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31st March 2019

Jordan Peele's 'US' and The Representation of the Strong Black Woman

Jordan Peele's horror shocker can't compete with its sensational predecessor Get Out, but it doesn't have to. 

Jeffrey M. Anderson

 

Released a little over a week ago, Us is already breaking records for its portrayal of a  family’s summer holiday, gone horribly wrong. Whilst in his last movie, Peele explored the fetishisation and fascination of black males, amongst many other gripping themes, Us places Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) at the centre of its narrative in its exposition of a brave and passionate wife and mother as she fights to save her family.

 

In many ways, Peele destabilises ideologies surrounding masculinity in the black community. Despite physically adhering to the archetypal black man, being bearded, tall and muscular, Gabe’s personality and overall actions say otherwise. His friendly, humorous and gentle nature renders him useless in the protection of his family from their tethered doubles. As a consequence, Adelaide is forced to step up, occupying the role of a nurturing and soothing mother as well as a fierce, brave and ruthless protector of herself and her children. 

 

After the narrow escape from their doubles, who appear on their doorstep one evening with the intention to kill them, Adelaide seizes control, telling her Gabe, her husband that she will be making all of the decisions for the safety and preservation of their family. Gabe’s willingness to submit, completely trusting in Adelaide and her plan further reinforces the idea of the strong black woman, who despite being victims of intersectionality in a white-washed and patriarchal world, muster the strength to fight for their male counterparts.

 

Though in the sphere of film, this portrayal may seem new, within the black community the stereotype of the strong black woman has both honoured but at the same time, haunted black women for years. This stereotype that black women are naturally self-sacrificing, strong, independent and resilient may appear to be positive, this endorsement can potentially influence stress and mental health issues.

 

This stereotype often results in the silent-suffering of thousands of black women who put on a facade of strength in order to perpetuate a strong black woman who doesn't need help, doesn't cry, feels no pain and provides physical and emotional support for everyone else in their community, neglecting their own physical and emotion well-being. 

 

In the UK, 29% of black women more likely to encounter mental health problems, compared to non-British white women (15.6%) and white British women (20.9%), according to the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS). Of course, one could question these statistics, given that the black community are reluctant to seek aid and engage in mental health services. 

 

Although there are several other important themes embedded in the narrative of US, the translation of the strong black woman in a horror movie in which all central black characters survive results in a chilling and compelling take story-line.

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