Us subtly tells a history of American racism through background imagery

By Staff Writer James Mellen III.

(Major Spoilers for the Jordan Peele film Us ahead)

Most of the theories that surround Us have been in relation to classism or to the twist ending, but this is still a Jordan Peele film and there has been a complete lack analysis on the subtle allusions to American racism throughout the film.

Numeric symbolism is obviously present throughout the film, the number 11:11 appears at least a dozen times, however there is also a list of oddly specific numbers mentioned, especially in the first act.

-In the opening credit scene of the film there was a backwards tracking shot of a wall filled with rabbits in a cage, all of the rabbits are white except three (3) rabbits which are black.

– When Jason is reprimanded for swearing at the breakfast table he points at Gabe and says ¨when you point at someone there are three (3) fingers pointing back at you.

– When the family gets in the car ¨I got five (5) on it¨ comes on on the radio (¨it’s not about drugs it’s a dope song¨ is my favorite quote in the film)

– There is a mention about Jason only being gone for five (5) minutes

– Addie says that she peaked at fourteen (14) when asked about her dancing

– The police are fourteen (14) minutes away when they call then at the police

These numbers hold special significance in the history of racism in America as 3 and five could represent the 3/5ths compromise which took effect in 1790. The number 14 is definitely a reference to the 14th amendment signed in 1868.

The ‘Us’ are first introduced soon after, the entire concept of the ‘Us’ is reminiscent of W.E.B Du Bois Double consciousness, a term used to describe the internal conflict in oppressed groups of people, he coined the term in “Strivings of the Negro People”, published in the August 1897.

I think I could have a gap chronologically here, but either I missed something in the film (I’ve only seen the film once) or there is a chronological jump to 1955. But when Pluto takes off his mask (which is white hood for the record) and reveals his burn marks, which is extremely reminiscent of Emmett Till, another young boy (14 year old) who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. He was lynched during a summer vacation (not unlike the family in US) and his body was returned to his mother in Chicago, however he was left completely unrecognizable, similar to Pluto when compared to Jason.

There is something inherently 1960s about the family being kicked out of their own home, during this time period it was common for white people to forcefully evict African Americans if they attempted to move into a white neighborhood.

Once they get to the white families house there is a clear shift in the movie, but once there Ophelia plays “F*ck The Police”, shortly after the family calls the police who refuse to come. I think this is representative of post-1960s civil rights racial tension in America, even after the family makes their way to a white home they are still treated like second class citizens, the police won’t protect their spaces.

When the family puts on the T.V. a newscaster describes the tethered demonstration as wanton violence and destruction, rightly so as the tethered murder their above-ground counterparts. But the tethered on the other hand believe their uprising to be righteous, that the lives of the priviliged lost are no comparison to the generations of loss and struggle the tethered have endured below ground.

Peele juxtaposes this with Zoraś clone being hung in a tree, this could show the real danger of the police not protecting African Americans, as they have an increased level of vulnerability to hate crimes.

Finally one of the last scenes in the film includes a burning car, this is probably a reference to Darren Seals, a Ferguson activist who was shot in the head and left in a burning car.

The film’s most obvious themes deal with classism, and while Jordan Peele said that Us isn’t a film that is explicitly about race, the racial symbolism that occurs throughout the movie is undeniable, and his previous work suggests it wasn’t an accident.

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