Watching this a second time (and this was my first time watching a movie at a drive in theater), with the benefit of knowing the conclusion, is even more interesting, as all of the things which at a surface level read as micro aggressions and warning signs (often explicitly declared as such or made painfully obvious by the other black bodies or characters in the film, and yes that distinction is necessary) are more east to read as indications of the deeper racism at hand.
And yes, this is a story about racism – not lynchmob and Jim Crow racism that everyone loves to decry, disown, and wash their hands of, but the colorblind “I’d have voted for Obama a third time” kind of racism that says “look, everyone is equal under the law, we’re done here, so now let’s compete for resources as equals” and ignores centuries of structural racism, systemic inequality, and the enduring stench of white supremacy.
It is that competition for resources and disregard for black humanity… for black life that drives the white antagonists (and one Asian one) to think to themselves, as the grandfather says in the old VHS introductory tape (which I will paraphrase and translate into real terms): we’re going to take your vitality and physical prowess and use our desire to maintain our position of power and control in society as a means to control you.
It is not lost on me that in the years since this movie’s release, those folks who should know better but who have instead insisted on supporting white supremacist ideologies and policies have earned the reputation of being “in the sunken place”. This is fitting because they give up part of themselves to gain affirmation from the white supremacist system. They chose to live in a colorblind way, praise “equal under law” as an end goal, and perpetuate systemic inequality and injustice in this country.
I’m by no means an expert or even remotely qualified to weigh in on “the black experience” that Chris is so blatantly asked to expound upon, but I do appreciate how this movie manages to tease out the violence, exploitation, and injustice of society with the metaphor of violent exploitation taken to the utter extreme.
On another similar note: I just watched Luce (see my prior log entry) yesterday, and in the terms of this movie, it’s about a kid trying to escape the sunken place and a mentor trying to navigate it in as non-combative a way as possible.
See this review also on my Letterboxd