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THEM

Created and co-written by Little Marvin

Amazon Prime, 2021. 

Review by Linda Brogan

 

Ten days played as ten episodes.

‘A Black family moves to an all-white Los Angeles neighbourhood where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them.’

2018 in a meeting with the Whitworth Art Gallery’s senior curator to plan my residency she asks, ‘What are you watching?’

Dear White People.’ 

She smirks. Turns to their development manager, ‘Parks and Recreation.’

She makes me feel bad. Why do I feel bad? Why is it a conversation I want to talk about? Is it because I have been trained to talk about it? I’ve trained myself to talk about it? I’ve been trained not to talk about it? I don’t know any more. 

2021, May, I’m smoking on my doorstep. My neighbour, who also doesn’t like to talk about it, arrives. We talked about it when George Floyd died. We talked about Trump storming the Capitol much more. My neighbour looks shocked. ‘Last night! I watched the most terrible scene. I feel dirty. I feel like I shouldn’t have watched it. That I’ve taken part in some kind of abuse.’

‘What?’

THEM.’

I won’t tell you the episode. It took the sting out of it for me. My sister cited that scene too.

The sting for me was ‘BLACK BITCH!!!!’ The commitment the actress Alison Pill invests in those two words is outstanding. Like all the entitled white women must have felt, lashed to character Betty Wendell’s own personal tragedy. An outstanding cast! Melody Hurd, as little Gracie Emory, absorbs you. My heart remains with her dad Henry Emory (played by ‘Bashy’ Thomas), ripped inside by his alter ego, The Custodian (Tim Russ), relishing the role of being all that Henry Emory digests, suppresses, lives, alone. Amazing writing. 

I checked at the end. I was scared a white person had written it. Then that level of abuse would really be abuse. Then I saw Little Marvin had written it. Thank God. Then I hankered after a white person having the guts, the grasp on reality to have written it. Committing to pen what Alison Pill commits to those two words. 

There’s so much in it. A whole A level, O level, research paper’s worth, hinged on the reality of redlining, the discriminatory practices that unleashed today’s housing segregation in the United States. 

‘I didn’t know much about Jim Crow,’ my sister, aged 58, also mixed race, says. For the first time, my neighbour engages with the root of the problem. 

THEM has given them an education. 

Dropped them squarely in how it must have felt in the 1950s to be black.  The humiliation. You have to see it. I can’t tell you a word about it. It will ruin the set pieces. Unbalance the nuances. Dirty the symbolism. Like me you’ll want to unpack the metaphors on your own. Me and my neighbour found flaws, things we thought extraneous. My sister, unprompted, found deeper meaning in those flaws. 

‘A Black family moves to an all-white Los Angeles neighbourhood where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them.’

The pitch is accurate, but inaccurate, at the same time. THEM injects you with visceral, everyday Jim Crow, boxed off and segregated by redlining. And lays bare what it did to both black and white souls. 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9064858/

 

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