By Paromita Naidu
Yes, I went to see Top Gun: Maverick—and I loved it!
Why does that surprise you? Just because I’m a Brown girl who’s committed to equity and justice?
Well, it shouldn’t. Let me tell you why.
Films in the '80s and '90s did not provide us with a diversity of options for male romantic leads, and that’s an understatement.
For Indigenous, Black, and racialized youth coming of age during those decades, that serious lack meant we quivered in our Keds over the likes of Rob Lowe, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and yes… Tom Cruise. Sadly, our silver screen crushes were cis-het, virile, able-bodied, and often wealthy. They were witty, cheeky, happy, sexy, and powerful. They plunged headfirst into adventure, beat down the bad guys, and always got the girl. But mostly—they were white. Like, lily-white. This meant, for many of us, our ideas of beauty, masculinity, sexuality, and success were molded directly through these specimens of smiling perfection.
Tom Cruise and his charisma really epitomized this fantasy for many South Asian girls like myself. Giggling through Risky Business, we were breathless as he barely survived Mission: Impossible, and were entirely captivated through the intensity of A Few Good Men. We wept during Jerry Maguire but most of all, we were mesmerized by his roguish charm in Top Gun.
For my young group of racialized friends—Tom Cruise was everything. He stood in direct opposition to everything we (generally) did not see in our own communities: he was free, unencumbered, adventurous, overtly sexual, unmarried, and always came out winning and grinning. In other words, no barriers or conventions held him down, so he was able to just be his glorious handsome self.
As predicted, Tom Cruise did not disappoint with Top Gun: Maverick. It was nostalgic, a tad irreverent, thrilling, and full throttle. It pushed the boundaries, and reminded us of why Top Gun was so much fun. We all awaited this sequel—and on this evidence, it's easy to see why.
As we grew older, of course we were able to unpack Top Gun and the glorified military campaign, the pro-war agenda, and the over-the-top patriotism. The U.S. Navy reported a 500 percent increase in applications the year following the first release in 1986.
And as many racialized adults have no choice but to witness—we are now able to sense the dangerous xenophobic undertones, and the myth of movie fairytales as seen from the lens of white straight male filmmakers.
This year has been a particularly tough pandemic year. We are all exhausted by real-life lynchings, a housing crisis, vitriol, plummeting trust, podcasts, the economy, elections, and the rest.
Indigenous, Black, and racialized people need joy. We, especially, need to escape for three hours.
Yet, where are our views and voices in pop culture?
We continue to be reprimanded for buying into cinematic tropes that don’t represent us. The policing of this needs to stop. No one chastises the many white women and white gay men equally as smitten by the movie.
Is the assumption we don’t know better? Is the assumption we cannot discern fantasy from reality? Is the assumption that we will turn away from our communities? Is the assumption we don’t understand geo-politics? Is the assumption we aren’t critical thinkers?
Why are WE cautioned so heavily against our right to fawn over the imprints of our youth?
I want to unabashedly suggest that this escape into nostalgia, while frivolous, and of course, superficial, allows some of us who were never allowed to be in positions of power to feel powerful—for even just a mere two hours.
We all feel the need for speed… and a cheesy good time. Let us have Tom Cruise too.