As hinted in the trailer, Jordan Peele’s sophomore project and newest psychological horror, “Us,” details the story of Adelaide Wilson, a young woman who took a trip to visit her childhood home alongside her husband, son and daughter.
They expected to have a relaxing beachside vacation alongside their friends, but instead, when the night fell, they had to face one of their scariest opponents yet: the tethered souls of their own doppelgängers.
That synopsis, although short, was about as much information as I allowed myself to consume before I could go see the movie on my own.
I ignored what felt like hundreds of article-length spoilers, hot takes and think pieces, but after watching the film, I was finally able to see that it had garnered mixed reviews.
Some people cited lazy writing, unnatural plot twists and inadequate scares as reasons for their less than positive critiques, while others gushed over the film, praising it as insightful, thought-provoking and masterfully done.
Of course, I have my own opinions.
First, before getting into the content, I have to acknowledge how monumental it was to watch a movie where the lead characters were all dark-skinned, and how sharing that moment in a theatre full of Black people was one of the rarest, most beautiful experiences I have ever had.
Moreover, the cast’s entire presence was breathtaking, all the way down to the lighting of their skin, and it meant everything to witness that—especially in a world where filmmakers often prioritize white bodies.
Too frequently, directors’ lighting choices (or lack thereof) create an ashy, ghastly shadow out of what is meant to be glistening brown skin. Seeing it done correctly is always something to celebrate.
This kind of representation was one of the key factors in my decision to support the film, but the content did not disappoint, either.
The movie leaves so much open to interpretation, and for people who like to be challenged, that’s part of the appeal. One of my favorite parts of the experience was pondering over what clues I missed, realizing which lines were double-coded and theorizing about all the real-world connections I could make.
Was Peele trying to say that we are our own worst enemies? Was the human disregard for the life they had created a metaphor for something larger? Did the rise of the marginalized group signify some type of war that is meant to be had?
To sum up my thoughts, I enjoyed the film. After sitting with it for a while, though, I (along with plenty of other people) realized that there were some problematic elements as well.
Namely, after the movie’s release, I saw an interview where Lupita Nyong’o said that the basis for the voice of Adelaide’s doppelgänger, Red, was a condition called “spasmodic dysphonia,” which causes a person’s vocal muscles to spasm at odd intervals. Ultimately, it makes people very difficult to understand.
At face value, taking inspiration from real-life circumstances seems like something to applaud, and I do think it is; the amount of practice and dedication that went into Nyong’o’s performance was worth noticing.
However, there is still something to be said about placing a person with a disability into a role that many will see as the villain, and I think the backlash she’s received has some merit.
It’s a teaching moment. Movies have a way of demonizing people with disabilities, especially if they’re a member of a minority group, and I think there’s a way to have that discussion without vilifying Nyong’o alone.
There are other, whiter movies where this same phenomenon occurs, and I think those films should be handled in the same fashion.
Fundamentally, conversations like these are teaching moments. Even with movies we love, we can do ourselves a disservice if we don’t engage them critically.
I appreciate “Us” for what it was, and I’m always happy to see myself represented in a film, but I want it done the right way—or, at least, the most correct way possible.