Holding Up a Mirror to Cinema in Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’

Cinema has long acted as a sort of house of mirrors for Black viewers. And this goes not just for Black viewers, but for all people of color. We would come across a version of ourselves proclaiming to represent us, who we are, what we want, and why we want, no matter where we turned. But time after time, said versions were twisted, false, distorted, created for the sole means to control how we are perceived and treated. These doppelgangers, reminiscent of the Tethered from Jordan Peele’s Us, are everywhere. Really, because they’ve been there since the beginning of the medium’s advent, portraying us as brutes, connivers, monsters. We, the Black audience that has been both ignored yet paradoxically obsessed with by the medium, had a real-life Tethered; where their movements and actions in whatever white fantasy they were cooked up in would control our experiences, as in how the world, our society, would treat and look at us. The reason for their creation, truly the reason for our first portrayals in film, was to fearmonger, to control, and to divide us even further. We’ve known this since we first gazed upon our television sets in our living rooms. We’ve always known this.

And yet, this country is set out to bury that past, to continue acting like such creations never happened. See with, say, Disney’s long effort to hide the existence of Song of the South, a grotesque display of not just the Disney company’s history and view of Black folk, nor just the founder’s, Walt Disney’s, own racist views of people of color. Rather, their continued burial is just a small, excerpted example of what the film industry and pop culture does at large, what our society has continued to do for a few decades now: to act like this media never existed, of how films were created just to spread demonization of Black folk, how their creations have had such wide-reaching effect that they continue to prosper even when we don’t know their origins, and more importantly, to bury how films were built on the vilification of Black Americans and really all people of color.

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