Ending racial and ethnic distancing remains the key to a better world
At first glance, the film “You People” is just another fun romantic comedy.
Jonah Hill, Lauren London, Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus jam pack the movie with nonstop laughs.
Social media posts among friends were largely along the lines of, “Hilarious movie!”
But beneath the layers of laughter—sorely needed in our very serious world—the movie is actually promoting an idea that, if practiced in real life, has the power to derail years of deeply ingrained, unconscious bias we have toward each other. To put the kibosh on the lethal effects of false imagery and incorrect stereotypes.
“You People,” produced by Blacks and Jews together, is a love story about Ezra, a white Jew played by Jonah Hill, and Amira, a Black Muslim played by Lauren London, navigating the serious challenges of families who have all kinds of over-the-top, absurd views about the other’s ethnic and racial groups.
Hill’s parents are upper-class Jewish suburbanites who, while meaning well, as many liberal Jews do in real life, act out their deep-seated, false views of Black people through endless microaggressions toward London and her family. From comments about London’s hair to feigning outrage over racist cops to inauthentically over-loving Black music.
The movie uses humor to shine a spotlight on some of the things Black people endure daily by lumping in every imaginable racist microaggression perpetrated by this one family. The microaggressions aren’t funny in real life, but the film’s piling of ridiculous on top of more ridiculous emphasizes their absurdity.
London’s parents aren’t any better than Hill’s. Her family are followers of the Nation of Islam and spew out every imaginable conspiracy theory, stereotype and anti-Jewish trope known to humankind. From the Jews-ran-the-slave-trade nonsense. To the Jews are responsible for making them take COVID vaccines. To all Jews are rich.
The tropes and conspiracies aren’t themselves funny in real life, but by combining a litany of over-the-top anti-Jewish jabs into one family, the movie cleverly illustrates the absurdity of anti-Jewish hatred.
Remember, the movie is a comedy. So talking about these issues in its context is a healthy exercise in understanding diversity. Lighten up, critics.
Back to the movie storyline.
When it seems the two hyper-xenophobic families have doomed the White Jewish/Black Muslim couple’s relationship, something real happens, and the comedy’s serious message reveals itself.
Viewers see how these two families from very different worlds and experiences got to know each other. They broke bread. They laughed. They shared. They listened.
And in those intimate spaces a slow transformation began to take place. Their worlds came together. They learned. They harmonized. They began to love. They began to humanize each other. They began to provide grace and space to grow.
People don’t have to get married, like Hill and London’s characters did, to harmonize. The movie has a much-overdue, deeper lesson for society.
That when we get to know each other in our personal spaces. In our homes. At our dinner tables. In our most intimate parts of life. That’s when real transformation can occur. Even if it takes some time.
While most of us don’t consciously harbor every racist or anti-Jewish idea depicted in the movie, we still each hold unconscious bias about others that needs a good unraveling. We hold incomplete and often false views of others that we aren’t even fully aware of.
The recipe for unraveling that unconscious bias is quite simple. “You People” reminds us of that.
Open up your homes, your dinner tables, your drinking hangouts and your family celebrations to people who are different than you and watch your world evolve into something more beautiful than you could ever imagine.
And watch a more beautiful society emerge along with you.