Last week I watched The Upside. It’s a movie from 2017 that stars Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman.
It’s based on the true story of a man who is quadriplegic and who hires a Life Auxiliary.
I loved it.
And it was filled with racial stereotypes that annoyed me.
Philip (Bryan Cranston) is white and wealthy. He funds starts ups, is an art collector, is a writer, and listens to opera. And he can afford to pay for the 24-hour care he needs.
Dell (Kevin Hart) is Black. He just came out of prison, has a son (and a wife who kicks him out at the beginning of the movie). He didn’t grow up with his father. There are the requisite pickup basketball game scenes, and he knows where to buy weed.
And….despite my annoyance, this is a true story of a chance meeting, an unlikely job offer, and it shows us the reality of racial disparity in North America – at its extreme.
There is a wealth gap based on skin tone. And the gap is intergenerational. The lack of hereditary wealth is due to systemic racism, and this makes the gap larger and deeper – and harder to cross.
Hereditary wealth easily allows for things like post-secondary education in reputable institutions, down payments on houses, or funds to start a business… things that can improve our life experiences and improve the lives and opportunities for our children (and future generations).
There are a disproportionate number of Black men in prison – which means there are a disproportionate number of Black kids growing up without their dads. Which impacts income, along with the availability of role models, support, and mentorship (to name a few). Again, big short and long-term impacts.
Having a record means the types of jobs one can apply for shrinks, and means folks that need a new start can end up in low-wage jobs, and selling drugs may look like easy money, and a way to make a decent living.
What movies do – and could do
These types of storylines continue to reinforce mental associations that form unconscious biases.
Here are a few questions I’d like viewers to start asking:
- Why are these things such frequent backdrops to storylines?
- How did we get there?
- What’s the impact of these realities on Black communities?
- What’s the impact of continuing to (largely) show these types of storylines related to people who are Black?
Let’s talk about the reality that fuels these stories so we can create awareness – and change.
Change in people’s realities, but also change in the mental associations we learn through media that keep these inequities going and keep us disconnected.
I won’t tell you about the movie – in case you want to see it.
But the beautiful thing about it was that both men treat each other with respect and dignity – something they both lack from others. They also challenge each other, and expand each other’s experiences.
The Upside shows us what being seen, being heard, and having someone believe in you can do for the spirit. And some of the real reasons that get in the way of potential and positive change – and of us really seeing people and contributing to that change.
(c) 2021 Annemarie Shrouder