Us – Mama’s Boys

By Ifeanyi Nwonye

Beyond the overarching themes of classicism and criminalized poverty portrayed in Jordan Peele’s film, Us, he also conveys the patriarchal influence on gender roles in the Black community that informs the differential treatment given to sons and daughters by their Black mothers. As we compare the nurturing and understanding relationship Adelaide has with Jason to the stern, somewhat detached one she has with Zora, we begin to see that Adelaide’s prioritization of Jason’s well-being over Zora’s is a recurring event throughout the film. Whether it’s during the invasion of the Tethered Family at the house or Red’s initial pairing of the two sons and two daughters, both of these events show Adelaide comforting and reassuring Jason that he will be ok, while Zora is expected to act quickly and have her well-being be considered later or not all. Even in the final death scenes of Zora and Jason’s doppelgängers, we see a stark contrast in how she treats the situation. With Jason’s doppelgänger, Pluto, we watch her scream in horror and defiance as she watches him walk into the fire and burn to death. Meanwhile, when Zora is in the process of killing her doppelgänger, Umbrae, (and succeeds), Adelaide is spooked but raises no opposition to the plan. Even after she watches Umbrae slowly die in the tree, she appears more accepting of her death than Pluto’s. This trend of male-coddling and female neglect is, unfortunately, a staple of Black motherhood that derives from the patriarchal phrase “boys will be boys.” While sons are encouraged to make mistakes and retain as much of their youthful innocence as possible, the daughters are often adultified when their parents impose harsher rules and punishments on them or pressure them to be co-parents that are responsible for their other siblings. 

Being a pervasive aspect of patriarchal culture, we see this same gender dynamic present itself in the relationships of both sets of Black parents as well. While young Adelaide spends time with her family at Santa Cruz, we see that her mother is a lot more vigilant and mature than her father who is generally immature and not responsible enough to even watch her properly. Even after Adelaide was switched out with her doppelgänger, the mother shows a lot more concern for her child’s changed demeanor than the father who is relatively unbothered by the sudden swift. Several years later, we see Adelaide recreate these same gender roles in her own relationship by marrying a man who is much like her father, but arguably even more incompetent and utterly useless. From his decision to confront the Tethered outside their house despite Adelaide’s protests to the offering of all his expensive items to the Tethered in a half baked effort to cull their resentment. 

Now, to be clear, my comparison of these film representations to real life is not intended to convey the belief that Black men (or any men) are inherently incompetent or useless. Rather, this comparison is meant to emphasize the ways in which male mediocrity and imperfection is socially embraced in a way that women’s is not, especially in the Black community. Since Black men are often babied for a longer period of time, the phrase “boys will be boys” absolves them of responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof) because they, too, are likened to children. This largely contributes to the “strong Black woman” trope that is then assigned to us because we are then made responsible for taking care of these men, ourselves, and keeping the entire community together, much like Adelaide who was tasked with saving her family and the entire town with her hands chained together. 


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