I wish I knew how to talk about Us in a way that makes it clear that I love the aspiration but the execution was both confusing and intriguing. I tried to do that here, but I’m not sure it worked. If you’ve seen the film, I’m curious to hear what you think.
Horror is not really my jam — I believe being a Black woman in America is scary enough, TYSVM — but when I saw “Get Out” in Harlem, the folks on either side of me were screaming at the main characters and cracking up in the right parts and groaning when the white father mentions his liberal bonafides a little too pointedly. The feeling in the theater was, “This is so good this is so good this is a movie for us.” And the cheering that commenced at the end was phenomenal, unforgettable. We felt not just that we had been vindicated, vicariously, of course, through the main character, but that we all knew a woman or a story about a woman, about a family, like “Get Out”’s chief villain and the side pieces too.
OK, back to “Us.”
A young Adelaide Wilson wanders off from her parents into a house of mirrors off the Santa Cruz boardwalk in 1986. What she discovers in this creepy place is a reflection of herself that turns out to be a hostile doppelganger, which will turn out to be not just her own problem as we find her, present day, returning to a summer home with her husband, the adorably clueless Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children, a boy, Jason, and a girl, Zora.
They seem to have everything — they are beautiful, they are talented, and they are just regular Americans. The biggest challenge the Wilson family seems to have at first is that Gabe gets a new boat (true story: it’s like, a dinghy) and he can’t seem to figure out the engine situation. Things get weird again when they end up back on the same beach in Santa Cruz where Adelaide first encountered her evil look-a-like.
All of us have some nostalgia for parts of the past that also have painful trauma that keep us stuck in a painful pattern of some sort that it feels like we can’t rewrite. Creed II helps us ask ourselves if we are really fighting to write a new story or if we like the old one better. In this way, it’s deeply satisfying because it evokes memory and tradition while also keeping an eye on the future.
Boxing, after all, is a fight against another person, but before that, it’s a battle with your heart and mind for the soul, for the self to be whole, to be free.
I took myself to a matinee Friday to see “Widows” because I love all things Viola Davis. I was expecting something along the lines of “Oceans 8” but, like, elegant. And “Widows” is something more complex. Not in a bad way. It’s good. It’s just different. Quiet. Intense.
If you’re going to see the movie, I ask that you bookmark my review on Medium and feel free to disagree with me vehemently (but respectfully) there or here. Curious to know what fellow movie lovers think or will say.
At Cannes Film Festival, Black KkKlansman got something between 7 and 10 standing ovations — the industry magazines literally could not agree on how many times the folks at Cannes broke out in applause between the credits and the end of the movie — and they were well-deserved. If you’ve been reading my work for awhile (thank you! you’re the best!) you know that I’m not a gusher. I don’t do a lot of hyperbole, and I certainly don’t do it in the summer when it’s hot like this and I need to conserve my energy.
But I liked Black KkKlansman so much that I took time away from some other writing to share some thoughts about it because I think it’s important to watch and be in conversation about.
If you’re the kind of person who reads reviews before you see a film, let me know what you think — but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts anyway, if you see it. (You should also read one of my favorite critics, A.O. Scott, who educated me about that opening shot; I obviously blocked out huge swaths of “Gone With The Wind” but learned a great deal about cross-cutting and “Birth of a Nation” in his review.)
But even if reading reviews isn’t a thing you do, you should see Black KkKlansman because it’s Spike Lee at the height of his potential. Because it’s John David Washington stepping out of his father’s shadow (at least in his own mind and maybe for others who don’t yet know him but certainly will, and he has some exciting additional projects outside of Ballers coming up later this fall) and into his power as a humble but exciting talent to watch as a leading man. It’s also rare for the Black community to have this generation of creatives who have parents and mentors who paved a way for them to take on dynamic roles like this which have nuance and substance.
I loved talking about acting and craft with John David Washington for Backstage magazine in what I hope will be the first of many cover stories. He’s humble and wise, and I especially appreciate how thoughtful he is regarding process — how important it is to honor yours as an artist. It’s true for actors and true for writers. He’s also excellent as the leading man coming into his own in Black KkKlansman which is one of Spike Lee’s best.
John David Washington has been eyeing the big leagues for years.
First, it was the NFL. At Morehouse College, he received a full athletic scholarship and set records as a running back. Later, he would play for the United Football League and excel as an undrafted free agent for the then–St. Louis Rams. But even after two years of training with the pros, come Sunday game time, he’d still never touched the field. He had the chops, but never managed to move off the practice squad to reach the star-making level of a pro.
To be clear, Washington is not the kind of person who craves undue credit. He’s humble, driven, and, above all, enjoys doing the work. So when an Achilles tendon injury during a New York Giants tryout put an end to his football career—after a number of already ego-crushing rejections from the NFL—Washington decided to take his work ethic elsewhere. Surgery was an option, but the time out of commission had him on the brink of depression, and he had already cleared space in his mind for another industry: Hollywood. After this summer, it seems the switch will have paid off; Washington is on the path to being a bona fide star.
In case you wondered if we were making any progress on media diversity in entertainment criticism as storytellers, directors and actors of color in Hollywood start investing in a wider range of stories, the answer is no, according to a new USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report.
White critics authored 82% of reviews whereas critics from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups authored 18%. This point statistic is substantially below (-20.7 percentage points) U.S. Census, where individuals from underrepresented groups clock in at 38.7% of the population.
Looking at reviews through an intersectional lens, White male critics wrote substantially more reviews (63.9%) than their White female (18.1%) or underrepresented male (13.8%) peers. Underrepresented female critics only wrote 4.1% of the sample. The ratio of White women’s reviews to those of their underrepresented female counterparts was 4.4 to 1.
I wrote about this in my book in 2015, but it bears repeating: Diversity is a business imperative, not a moral imperative. It’s not just “nice to have,” it’s important to keep your business profitable.
I seek out the work of Wesley Morris and Hilton Als and Doreen St. Felix because they are talented writers and reporters and because I know they understand my worldview as well as the aesthetics and aspirations of the world builders who are working to center Black narratives. Bless Anthony Lane’s heart, I love to read his thoughts on anything else, but I give a damn what he thinks about Black Panther or Girls Trip or even Get Out.
The companies that hire and retain a diverse cadre of writers are the ones that will be around for the long haul. If most of the world doesn’t look like the critics who are supposed to be the experts on cultural products they don’t really get, how long do you think you’ll keep your audience?