Months prior I had a spirited conversation and then later “debate via text” with a loved one. We had just watched Jordan Peel’s latest film Us. My movie date was annoyed with Peel’s deliberate use of dark skinned actors and actresses in this modern day horror film. “That’s not realistic. Black people come in all hues, for him to just use dark skinned actors isn’t accurate”.
I scoffed at the statement.
This critic never once ever uttered annoyance at the myriad of films, tv shows, music videos, or other forms of media that showcases lighter hued actors. I’ve never heard this argument used for the token black actors that have often been reused over and over again whom are all in, my humble opinion, palatable black for the likes of white folks.
You know the blacks I’m referring to: complexions that would have passed the brown paper bag tests of the 1900-1950’s (which allowed lighter hued blacks certain economic and social privileges) those with natural hair that may be less tightly coiled, aquiline noses and thinner lips. These black folks are often asked: “What are you mixed with?” approvingly from blacks and whites alike.
I am not in anyway way stating blacks of this hue never experience the injustices often associated with being a person of color. It’s as clear as day that people of color, men and women alike often experience injustices associated with racism-an institution mapped within the framework of white hegemony.
I would argue, however, some of these blacks are afforded some privileges associated with their physical characteristics that are more aligned with that of whiteness. So much so, a black American of a lighter hue may find insult in Peel’s deliberate decision to use darker skinned actors. Their inability to see the beauty in normalizing the representation of a dark skinned father/husband trying his best to protect his family is revolutionary as it relates to filmmaking in America (We’re not even going to touch on the image of the black father depicted in this film versus the image we see or don’t see in mainstream media).
It seems to me Peel’s aligning himself with other trial-blazers in the world of entertainment whom are pushing back against the belief that a majority black casts will not do well at the box office.
For years the industry has argued against green lighting certain projects due to the belief films with a majority black cast won’t (especially outside of period pieces where the black star is a slave or criminal) do well in terms of ticket sales. Writers like Issa Rae has proven this fallacy in this narrative with her successful YouTube show Adventures of An Awkward Black Girl and now Insecure (a successful series on HBO).
Hollywood is finally realizing good storytelling is good storytelling! The key is to write with themes that may transcend the prickly thorns of race, a social construct that has literally stifled our progression in this country. Issa Rae, like Toni Morrison, yearned for a story that reflected her own experiences and when Morrison and Rae saw the void in this narrative, they both in their own way created the story they wanted to read and watch. I would argue Jordan Peel (as well as many others) are doing the same.
Castillo of RogerEbert surmises, “Us is another thrilling exploration of the past and oppression this country is still too afraid to bring up. Peel wants us to talk…to feel our way through…the human condition and the American experience”.
Unfortunately, we are living in complex times.
We are in a world where blackness is often defined with one sweeping brushstroke that often doesn’t lend itself to the intricacies of being a person of color in this world. We are diverse and different depending on country of origin, religion, language and personal experiences.
However, I’d be remiss to not state the invisible ties that may link us across language and cultural norms.
With all that being said, we are living in a time where I’m given the “compliment“:
“You’re black AF, but cute tho“.
A statement my lighter hue loved one will never have to address with all its complexities.
Your thoughts dear reader? I eagerly await.