We are lead to believe that the young mother wants to terminate her current 2nd trimester pregnancy. I read this as 1. Racist (the actress is not even mentioned in the list of characters, we are given the impression she is irresponsible, can’t find childcare for her current child, and just about any other stereotype we know all too well is attached to Black women and our sexuality), 2. Anti-choice (especially against women who choose second trimester procedures). All that and the young women didn’t even speak! She was only on the screen for less than 60 seconds and this is the impression we are left with! When I mention her, some viewers can’t even remember her. How ironic, when I’m the only one of my crew of mostly White sexuality educators who remembers her. PS you can’t take kids to an abortion clinic on the day they are performing terminations (perhaps if it is a medical clinic too providing other care) but usually abortion clinics ask you not to bring children with you.
3. Kaaren de Zilva plays the Ultrasound Technician. She has no speaking part, but plays a role in allowing Juno, her stepmother, friend and adoptive mother to have a first image of the child. A woman of Color played a huge role in the life of this young woman and her chosen adoptive parent(s) for her child and she barely speaks!
4. Aman Johal plays Vijay, the friend to Paulie (aka Juno’s male partner and biological father to their child) and on the track team with him. Vijay has the most speaking lines in the film, unfortunately, the are less than exception. His lines consist of talking about how he wants to grow facial hair to demonstrate his virility, and announce he’s going to “stop wearing underpants” to “raise his sperm count.” Is he not happy that he has not impregnated a young woman like Paulie has, even if it was unplanned? Are we left to think that Vijay wants to be a young father? Is sexually active? Is not using condoms with his partner(s)? Fuck!
I don’t know about ya’ll but I could have done without these 4 characters even being included. They distracted me and definitely gave me a different understanding and view of the film. I didn't read the film initially, or think it would be, anti-choice, but some of these representations lead me to believe that this film did want a level of anti-choice discourse/imagery, unfortunately, all of them where people of Color! What a stereotype!
Finally, the cultural appropriation, again, I don’t know if this is the appropriate term. Perhaps I should say “the performance of Blackness/otherness.” That seems to be a bit more on point for what I had trouble consuming as a viewer. It all began at the market where Juno takes her pregnancy test. The White sales clerk says to Juno something to the effect of “home skillet.” Anyway, Juno’s discussion with her girlfriend about her pregnancy leads into a discussion using a Snoop Dogg use of terminology such as “fo’ shizzle.” I can’t explain why it made me uncomfortable to watch this performance or why it rubbed me the wrong way, but it did. There was an attempt to use language in a way that was fully accessible when we know as a fact that language is not accessible to everyone. Maybe it’s too painful for me to get into and my subconscious is trying to protect me from a breakdown? Maybe I just don’t have the energy. Maybe I just don’t want to fight this battle anymore.
And that is why I'm not a fan of the film Juno.