The series “Them” on Amazon Prime approaches everyday racism with an arguably heavy hand. The series has been called “violent,” “difficult to watch.” However, “Them” is based on a composite of experiences that black Americans have had during all of the Great Migrations from the American South. The problems experienced by real people have been fictionalized in the form of a series. The real-life problems cannot be censored or argued away, therefore, neither should the dramatized version of them.
“Them”: degradation porn or not?
“Them,” created by Little Marvin, and directed by Lee Daniels, depicts a black family who moves to California from South Carolina. Flashbacks show why the family (man, woman, and two daughters) do not have a third child and illustrate how racism is racism, regardless of the forms it takes. That the husband and father is an engineer further highlights the issue. Even as he and his family are poised to begin life in a middle-class enclave, nothing is easy for him. The children do not fare much better. All of the family members have demons, and those are conjured up to wreak havoc on their already emotionally exhausted psyches.
The masterful touches that mix the paranormal with the racism of the 1950s will be viewed as engaging by some viewers but will be seen as degradation porn by others. The scenes in which a minstrel inflames Mr. Emory’s (the dad) have the potential for comedy, but the truth of what the minstrel is saying keeps the humor at bay.
Perhaps the most shocking secret that is exposed is the teenage daughter’s desire for white skin. She is led astray by a white girl who turns out to be a ghost, and for a moment believes that she is part of the cheerleading squad. A telling scene involves a can of white paint.
The youngest daughter names the ghosts of white women she sees after a stern female character she sees drawn in a book she is reading.
But it is Mrs. Emory’s experiences in both South Carolina and California that captures viewers’ attention and gives the show its dark and unrelenting trajectory. The rape, the game that took a child’s life, would have been enough to drive anyone insane. Yet, she arrives in California full of hope, with a smile on her face.
While “Them” might not be everyone’s taste, and yes, parts of it are incredibly difficult to watch, viewers should realize that this is and was the reality of black American life. A show like “Them” does not negate the personal and public progress black Americans have made. It does illustrate the horror that can occur when civil rights and civility are reserved only for people who remind us of ourselves.