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‘Us’ is the Intellectual Horror that Drags the Fear Out of Us All

‘Us’ is the Intellectual Horror that Drags the Fear Out of Us All

By Jonita Davis and Lynnette Nicholas
“Stories about monsters and horror are a great way of dealing with deeper truths.
Us deals with the undeniable truth that we are our own worst enemy.” Jordan Peele


The aforementioned quotes are the words that Jordan Peele, writer, and director of the film Us, delivered just before unveiling the movie trailer. His words were a beautiful foreshadowing of what was to come in the trailer. Us is a very important psychological horror film that plays on themes prevalent in the Black horror genre to create an experience that is unrivaled by anything we have seen thus far. Like Get Out, this film promises to set the world to thinking about the power that we give away so freely to constructs like race, class, and the phobias that we inherited along the way.

Take a look at the trailer before moving further. There are many spoilers ahead.


From the very beginning, the visuals make it clear that Peele is deconstructing stereotypes and generalizations about the Black identity. The first scenes of the trailer are very important. They not only introduce us to the family (played by Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Shahidi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex), the Wilsons. There is also another purpose at play here. Look at how the family sings such a popular rap song, but their AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is not quite what it needs to be for a precise recitation. They are a dark-skinned Black family, clean cut, and clearly affluent or comfortably middle class. They are going to a beach house where, Nyong’o’s character (Adelaide) presumably grew up, and meeting with white friends who they seem to genuinely love and connect with on an organic level. In a subtle, yet nuanced manner, the representation of this beautiful, well-put-together family onscreen defies everything that we have been conditioned to think, know and feel about blackness.


The Unfair Assumptions That We Internalize


Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, protecting her children played by Evan Alex and Shahidi Wright Joseph in stills from the film ‘Us’. Photos courtesy Total Film.

It is widely assumed that all Black people listen to rap and allow their children to listen to rap music, and as this is a generalization-it is a fallacy. For example, in the trailer of Us, the Wilson children have no idea who raps this song, nor do they know the words to “I Got 5 On It”. The Wilson clearly defy that stereotype. Additionally, they are well-adjusted children who are acclimated to going to the beach, boating and enjoying family time on road trips and beach trips. Another defied trope is that the Wilsons’s are an articulate, brown-skinned family placed as the nucleus of the narrative, not just a supporting cast or an after-thought. The visuals within the narrative of the trailer are clearly deconstructing negative ideas about blackness that are generally prevalent amongst Americans.


Yes. This beautiful, Black family is going to the beach. They are not afraid of water. They have white, friends that they genuinely trust and they appear to be comfortable with their upward mobility.


Releasing Generational Fears


Generationally, fears about the other have been passed down. Some of these fears stem from generational poverty, an inherited mistrust of white people, and then there is the one about Black mothers and their little boys, too. Always more protected than the girls. Let’s not forget the unspoken unease of living freely in white settings like the suburbs. They don’t want us here. They won’t let us be here long mentality is so pervasive. These are just a few inner fears that are often projected from dealing with centuries of racism, poverty or oppression. Even a family like the Wilsons knows all too well the hard work and sacrifices that they have had to make in order to accomplish their lifestyle.


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This family has done what so many Black families have done since the Great Migration  — made themselves affluent and educated enough to navigate the world. Oftentimes, as a means of survival, they have had to disconnect themselves from certain experiences, defy assumptions, and prove the stereotypes wrong. Like so many others, The Wilson’s, know the “urban” version of the Black experience, but they don’t live it. They enjoy the music and other elements of “Black culture” that they’ve chosen to preserve, however, their lives are also steeped in a different world beyond the communities from whence they may have come from. They’ve made it, and in doing so paint a portrait of a black family that has arrived. At least until they receive a visit from some uninvited guests.


The Manifestation of It All


Stills from the film ‘Us’ courtesy Entertainment Weekly.

That is some heady analysis, but it’s necessary in order to understand the latter parts of the trailer. Four figures that look exactly like the Wilsons, but more sinister and alien-like appear at the end of the driveway of their home. Presumably, a darker, more dangerous, foreign and sinister version of themselves. Let us consider Peele’s words at the beginning of this piece. Now, look at the danger presented by the figures once they enter the home. Now go back. Right after we meet the white friends, the son, Jason goes missing while everyone is on the beach. He’s found, but it seems like something has changed. Something is amiss, but the boy is found. We think the figures at the end of the drive and the situation at the beach may be connected.


Whatever happened at that beach triggered something, probably some of the dark residue that the family thought they had overcome. Something triggered that Black trauma. In Black horror, the trauma of the Black experience in America is connected with other themes to create a truly horrifying event. A Black mother’s missing son, when they are with their white friends is enough to do just that. All the mistrust of whiteness, the remnants of micro-aggressions, and the leftovers of thoughts that are not only irrational, and tainted by something that is deeper than the now affluent folks understand.


We think it brings out a manifestation of that dark energy, the residue, in a similar way that produced Baby in Beloved by Toni Morrison. She was a manifestation of grief and trauma that the main character Sethe could not contain. Beloved was dark, evil, and there to do harm to the family. Whatever happened to the Wilsons that day on the beach triggered their dark trauma and out if came an evil embodiment hell-bent on doing the family harm.


‘Us’ movie poster courtesy Monkeypaw Productions.

So where do the scissors come in? Well, look at them. They are two identical heads looking in opposite directions. To make the scissors work, each head must pull in an opposing direction and then come back together. They have to work in unison to make this happen. This leads us to believe that the way out for this family is to somehow come to terms with their own darkness. They must reconcile all that built-up inner trauma in order to survive. They must figure out how to reconcile all the elements that have darkened their struggle — race, classism, and the historical trauma— in order to get out alive.


This is our deep dive into the trailer. What are some of your thoughts? Agree with us? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Us hits theaters in 2019.


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