Us Spoiler Review: All Hail Lupita Nyong’o, the New Queen of Cinema
Warning: “These words are spoiler words about the movie Us. If you haven’t seen the movie, turn around and walk the TF away. THANKS!” – BWNC Management From now on, I lobby that we address Lupita Nyong’o as Queen Mother Empress Khaleesi. Also, she deserves every movie award humanity has to offer. Everything from the BET Award to the NAACP Image Award to the Academy Award to the SOURCE Award while getting recruited by Suge Knight in an all red nigga suit as he mocks Puff Daddy in the heart of New York. Us, the movie, is full of obvious and not so obvious commentary. However, after the end credits of the movie Us appeared on the big screen, all of US in the theater were shooketh. We didn’t really know what the fuck we saw, and I guarantee that most of us who left the theater the other night still have little to no clue what the fuck we saw. At minimum, it will take several viewings along with several pre-rolled blunts to fully comprehend the metaphors, the social commentary and the classism. The movie introduces us to 1986 Adelaide, a girl who didn’t have many words to speak before the traumatizing event in the hall of mirrors. From the looks of it, her parents’ relationship was anything but stable, as her father seemed more concerned with where to find his next drink and her mother even more concerned by her father searching for his next drink. This instability, as well as lack of awareness of their own child, led to the inevitability of Adelaide curiously wandering off, a trait she would pass down to her son, years later. Circa 1986 Adelaide’s traumatizing catalyst comes in the form of discovering that she has a doppelgänger. For those of us who saw the movie, we know that this flashback scene is paramount because in this moment, Adelaide and her “less than” doppelgänger switch places. In this moment, Adelaide becomes Red and the doppelgänger becomes Adelaide. There were clues sprinkled throughout the entirety of the movie that something more happened than what was shown in the initial hall of mirrors scene. Everything from Adelaide’s lack of ability to speak English (which many of us just attributed to some form of PTSD) to Red being the only doppelgänger who could speak English (Albeit, broken English because of how long she was literally cast out of society, but English, nevertheless). Adelaide’s former language, which she tried hard to hide/destroy throughout the movie, would peak its head from time to time. The Tethered slave language was first highlighted during the tense home invasion scene. From there, Jordan Peele sprinkled their communication methods throughout the duration of the movie. Adelaide, at several points, seemed to struggle for coherency, and early on, she tells white drunk girl Katie that she sometimes has trouble talking. Her communicating her communication “defect” to white drunk girl Katie was meant to be taken literally, meaning that almost like a speech impediment, her native language would pop up, out the blue. Her native language rearing its “ugly” head up before being regressed by Adelaide culminates with her—for a moment in time—embracing her native language when she kills Red. And as she kills Red (aka her past) by brutally snapping her neck, she belts out a Tethered roar that echoed throughout the entire abandoned lower-class facility. Other subtle nods to Adelaide being something more than what she was letting on was her reactions to the “crazy white people shit” going on around her. Everything from the Tethered family first appearing in the driveway to her being hesitant on initially calling the police as she repeatedly said “no, no, no, no” to her reaction when Red ordered her to chain herself to the table. These reactions were all calm symbolic recognition’s to her past, especially the shackles. The shackles served as an all too familiar reminder of her days trapped in a literal capitalistic hell as a doppelgänger/American slave. The shackles also served as an all too familiar reminder to US, the viewer, that being black in this country is hard. Being a woman in this country is hard. But being a black woman in this country is like wearing shackles while trying to perform the same acts of those who don’t have shackles. And even with shackles limiting her ability, Adelaide still manages to get her body count up. In hindsight, we also see why Red adopted the name Red while being trapped in the lower(est) class. Her thoughts and references of humanity were stuck in a 1986-time capsule, with two distinct images of red being imprinted on her. The obvious image of the Hands Across America (which was the foundation for the uprising) and the not so obvious red exit signs. These red exit signs were the last vestiges of hope and safety before being kidnapped and dragged into the lower-class abyss. This kidnapping, which one could substitute as simply survival of fittest by Adelaide, is what makes BOTH Lupita performances remarkable. You emphasize for and also root against BOTH Adelaide and Red. Peele’s creation and Lupita’s performance left some of us frustrated, left some of us in deep thought, and left most of us in frustratingly deep thought. As Jordan Peele navigates his way from half hour comedic sketches on Comedy Central to becoming one of the most brilliant filmmakers for this generation, we are starting to notice his signatures. For anyone who is a fan of Get Out, you can see that Peele is starting to develop these wonderful scenes of riding in cars which symbolizes the calm before the storm. In Us, the normal black family riding in a normal family car was black joy and black family joy and black family happiness at its finest. And the apex of this black family joy car ride was reached when the radio blasted “I GOT FIVE ON IT.” When this song played through the theater’s speakers, we/US were all in concert, reciting the lyrics to this iconic song. However, even though this was what I considered the calm before the storm scene, something stood out to US during this scene, and that is when Adelaide attempts to guide her son, Jason through the rhythm of the iconic melody. Here, we see that she is CLEARLY off beat which would lead those of us who are rhythmically inclined to believe that something wasn’t quite right. That Adelaide was a little “peculiar.” As the film focuses on our black family (our DARK SKINNED black family), Winston Duke’s character, Gabe, seems to initially, albeit tentatively, be the head of this conventional patriarchal black family structure. Gabe and Adelaide’s two children, Zora (played by Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (played by Evan Alex) are prototypical everyday movie siblings, picking on each other when given the opportunity. This up and down relationship is highlighted during the first (calm) part of the film. However, Zora serves as the protective figure for the younger Jason during dire times (Not so much during the calm before the storm. See: Beach scene) which fully emphasizes the dynamic of a loving younger/older sibling relationship. And coincidentally, the younger sibling is there for their older counterpart when doppelgänger