I got the chance to talk about the new movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT with the guys from the Scary Thoughts podcast. We all saw the film together and discussed its relative merits, including what the guys referred to as THE BEVENING: which is to say my reaction to the interpretation of the only girl in the Losers Club. On Twitter, I got to share my rage at THE BEVENING with two of the authors I admire most: Cat Valente and Seanan McGuire, because they both love the book and had the same feelings I did after seeing this movie. Listen to the podcast for the rage and the love and the glory and some really astute audience questions from Borderlands Books in San Francisco.
I enjoyed IT on many levels and I’m not trying to take away from its incredible success. But I can’t stop thinking about Beverly, much as many people can’t stop thinking about what was taken away from Mike, the only Black kid in the Losers Club. We can love things and still engage with them critically. With that in mind, what follows is a letter to the various versions of Beverly Marsh.
I worry about you, Bevvie.
I have worried about you for a long time. You’re the only girl in your story, and I know how hard that can be. You never get to talk with another girl or woman about how things are going or how it all makes you feel. You don’t get any solidarity, especially since you like to define yourself as ‘not like other girls.’ I understand why you chose the boys and the Barrens, why you’re better at facing the monster than all of them; even Big Bill. You’ve been facing them all your life.
I worried when they adapted your story (and it is yours, the whole thing is yours, you are the hero and the Gunslinger of IT by far and without question) for the screen again that they would bungle it. They don’t know how to translate a strong girl to the screen, even when she was perfect in the book. They read that you were pretty, so they made sure to light you well and shoot you from angles to suggest that you’re quite grown up for your age. They read that the boys all wanted you, so they disrobed you in slow motion so that the men in the audience knew that they were allowed to want you, too. They took something that your father never quite did in the book and showed it to us, again and again, because they thought otherwise that we wouldn’t believe you. They didn’t believe you.
They took your story and gave it away to those boys, who you already gave so much. When the boys needed to get back together, they kidnapped you like Princess Peach. When the deadlights took you from yourself, they put the power to revive you into Ben’s mouth. Ben, who you didn’t choose. Ben, who wrote you the poem you wished was from someone else. Ben, who doesn’t have permission to touch you, finds you unconscious and puts his mouth on yours. Because that is what heroes do.
In the book, each of the Losers carries a catechism of fairy-tale beliefs into the fight with the monster. This sick kid has his placebos and the nerdy kid has his bird-watching guides. The stutterer has his tongue-twisters and the trashmouth has his impressions. The historian has the truth of the big picture and the fat kid has the mind of an architect and the heart of a lion. You carry the magic that only a woman can. It is yours to give, and though it’s a tough scene to read, it belongs to you. You call the shots. You call the train. Magic is messy.
You are the one who has to stand up to a world that was trying to eat pieces of you long before the monster awoke and began to feed.
In the film, there is no magic. The kids have no catechism and no real bond. The filmmakers take your power and use it to distress your friends, because in this version of the story they see you only as The Girl. You’re not the group’s marksman. You get a few moments of fearlessness because they almost read you right. They never read girls right. Even the strongest are kidnapped to get rescued, and get ogled by the camera in the way that the boys on the team never will be. So many girls who read your story and saw themselves in you came away from this iteration angry like we’d all been robbed. We were robbed of you, the same way we are always robbed. It’s a wonder that women and girls have anything left to steal.
Sometimes I worry a lot.
I worry that we lose track of girls like you once they start shopping for Tampax. I worry that in stories about the transition between childhood and adulthood, girlhood is utterly lost. It is lost because movies like IT insist that the only girl in the group is not a person; she is that transition itself. She is the gate and the keeper, dispensing manhood without any volition of her own as each boy passes through her and becomes something else. I worry that directors and cinematographers think it’s fine to shoot five boys in lumpy diapers with a dynamic setup that emphasizes the enormity of the quarry, while lighting and centering you like something that should be eaten, as long as you’re the first one to jump. They’ll point to you on the screen and say we made her the bravest one! Why aren’t you satisfied?
I’m not satisfied with this adaptation of IT, and that’s mostly because of you, Bevvie. I missed out on some of my favorite things in this book, like the cosmic horror and the black kid getting to be the nerd for once, because the film robbed me of those things, too. But most of all I am unsatisfied with the way they treated you. You are the bravest of the Losers. You are their Gunslinger (you will never forget the face of your father.) You are the one who has to stand up to a world that was trying to eat pieces of you long before the monster awoke and began to feed. You are the best of the Final Girls; the one that holds it all together without losing herself. In the book, you were whole. In the new film, you are as wrecked as Derry when the monster at its heart was destroyed; still recognizable, but everything caved in and burning down. Beverly Marsh, you are nobody’s damsel and I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You deserved better.
The new adaptation of IT is a highly enjoyable and profitable misogynist trashfire.
My heart burns there, too.