We all remember this Bad Boys 2 “Reggie Scene”. I remember watching it as a young adult, both laughing hysterically and praising its accuracy. I vividly recall telling myself that this was exactly the kind of interaction I will have when meeting my daughter’s first date.
I recently stumbled upon this scene again. I laughed, but not as hard as usual. Instead, I cringed and felt a deep sense of discomfort and sadness. This sour aftertaste is leading me to break down the clip and to unpack the reasons why, I believe, that the Bad Boys 2 “Reggie scene” did not age very well.
Here’s the Bad Boys 2 Reggie Scene again for context (Watch it before reading)
Before unpacking this scene, let me start with this.
I am aware that this is entertainment, and that the movie was created in 2003. I am also aware that this is meant to be humorous and the scene achieves its purpose in many ways.
The first interactions sets the tone.
What we see here is an angry father figure in the most traditional sense, who uses fear and intimidation to establish his authority. Let’s also note that the boy is supposed to be (only) 15 years old in this scenario. The unveiling of the boy’s age strengthens a pre-existing sense of suspicion in the mind of the father.
Only 19 seconds after
meeting questioning the young boy, the interaction gets physical and the character of Martin Lawrence proceeds in searching the teenager. While pretexting to be looking for drugs, the dad / police officer clearly oversteps his boundaries and act like a bully to further intimidate the teenage boy.
Let’s pause for a second.
Perhaps, I should have started with the following.
As soon as the scene starts, even if it is not explicitly said, we all know what is going on.
We have an insecure father that is scared shitless that his daughter might lose her virginity on her first date. By laughing we are all (consciously or not) subscribing to the general consensus that all teenage boys are horny and have one thing in mind: sex. While there may be some elements of truth to this, at no point do we consider that the teenage girl may be the one thinking about sex first. Instead she is invisible and infantilized (she is referred by Martin Lawrence as “my baby girl”) while the boy (of roughly the same age) is treated like a grown man at best (more like a criminal / sexual predator).
More on that later.
Back to the Bad Boys 2 Reggie Scene.
The interesting “ex-con uncle” played by Will Smith gets in the picture. What we see is a classic “Good cop – Bad cop” attempt, except that there are no healthy masculine behaviors to be found. After repeating everything Martin Lawrence said, he asked the following question. “Can you fight?”
Again, the expectation is that the boy can fight and protect the girl from other boys, which opens another can of worms. Addressing the bully-like behavior of Will Smith, we can clearly see violence and intimidation playing a key role in the way boys (and men) socialize. Bullying is passed along as a culture: from men to boys and from boys to other boys… and we laugh, we laugh so hard because it is painfully accurate.
The scene reaches its paroxysm when Will Smith pulls out his gun and points it out to the boy’s head and to his partner’s.
Note that it takes the appearance of a weapon for the father to de-escalate (I am being generous here) the exchange. He still proceeds to intimidate the boy and threatens his life if he fails to bring his daughter back home on time. And, finally, at the very end, he addresses the ultimate threat, which is really a fear that many dads share.
To wrap up the man-box with a proper ribbon, the scene finishes with a touch of homophobia. It is confirmed by the fact that, at this point of the scene, even if the Will Smith ex con’s act is revealed, homosexual intercourse is implicitly considered as deviant behavior.
The Bad Boys 2 Reggie Scene is a Man-Box culture text book
The reason why I am writing this post is not to diss the filmmaker, the actors or the people that enjoyed the movie and the scene. Again, I laughed enough at that scene to not judge anyone. Also at a time when political correctness is reaching an unhealthy point, it is important to be able to have conversations and keep a sense of humor.
That being said, I believe it is also important to unpack the narrative that is being told in this scene because it still symbolizes mainstream masculine behaviors.
In a previous post, I referenced Keith E. Edwards’ definition of the Man Box which implies a rigid set of expectations, perceptions, and behaviors of what is “manly” behavior. Because it is a hierarchy, Hegemonic masculinity marginalizes men who do not perfectly fit the description of a “real man.” Because no man perfectly fits the description, all men are limited by hegemonic masculinity through policing of behaviors seen as “violations”.
And this is exactly what we see here.
We see how bullying, domination and intimidation are used against the teenage boy. Many people still see that as normal because we have accepted the idea that this is the way boys socialize.
In this scene, we also see the “policing” that is going on among boys. I say boys on purpose because one of the key takeaway of this clip is the following: there are no grown men in this scene. There are two boys ganging up on a third one; yet the general consensus still sees an (over) protective father playing his role the way he is supposed to.
And this is another key disturbing element.
Many people will find this interaction almost as “normal” because boys, by default are seen by being naturally promiscuous. I know a lot of dads who have daughters. Many of them, for the most part, will say things like: my daughter won’t be able to start dating until she is 30; or I am planning to break the legs of her boyfriends; or I will tell her to stay away from men because all men are pigs.
How hypocritical is this?
If we teach our daughters that all men are pigs or that “boys will be boys”, what does that say about us?
One of the main reason I am writing about this scene is that, in spite of his relatively old age (2003), the movie is still very popular and many dads empathize and glorify Martin Lawrence’s behavior.
However, I have virtually never seen anyone empathizing with the dad of the teenage boy.
Let’s call it like it is, Reggie is assaulted physically, emotionally, and is being threatened at gun point. Dear dads, you best believe that if one day my son comes home because you dared to lay a finger on him, we are going to have a huge problem.
And this is what is heartbreaking about it all.
As men, we are so used to bully each other that we fail to value each other. We are de-sensitized to each other. We are socialized to fear and compete with each other instead of connecting with each other. We fail each other and we fail our sons in the process.
This is the reason why I believe that the Bad Boys 2 Reggie Scene did not age well. If you happen to watch the movie with your kids, you might want to unpack some of what is being shown.
Instead of aiming to stay “Bad Boys for Life”, let’s try not to stay “Little Boys for life”.