When you meet Winston Duke’s character, Gabe Wilson, in Us, he’s proudly sporting a grey sweatshirt with the word “Howard” emblazoned on his chest.
And if you didn’t know (now you know), the sweatshirt is a slight nod to the fact that Mr. Wilson — who epitomizes “the corny dad,” complete with playing throwback hip-hop songs like “I Got 5 On It” to impress his two children — is a nod to the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C.
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Duke told ESSENCE earlier this month that Wilson’s alma mater and paraphernalia choice was intentional after having a conversation with producer, director and screenwriter, Jordan Peele.
“We wanted an HBCU to represent the family’s attachment to Blackness. So it’s definitely a thoughtful choice that [says] this is a Black family, but their attachments aren’t.”
In the film, Wilson is super concerned with keeping up with his white besties, played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, who onscreen recently bought a boat and live nearby in a swanky vacation home across the lake.
“Their attachments are attached to a lot of privilege and comfort judging by who their friends are,” Duke explained of the Wilsons. “And their biggest concerns are their house and their boat— a lot of things that don’t really reference community. It lends itself to the larger conversation that this movie [is] really an interrogation of culture.”
Since the film premiered for the Black press and for audiences at SXSW, Peele has responded to early reviews, saying the film addresses America’s heightened political anxiety. While politicians, Donald Trump and people on Twitter are blaming everyone else for immigration issues and terrorism, Us makes us ask ourselves: what if we are the problem? But it’s clear from Duke’s reflection that this film is so much more than that—it’s also about the double consciousness that Black Americans grapple with daily.
“When you put groups of people that have a history of being oppressed as people who are also attached to the American dream,” Duke began, “you have to pin them to the sins of the American dream.”
Us, also starring Lupita Nyong’o and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, screens at Howard University on Wednesday evening, and opens in theaters Friday.