What is an picture value? Specifically, what’s the picture of a useless Black man value? If you needed to guess, how a lot do you suppose a picture of a Black man fatally wounded would go for, his physique chilling in opposition to the pavement as a pool of blood— within the form of Africa, simply in case the symbolism wasn’t clear—kinds subsequent to him?
Not positive? Too uncomfortable a thought? According to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that man—and the story of his dying, reasonably than the story of his life—is value Hollywood’s highest distinction: Oscar gold.
James, luckily, will not be an actual particular person. Played by the rapper Joey Badass, he’s the fictional protagonist of Two Distant Strangers, a movie by screenwriter and comic Travon Free that received Best Live Action Short Film at Sunday evening’s ceremony. James, sadly, is meant to be an emblem. He’s meant to signify the gross inevitability of Black manhood in America: a goal of white supremacist terror.
The film exploits a sci-fi gimmick to make its argument. Think Groundhog Day, however horror. James is caught in a time loop, and what begins as the most effective day of his life turns into his worst—and final. The actual depravity of the plot is in how his demise performs out: Through the course of the movie, James dies precisely 100 occasions by the hands of a white police officer. If getting killed 100 occasions feels excessive, if it feels disturbingly inappropriate, that’s the level—the visceral horror of a Black man being fatally gunned down by a cop, the film suggests, is a nightmare Black folks can by no means wake from.
Everywhere one seems to be, Black persons are being terrorized and killed—harassed whereas strolling down the road, stopped and questioned whereas driving. Through shaky camera-phone footage, we see them annihilated with no second thought. The spectacle of ache is unrelenting, a nauseating recitation of trauma that pulls focus to the top of a life, not what occurred throughout it. In current years, digital camera cellphone recordings have been vital in amplifying racial points. But consciousness and amplification include a toll. For Black folks, the price of consideration is the fixed reminder of our struggling. The phenomenon can’t be escaped, regardless of how onerous one tries. From lived actuality to tv to social media, it’s all consuming. It is on a regular basis. It is rarely going to finish.
And so the popular culture equipment dutifully churns, counting on imagery soaked in a form of retrograde myopia. The newest occasion is Them. An Amazon sequence centered on a working-class Black household that strikes to a white Los Angeles suburb within the early 1950s, it reaches the identical conclusion as Two Distant Strangers: Black folks, and Black life, are objects of unwant. Misery is the only real prism via which we meet and perceive the Emory household. They are subjected to beastly mistreatment, however different horrors lurk of their new neighborhood, some extra apparent than others. They are surrounded by struggling, by hate. They can’t escape it. It’s the explanation they fled North Carolina and likewise what greets them in sunny, seemingly paradisiacal Compton. The sequence recycles the identical stomach-turning imaginative and prescient of ache and cultural vacancy that’s rewarded on social media, the form of fare that revolves across the bodily and cultural theft of our bodies.
In each Them and Two Distant Strangers, our bodies are crushed. Again and once more our bodies are crushed. Bodies are raped, our bodies are burned, our bodies are fetishized, our bodies are killed. Bodies change into vectors of unimaginable vitriol, of home-baked racism. And on this model of Black struggling, on this hokey and too-easy symbolism, there’s a hazard in being a witness, in seeing such steady torment. For these tasks, to be Black is to be traumatized, solely and at all times.