The Story Behind Ocasio-Cortez’s Dancing Video—from Those Who Made It

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“Breakfast Club” stars Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy Welcome Congresswoman to their Brat Pack club

It was a quiet winter week for Eric Baker (COM’13) and Raul Fernandez (COM’00, Wheelock’16)—until their phones started blowing up.

A silly four-minute dance video they helped make eight years ago on the rooftop of the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University was suddenly all the rage on YouTube. In a matter of 48 hours, it went from having about 50,000 views on Wednesday to almost 2 million by Friday.

What happened? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez happened. The same day the BU alum and newly elected New York congresswoman was sworn in on Capitol Hill on Thursday, an anonymous poster on Twitter shared an edited, 30-second version of the old video featuring clips only of Ocasio-Cortez with some less-than-flattering words: “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is.” But instead of finding agreement on social media, the tweet exploded in the other direction, with people finding the video harmless, charming, goofy, light-hearted—pretty much anything but damaging to Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11).

And Ocasio-Cortez, in a nod to the video, posted footage of herself on Twitter Friday morning, dancing to Edwin Starr’s “War” as she prepared to enter her new Capitol Hill office, along with the words, “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait til they find out Congresswomen dance too!”

Reached Friday on his way back to Syracuse, where he’s a graduate student in public diplomacy, Baker, who shot the video along with classmate Julian Jensen (COM’12), explained how it came to be: He said the John Hughes movies, like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, all shared cast members from a new so-called Brat Pack of actors and featured moments that became iconic to fans. (A few of those cast members, including Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, tweeted their support of the video Friday.)

“We thought it was fun and a great way to showcase your community,” Baker says. “If we could jump on the ball, we thought we could do a Boston University mashup. We were student ambassadors at the Howard Thurman Center with Alexandria and others. We decided to make our own version. Julian and I did this from top to bottom, shooting, editing, casting.”

He says Cortez was a friend and “sort of the face of the Thurman Center,” because of her ability to rally people to want to be a part of it.

After scouting various rooftops across campus, the group descended on a Saturday to the roof of the Arts & Sciences building. “We wanted the best possible light,” Baker recalls. “We shot it all in a couple hours on a Saturday morning in mid-September. The turnaround was pretty quick.”

Like Baker, Fernandez, then the assistant director of the Howard Thurman Center, now the assistant dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion at Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, recalls Ocasio-Cortez as being a leading student ambassador for the Center. He had seen a video of the song “Lisztomania” by Phoenix set to scenes of dances from Brat Pack movies, and a group in Brooklyn had done a version, as well. “And we hadn’t seen one from any other college, so we said, ‘Why don’t we just go ahead and be the first college to create our own version….’ We just thought it would be a very fun thing to do.”

Fernandez recalls arriving in the dark to prepare for the shoot, armed with bagels and muffins he’d bought for the cast and crew at Panera. “It was one of the best days I’ve ever had at BU,” says Fernandez. “We were just enjoying the process of creating it and enjoying being around each other. It was just so much fun.”

The video screened during a men’s hockey game that season and the following summer was shown during orientation. The group also shared it on YouTube and forgot about it. But when Ocasio-Cortez was elected to Congress, the video saw a slight uptick in views, so Baker disabled comments on the video. Until this week. “I have been road tripping and I noticed my phone was blowing up,” he says. “I stopped and got some lunch and sent out a few pithy tweets.”

Fernandez, who first conceived the idea for the video, was with Ocasio-Cortez in Washington with a few other BU people on Thursday when the video started taking off. “I couldn’t believe it, we all thought it was ridiculous,” he says.

He says the group was watching the proceedings on TV. “It just kept popping up over and over, and then people started messaging me, and I’m like ‘Is this still happening? Are people still talking about this?’”

Within hours, the video was up with stories in the Boston Globe, Time magazine, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, and there was no stopping it. “I was like ‘What is happening right now?’” Fernandez says. “Like, what world do we live in? Where there’s, like, a new Congress being sworn in, you know, Nancy Pelosi has the gavel back as the Speaker of the House, we’re in the middle of a government shutdown, and all right, let’s talk about a music video that was shot in college years ago. All right, why not, why not?”