Warning: Spoilers for Peppermint ahead. Long before Peppermint was ever released, the trailer was criticized for looking like a white savior movie — a white woman kills a bunch of Latinx gang members and saves people who live in a crime-ridden area. And, yes, this is basically what happens in the movie. But there is a more specific aspect that Peppermint shows: what happens on social media when a white woman becomes a murderous vigilante.
Jennifer Garner's character, Riley North, kills a lot of people in this movie. A lot. Dozens. After her husband and daughter are murdered by gang members and a corrupt legal system doesn't bring them to justice, Riley trains as a killer for five years and returns to hunt them down herself. The thing is, Riley doesn't only hunt down the three men who killed her family (we don't even get to see this part, and she kills two of them off-screen), she also kills the corrupt judge, the district attorney, and a ton of other people who stand in the way of her and the gang leader. She also holds a dad at gunpoint while his kid is nearby because he's an alcoholic. She unnecessarily punches a snooty woman she knew in her former life in the face, ties her up to a chair, and jokes that she's going to burn her house down. To her, it's all in the name of justice.
While at times Riley's spree is entertaining because of the sheer ridiculousness of it — she's like a video game character under the influence of a bunch of cheats come to life — it's also impossible to look past the fact that the civilians in the movie start rooting for her to end lives. Social media users don't want the people Riley is going after captured and left to rot in jail; they want this angry woman with a lot of guns to kill them. They find enjoyment in it.
A scene featured in the trailer shows a few law enforcement members looking at a computer and one says, "Social media's lit up with support for her." Another adds, "She's a multiple homicide suspect," and the first responds, "Not to them, she's not." As far as I'm aware there have not been any instances of a person becoming a vigilante and going on a killing spree that the internet rooted for, but it's not hard to imagine that camaraderie being the reaction if it did happen — especially if those being killed were Latinx gang members. The president has been criticized for his comments about undocumented immigrants and has received support for that thinking, including from terrifyingly passionate "fans" on Twitter. It's scary to think about what some social media users would tweet if a white person was taking down gang members with military grade weapons.
In addition to Twitter being talked about in the movie, we also hear from a man in a news segment who says he saw Riley "and she was pissed!" but exclaimed in a sassy way. The film also features clips of reporters talking about Riley in classic news-anchor voices that seem meant to be tongue-and-cheek, but still feel true to life. One reporter asks if she's a "vigilante" or a "common criminal" and it sounds eerily like something that might really be said on a news program if this situation actually occurred. (Although, come on, she's far from a common criminal.)
Also, imagine if the 'angel' of Skid Row wasn't white — if a Mexican man was putting a stop to white gang members.
Then there's the fact that at one point, Riley records a video of herself on a phone as part of a big Act 3 reveal and shares it online. Her sharing of the video and it immediately being aired as breaking news highlights how this is all being viewed live by regular citizens and how people would follow along on TV and the internet if it occurred in real life. It's not hard to imagine people following the commotion live, because it's easier to distance yourself emotionally from things online. People all already do all the time with tragedies like shootings and wars.
Also, imagine if the "angel" of Skid Row wasn't white — if a Mexican man was putting a stop to white gang members. For one, there wouldn't even be a question of whether he was a "vigilante" or "common criminal," because it'd be the latter. It's similar to something America has seen a lot recently with mass shootings and how the shooter is described if they are white versus a person of color. White shooters are often humanized and called things like "lone wolves;" their mental health is brought into question. When a shooter has been a person of color, historically, they have been more easily called terrorists and their race is tied in as part of the problem. This is not to say that we should be more sympathetic to shooters who are people of color, this is to say that the way these things are talked about in the media and on social platforms should be equalized, so an entire race or ethnicity doesn't get part of the blame for an act of terrorism.
People of color are also convicted more harshly than their white counterparts. For instance, black male offenders receive sentences that are on average 19.1 times longer than those for white males for a similar crime. Black suspects are also 75 percent more likely to receive a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence as compared to a white person who has been arrested. As for Riley North, at the end of Peppermint, a cop gives her the key to get out of her handcuffs. He appreciates what she's doing.
Overall, this movie comes at an odd time and seems unaware of what statement it is making. While the members of the gang in the movie are awful people and cartels have long been typical enemies in films, right now feels like a time to be careful and not potentially get people riled up about the wrong people, especially when we live with governmental leadership that makes massive generalizations about entire groups of people.
Of course, the blockbuster level of events in Peppermint is not normal in the real world. At times Riley seems like a superhero, and it's in those moments that the movie is its most successful. But — in part because of the involvement of social media, but also because of who the hero and enemies are — it's difficult to not view the movie through the lens of the real world. And if you do that, it's more than a little disturbing to watch.