I’ll make this short and sweet. “Us” was creepy. “Us” was overwhelming. “Us” was a scathing indictment. I also can’t shake this incredible feeling of shame and an eerie sense of some impending doom ever since I watched it. But, I also really enjoyed the incredible journey and mind f*ck Jordan Peele took me on.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe how I’ve been feeling since finishing the film on Saturday night, it’s gross. I feel gross.

No, it wasn’t a perfect movie from a technical standpoint. And while I rather prefer stories, particularly those in the horror genre to leave certain things up to the viewer’s imagination — which can be far scarier than anything shown on screen — there were a couple of things I wish I understood just a little more about. However, that is minutia when considered within the greater context and theme of the story.

I may look young enough that I often still get mistaken for a college student (thanks water, cocoa butter, and extra melanin) but make no mistakes, I’m an “old” bird. I’m old enough to sort of vaguely remember the “Hands Across America” campaign which is used as a motif throughout the movie. Those images of people standing with connected hands stretching from “sea to shining sea” in an effort to help end hunger and homelessness in America, were brought back to my memory in all of its grainy pre-high definition form while watching the opening scene of “Us”. So I think perhaps because I can remember this fundraiser, its imagery, the hype surrounding it and its messaging, it’s like I actually lived this right along with Adelaide (Lupita). And this is where I first got “the willies”, honestly.

It’s just one more reminder of another broken American promise; a facade. The idea that we — the nation of prosperity, morality and love — were going to smile, link hands, “positive spirit” and donate our way into fixing hunger in America was window dressing. That we actually had the endurance and energy to stand together and make this happen was a joke we were all in on. People paid $10 – $35 bucks to be in that line, to be seen holding hands with the next person. And, as I’m sure you know by now, this was just a grand gesture that lacked any real weight behind it. Truly, it was almost as if it was done simply to make “us” feel better about ourselves than actually doing the work and passing the legislation that a country of our means could easily do to actually assist our fellow impoverished and marginalized Americans. The entire “Hands Across America” fundraiser failed miserably. I believe it only raised about $30 million and half of that had to go back towards the cost for the production of the event.

So, where did all of those millions of people with interlocked hands go, who were supposed to “reflect” a nation that was in the midst of a moral revival to offer welcoming arms, empathy and support to its poor, downtrodden and forgotten? Oooh, that’s a good question. This is where I get the willies again.

Our own failed and staged attempt of care and concern for poor hungry Americans, was somehow enigmatically and freakishly repurposed; nightmarishly altered and then used back against “Us”. Holy hell! It’s the monster of our own creation! Mirrors are commonly used in this movie. But the “others” the “Tethered”, down below in the tunnels; their repurposing of that imagery and throwing it back in our faces, is also another method of reflection. It is “Us” indeed. Pretty sneaky Jordan.

There are a ton of think-pieces about the film and how the Tethered represent those the society wants to forget about and all of their pain and suffering. Many films and stories have conveyed similar messages in millions of other creative ways throughout cinematic and storytelling history. So while this is certainly an honorable thematic endeavor, it isn’t new territory by any means. What is unique, is the brilliance of twisting that friggin’ “Hands Across America” campaign in a trippy horrifying way, as the vehicle for portraying this point that has me absolutely loving this movie while also feeling completely indicted by it. It felt “real”.

Coretta Scott King, center, holding hands with the her son, Martin Luther King III, right, and her daughter, Bernice, left, during the Hands Across America line near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sunday, May 25, 1986. Millions of volunteers formed a human chain during a fund-raiser for the homeless and hungry. (AP PHOTO/REED TOM)

There’s a major message also in that the main characters of this movie are African-American. As in, you can be a member of a historically oppressed group yourself, while still being culpable in forgetting other unseen, forgotten and marginalized people. I mean, check out Gabe’s “Howard” sweatshirt, prominently worn with great visibility in the movie. Here you have, a proud black man, presumed graduate of a prestigious HBCU like Howard University. He knows of all the history of African-American oppression in America; African slaves taken; passed all of the AA Studies classes. And yet, just by being a participant/consumer in the capitalistic, vis-à-vis “greedy” structure of America’s economic system, he, a historically oppressed individual himself, still contributes to the further marginalization and undermining of the forgotten, unseen underclass.

Like I said, as I sit here typing this out on my Macbook, brought to me by sweatshops and barely livable wages of the impoverished in other countries because it’s cheaper to produce there than here (removing our jobs) — I am just as culpable. I feel gross. Whether I feel my Apple products are necessary for me to do my work or not, I’m still a member of this “above ground” class. I may be one of the lowest rungs of that class, but I’m still a member and also often oblivious to those further beneath me “in the tunnels”. Yep, gross. And, what if that day of reckoning finally comes as alluded to in the Jeremiah 11:11 Bible verse which is also repeatedly referenced in the film? “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.” My relatively broke ass will be held accountable right along with the wealthiest 2%.

Yep, gross. Yep, “willies”.

Also, a major bonus for the twist at the end, that reinforces the fact that the only thing that separates “Us” from “Them” is often luck of the draw, and of course the always dependable privilege that money can offer you. When you finally have access to those things, you can also live a fully developed, whole and purposeful life as fake Adelaide did; often forgetting your “subterraneous” prior existence as well.

Well done!

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