drunk white girl Katie needs to be knocked tf out. When we move on to more tense scenes, including the ever so stressful home invasion (a stress that accompanies every family, black or white), we suddenly realize that the conventional patriarchal family structure has failed. And it failed rather quickly. Gabe’s heroism is short lived when he is injured by his doppelgänger, Abraham. From then on, Gabe provides much comedic relief, as he limps on (still heroic, just not on the level of Adelaide), reacting how a black person would in any environment full of “crazy white people shit.” During this home invasion, we see each family member’s skill on full display. From Jason’s cleaver ways which was birthed from this natural curiosity to Zora’s determination to kill as many MF’s as possible (which she gladly pointed out while making her case to drive) to Adelaide’s unrelenting zeal to protect her family at all cost. The apex of this film, a film full of overt commentary on classism mixed with subtle, less overt race commentary was Adelaide’s and Red’s black matriarchal takeover. Black womanism set this movie apart from any other movie in the horror genre universe. In it, we saw both Adelaide and Red fight against their own toxic pasts in both the mental and physical form. Furthermore, Us, granted US, the viewer, access into Jordan Peele’s vision as a filmmaker, which is to provide a nuance perspective on what it means to be a black hero. Not a black superhero in a conventional, Black Panther sense (The connective tissue between the actors of both Us and Black Panther are undeniable), but black heroes in an everyday sense. Black heroes we root for, black heroes we cheer for. Peele’s artistry allows us to become fully invested in these black heroes because within that two-hour window from the opening credits to the closing scene, their safety is paramount to us. Our black family’s safety was paramount to us, above all else. As it relates to the Tethers and the undeniable classism that exists within Us’ message, for much of the film, they are regarded as something different. As “the others.” These doppelgängers, during the initial part of the first act of the movie were regarded as simpleton savages, looking to take over the world. We later come to realization that they are America’s throw away children, America’s lower class. Therefore, when Red said they were Americans, it resonated with us, the viewer, because they were US. They symbolized apart of American that is looked down upon, no matter the orientation, no matter the gender, no matter the race. A lot of the Tether’s origins are left unexplored; however, we do know that it was a government sanctioned program gone wrong. As Zora pointed out during the calm before the storm car ride, the government—in this universe, and possibly in our own—are in the business of population/mind control. The Tether protest/savagery represents a faction of America who has been shitted on their entire existence; a faction of America who has been stepped on their entire existence; a faction of who has been looked down their entire existence. And while you/I/we look down on the Tethered (not literally but symbolically just through our “cushy” existence), the Tethered have nowhere to look but up. They have nowhere to go but up. And when they are led by someone (Red) who longs to be a part of that “cushy” existence once again, she galvanizes the Tethered and makes them realize the truth. That they are US. Red suffered considerably worse than Adelaide after being trapped underground. But while she was underground, she discovered that her unique ability to speak revolutionized the way the Tethered viewed themselves. Her ability started a revolution. And history has always taught us that any successful revolution isn’t short of violence. Red, now a product of both classes, realized that for them to become us, it had to be done by any means necessary. Jordan Peele, in this movie, literally sends warning shots to the “have’s” that when the “have nots” get desperate enough, and that desperation is concentrated into organized protest, that’s how (violent) revolutions are birthed. Hence why Us isn’t just a history lesson of injustice because this lesson is still very much applicable in 2019. As the rich get richer and poor get poorer and the middle class gradually shrinks into the abyss of a capitalistic created hell, Jordan Peele allows Us to be a plea for humanity. This movie, more than anything else, was a basic human rights movie who so happen to have beautiful black actors as leads. The Tethered’s end goal is non-violent protest, yet they accomplish their protest through violent actions. That dichotomy is the human experience. That is the America experience. That is US. Us will remain talked about for months, even years. Its overt classism mixed with ever so subtle race innuendos is what makes this movie worthwhile. Sure, race isn’t at the forefront of this movie like it was in Get Out, but that’s ok. From time to time, we black people need a movie that highlights a mundane yet loving black family as they react to “crazy white people shit” happening all around them (even if the “crazy white people shit” revolves around their own black doppelgängers). In a perfect world, do I wish Jordan Peele would’ve tackled the intersection of class and race overtly, at times? Yes, hence why I was slightly disappointed that there were also white carbon copies/doppelgängers in the movie. However, my disappointment was short-lived because this movie was meant to unify, not divide. This movie is meant to highlight our commonalities more than our differences. And this is why Jordan entitled it Us. Finally, Jordan Peele doesn’t spoon feed us shit. One recurring theme of Us that is left unexplained is the repeated reference to Bible passage Jerimiah 11:11. The passage, which the movie doesn’t provide, states: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” The Lord (Red, in this case) unleashed the Tethered and their brutality upon America, the same America that brutalized them for countless generations. Red and Adelaide’s battle between BOTH antagonists and protagonists (Both characters occupied both hence why Lupita’s performance should win every fucking award imaginable) is what made this movie so special. This movie was building on that very emotionally driven moment in which we saw the true connection between the doppelgängers. Everything from the whistle of itsy bitsy Spider (Red is the itsy bitsy spider who climbs up the water spout..i.e., the escalator to the surface world) to the choreographed ballet dancing highlighted the connective tissue both shared with one another while both were trying to essentially disconnect from one another. Both were trying to kill the past because the past was horrifying and tragic and toxic. And when Adelaide killed the past once in for all, all she could do was provide a cleaver, slick smile to her cleaver, slick son. The same son whose “TF??” reaction to Adelaide’s gleeful smile represented all of us in the theater. Again… Jordan ain’t spoon feeding shit. And that’s because he expects US to interpret movies made by us, for us. All of us.