Imagine living a life where your body and choices are ruled upon in courts. Of being the only females in a group of men making these laws. Or of being the only one of your race among a tight clique of friends you barely know in a weekend getaway. Imagine, also, drinking copiously to numb that gnawing and growing feeling of alienation, until you don’t care if you fit in; and you make a fool of yourself.
And if you’re drunk enough, you’ll probably throw up, or want to take a break and step into the shower. Imagine you’re told to use the water sparingly. Something about a tank.
As a visitor, you are expected to use the minimum. Always, with everything, remember to use sparingly. There never is enough when you or your kind want some of the proverbial pie. “Cheap-ass motherfucker” Tyler grumbles as he turns the water back on. If you empathize with any of this, that stifling feeling you can almost feel in your stomach is how you may feel if you watched Tyrel (2018), now streaming on Hulu.
Without spoiling, the main character Tyler (and yes, the title is misspelled on purpose) is that alienated black person in a group of white people.
When a character says “Every single one of you,” he means everyone except the black dude. True moments of connection between Tyler and the others wilt to nothingness if one of their own kind walks in. These little moments is what the movie is about. You finish the film thinking something is terribly wrong but it’s difficult to pinpoint when and where it all went awry.
Nico, the standard Latino character and Tyler making breakfast for all the white folk; and while we’re at it, Nico himself, the hustling Argentinian, always running around taking care of something. Then there’s some burning of religious imagery, and what can best be described as a Mardi Gras, sequined elephant mask, eerily resembling some Grand Dragon attire straight out of the KKK.
A dangling Trump piñata starts looking more like an idol. And I think I’m laying off REM for a while. All of this creepiness keeps you guessing. The movie is unsettling because of everything left unsaid, and because of what is said in the name of camaraderie and amusement.
Somewhere in this mix there is an older biracial couple. Ann Dowd (Sylvia) and Reg E. Cathey (Reggie) grace us with barely 10 minutes of screen time but I’d like you to consider the following: every time Tyler leaves a room or enters it, laughter loudly ensues.
We wonder if he’s the butt of some joke, or worse, in our post-Get Out world. Earlier in the movie we witness Tyler’s friend Johnny mock Sylvia to her back and both of them laugh about it within Sylvia’s earshot. We wonder if she knows she’s being mocked. She does. We all do.
Imagine being that woman, even more alienated than Tyler for being an older, white lady with no sexual or commercial value. Now imagine having even less of a presence. Imagine being the disembodied voice praying in another language, at the other side of Tyler’s phone call with his Puerto Rican girlfriend.
But, from a Latino standpoint, let’s deepen the conversation. The portrayal of the Argentinian, Nico. One might say: “Well, at least Nico’s making money, hustling, renovating houses.” And then one of the guys asks him, don’t you need a permit for that? And he replies oh, we’re in the mountains. No one cares about that. The white guy laughs at this. Or, more slyly, at him. Ah, those Latinos, always so wily.
Another gem: Nico’s female companion Nina chose white for the floors because “She loves everything white.” Her tastes extend even, evidently, to Nico’s friends who are all white.
Let’s go even deeper. If you’re sensitive to any of these distinctions, and if you’re Americanized or gringo, you probably aren’t–then you know that to many Latinos: Argentinians, Spaniards and whites are well, let’s face it, basically the same thing.
Tyler’s girlfriend Carmen, however, is Puerto Rican. We can infer she’s hot because, obviously, she’s Puerto Rican and if there’s something we can safely say from our collective consciousness is that Hispanic women are meant to be sexy. Side note: where are all the white feminists screaming about this universal objectification? Oh, right. That’s non-issue for “the sisters.”
But this isn’t a woman movie, you might say. Why keep injecting women into the discourse? Because this movie is as much about racial alienation as it is about (more subtly) gender alienation. For all my academia friends, the potential for gender, race and class analysis in this movie is very heartening.
Quick note on Michael Cera’s character: He is absolute gold as the rich, entitled, cool dude who with a genteel condescension bids farewell to a disembodied Latino Uber driver with a “Best three hours of my week, man. Be good.”
The Latino/Hispanic discussion is complicated. The nods to our race (because that’s how they see us in the U.S., as a single race) in this movie are there, but you have to dig deep.
It’s common (and oh so easy!) to cram all Latinos and Hispanic people into one, comfortable umbrella category like “Mexicans.” This movie in a very minor way seems to understand the nuances.
There are three discussions happening on the sidelines: the Puerto Rican girlfriend (without giving Tyler any sex might as well be an ex-girlfriend); Nico and Nina, the white and completely assimilated Argentinians; and the Cuban situation. The latter is the only Latino topic overtly raised in the movie.
The trendiest place to visit of course for the sensible, politically savvy thrill seeker is Cuba. “They think we’re idiots,” and “they’re happy not to be here at this point. You can also make out hostile commentary towards the Cubans in a passing scene, a conversation that goes on in a hushed voice away from Tyler, the outsider.
Most tellingly, after a discussion about the current Argentinian pope and the church’s newly adopted leniency regarding homosexuals, the fattest white guy says: “Anyone who believes in this kind of Jesus must be, like, an inferior human. I don’t want these people voting. Or touching me…”
This is exactly what we must look out for. Racism’s cruelest face is the one that creeps up unknowingly. The true horror of this movie is the free-for-all, decline into insanity which has become the heart of white, male privilege in the supposedly well-meaning and condescending leaders of tomorrow’s USA. And it’s not always just the men.
As Latino women our situation is the most precarious out of them all. We are even more alienated than Sylvia, or Tyler. We somehow manage to become objectified and disembodied at the same time. Watch out for this and please comment if you saw any other gems in this movie. And as always, keep that face sharp, hard and fearless.