THE TRUTH ABOUT "THEM"
The African American community is becoming more and more exhausted by the vast amount of trauma porn forced on us by society. The coined term trauma porn regards the fascination with a people’s pain/misfortune and it is consistently shoved in our faces from every angle; social media, Hollywood, music labels, the news industry, and the list goes on. I too am over our trauma being pushed on us redundantly as “entertainment” leaving us further traumatized and triggered with no purpose, direction, or lessons. I’ll never forget how disappointed and angry I was to sit in admiration through the entire “Queen & Slim” film only to be triggered by the disturbing ending scene that I found to be completely unnecessary, had I known the movie’s conclusion was going to be what it was “Queen & Slim” would have never received my support. The “Queen & Slim” movie is a perfect example of trauma porn that is deteriorating the trust of Black America regarding Black cinema. Many of us are slowly becoming more cautious about what we subject ourselves to watch and listen to, as we should protect our conscious and subconscious minds. However, the con to this is that some of us may be too quick to write off something as trauma porn before even giving it a chance like the show “Them” created by Little Marvin that recently premiered on Amazon Prime Video.
The show “Them” is a product of a Black Horror/Thriller movement that I am personally enjoying following behind titles such as “Get Out”, “Us”, and “Lovecraft Country” to name a few. What do these titles have in common? They each unapologetically reveal the depth of racism that we experience in this country and the impacts that it has overall on our mental states like PTSD, cognitive dissonance, imposter syndrome, and other mental illnesses that our communities should be confronting. In my humble opinion, the show “Them” is a must-see. Does it show Black trauma? Yes! Will it trigger you? HELL-GOT-DAMN YES! However, it also exposes the ugly layers of institutional racism in this country that we have been dealing with and are still dealing with today amongst other realizations that deserve to be addressed thoroughly. Nowadays, the topic of racism is not discussed in depths as it should, it is often discounted and disregarded as something that we can easily “get over”, so much to the point that many of us are becoming desensitized to our detriment. Therefore “Them” is so necessary during these times, yes there are many scenes that will angry you, but Malcolm-X once said “Usually, when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” and even the blindest of men can see that it is time we bring about a change. So, if you have not given “Them” a watch yet and willing to tune in to see what the hype is about then hold on tight and prepare for a ride. If you have already watched “Them” and not sure if you entirely realized the depths of racism the series revealed, well, you are in the right place for a quick recap. Here we go.
In the first episode “Day One” the Emory family moves to their new house in an all-white neighborhood in East Compton, Los Angeles during the year 1953 for a fresh start. Lucky Emory (played by the astonishingly beautiful and electric Deborah Ayorinde) reads over the contract between her husband Henry Emory (played intensely and daring by Ashley Thomas) and their realtor present on behalf of “Southland Trust Realty”. Lucky instantly become concerns when she reads the disclaimer that states “No lot in said tract shall be sold, rented, or leased to any persons whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian race. No persons of Negro blood or heritage shall occupy the premises, notwithstanding domestic servants actually employed by a person of the Caucasian race.”, she immediately brings it to the realtor’s attention and the realtor ensured her that it wasn’t a concern due to covenants no longer being legally enforceable. Historically, in America, racially restrictive covenants were ruled against by the Supreme Court in 1948 and outlawed by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. However, racially restricted covenants and other establishments still exist today through less overt racism but more covert racism tactics such as property taxes, mortgage/rental fees, dress codes, memberships, etc., etc. to ensure the area is dominantly Caucasian, if not totally.
In the second episode “Day Three” we are greeted with a flashback scene of Henry Emory battling with PTSD after returning home from serving time in the Army. He struggles to eat a slice of peach pie that his family made him until it triggered an explosive episode causing him to launch his plate into the wall. Lucky went to provide him supportive comfort and found him on their front porch seeking companionship in their newfound puppy “Sargent”. On the front porch, Henry opens up to Lucky and explained that the sweet smell from the peach pie reminded him of the same aroma of the chemical agents such as mustard and nerve gas that he was exposed to during experiments the Army conducted on him and other Black soldiers to determine the effects of the chemical agents on the human body. This scene, like the entire series, was inspired by real historical events. Black soldiers in the military were unwillingly tested/experimented on with detrimental chemical agents and received no medical care for the psychological/physical effects. Oh, but let us be honest… the only uniform you needed to be the preferred subject in any experiment in America was Black Skin. I am sure you know about the Black men that suffered from the Tuskegee experiments, so I will provide further insight. Do you know about the Black women that suffered at the hands of James Marion Sims? What about the story of Ebb Cade? Have you heard the story of Eugene Saenger exposing Black cancer patients to large doses of radiation during his experiments to study the effect of radiations on the human body and mind during the 1960s?
Let us forward to episode five “Covenant I” and you may want to take a deep breath for this. This episode by far was the hardest to get through, honestly, I would not blame you if you did or must fast forward through most of it. I will spare you the agony of reliving the episode but if you have seen it already then you are familiar with the upsetting phrase “Cat in the Bag”. The “Cat in the Bag” scene is just a small glimpse into the horrors Black people faced in America. Another sadistic game that was played was known as “African Dodger” a.k.a. “Hit the Coon” where Black men were forced to stick their heads through a curtain to dodge objects such as eggs and baseballs thrown by Caucasian players at carnivals. When Caucasians became bored with these antics they replaced “African Dodger” with a game called “Drop the Chocolate Drop” … today we commonly refer to this game as “dunk tanks”. The sadism does not stop there, a few other examples (to scratch the surface) of Caucasians profiting and enjoying our suffering as entertainment is the act of putting Black children on display in human zoos, or even worse… using them as alligator bait. I am almost finished. I promise.
The last historical reference in “Them” that I want to point out occurs mostly in episode eight “Day Nine”. Lucky is held against her will in a mental asylum, denied access to her family, and repeatedly told that she is sick without any proper evaluation/care. This is the horror that many African Americans faced in America. In 1868, the Central State Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane was established in Petersburg, Virginia. Many of the patients were admitted by force for reasons as simple as not stepping down from the sidewalk to allow a Caucasian to pass or merely talking back to an authority figure. As Lucky proclaims her sanity and demands to see her family, she is told that she is too far gone for therapy and prepped for a procedure to take a piece of her mind away from her, literally. Unfortunately, many of our people went through this very procedure in America. One example is that in the 1960s Orlando J. Andy performed brain operations on African American boys ranging from ages six to nine where he removed parts of their brains in an attempt to supposedly eradicate their alleged behavioral problems.
I would not be me if I did not take it a step further and look at “Them” from a spiritual perspective. Both, “Lovecraft Country” and “Them” have put it right in our faces that there is spiritual warfare to keep us oppressed in this country and we must use the strength of our
Ancestors to fight to break these spells of oppression. As a race, we cannot afford to discount these messages as merely good storylines. It's way deeper than that.
In my humble opinion “THEM” is more than a television series, it is a whole documentary about what we have been through and still currently going through in this country. This is an artistic expression that deserves to be in a category separate from trauma porn, I believe we need more shows that expose the severity of this growing beast we call racism and how it is still impacting us as a people. If shows like this will anger us then I pray that we use that anger to get more serious about bringing upon a change instead of merely hoping for justice for one victim at a time. I salute the creator “Little Marvin” for bringing light to these historical AND modern references. Also, although I spoke not so fondly of the film “Queen and Slim” I must give Lena Waithe her credit as both she and Little Marvin did an outstanding job at delivering us the truth about “THEM”!