As conceived, once a year, everyone is allowed to go buck wild. Now, I do not mean wild in some party like, new years celebration. No, I mean in some Mad Max, I'm gonna torture your whole family and perhaps chew on them a little, set them on fire and roast some apples kind of way. Anarchy at its worst. The complete opposite order and civilization.
In Baltimore after the funeral of the most recent African American victim, people started referencing that a Purge was coming. Remember wilding? Some black folk were signaling to some audience (perhaps other black folk; perhaps whites) that all bets were off for a while. They did this by referencing a film that had like one black character in it with one of America's whitest stars - clearly a victory for multiculturalism. Some black folk were signaling that the rules no longer applied and that for a time in a specific place, they would do what they wanted. Some white folk agreed that it looked like a horror film. But, what kind of horror film were they thinking about?
I would suggest that the horror film envisioned by the relevant black folk putting out the notices about the Purge were most likely thinking more Tales of the Hood, than Friday the 13th. The former moved into the horror that was and is part of black life. It portrays in graphic but comedic form (of the dark variety) the types of things that scare black folk. The reference is useful for there is nothing otherworldly about black fear of police/white violence. It is very much grounded in an American reality of predation, intimidation and discretion. The invocation of anarchy is intriguing for this is quite a different reference point than that conveyed by the civil rights movement and films like Selma - the African American tale of resistance and rebellion which some of the black youth of Baltimore did NOT select to describe what they were going to create or what they feel was needed. The lack of reference is important for some of the black youth showed that they have more in common with a white dystopian B movie starring Hawke than they do with what was broadly touted by some as a black triumph of film making. This is especially disheartening because Baltimore is the headquarters for the pre-eminent black advocacy organization the NAACP.
I fear though that people will misunderstand the message of the Purge's use like they misunderstood the message of the film the Believer - a film about a confused Jewish man who wishes to have some agency and power in his life, deciding that the best way to do this is to join the Neo-Nazi movement. This film, like the Purge, is about release and seeking power in a situation where there appears to be none. The Purge is an identification of lawlessness but in response to lawlessness not lawfulness. Citizens in the Purge get to go buck wild because the world they live in does not allow them any release for all of the pain and depression and emptiness that exists. Some of the citizens of Baltimore seemed to be invoking the same thing and prompted consideration of one of worst films released in the last 10-20 years. In contrast, the Believer (which I would rate as one of the better films of the last 20 years) has much more relevance for the current time period. This movie ends with the lead character caught in some endless loop, searching for a way out but never finding it. Such an image very well captures the sentiment of some of the black community in Baltimore. They seek a way out of some endless loop of poverty, brutality and invisibility, never quite finding it. What they suggest was needed was a Purge. This is Selma. This is no Malcolm X. This is a different type of sentiment that exist within the black community and one that has not well been understood. The Purgers are likely reflective of those that have not and perhaps cannot be channeled into specific forms of resistance and incorporation. The Purgers are perhaps calling for a different type of discussion regarding objectives, citizenship, governance, service delivery and the lack thereof.
Now, to be clear, I am not a Purger. I have already admitted to not liking the movie. That said, Ethan Hawke was happy (for a second). Two fists down.