You People is trying to be the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of the 21st century but the film fails on every single level by far.
Here’s the thing about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It is a classic to the point in which it cannot be made again. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy might be comedic AF but they’re not Katharine Hepburn or Sidney Poitier. Where that film was about a Black guy coming into a white family’s home, this film does not understand that Jews do not easily fit into the American checkbox when it comes to race. I said as much when the first episode of #BlackAF came to my attention in 2020: Jews are an ethnoreligious people. Even when bringing Jonah Hill into the equation, Kenya Barris is repeating the same problem because Jews are not white. I’ve written repeatedly on this site when it comes to Jews and race so I’m not going to repeat myself again.
In short, Ezra Cohen (Jonah Hill) ends up in Amira Mohammed’s (Lauren London) car because he thought she was his rideshare driver. They somehow manage to connect with each other but it’s hard to believe that someone would let a stranger into her car like that. Certainly not in this era. In any event, they both like streetwear and music. But then, it’s time to meet the parents. First up is Arnold (David Duchovny) and Shelley Cohen (Julia Louis Dreyfus). It goes exactly as you probably think it would go. Arnold and Shelley show off how progressive they are. Not long after this, Ezra meets Amira’s parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima Mohammed (Nia Long). They are members of the Nation of Islam, which is led by antisemitic bigot Louis Farrakhan.
The fact that they’re followers of Farrakhan would make any relationship a deal breaker. It isn’t enough that cultures are clashing here but that you have characters praising Louis Farrakhan in front of a Jewish family. Jewish readers are already familiar with Farrakhan’s comments–that Women’s March leadership supporting him and having photos with him is what led to resignations and local chapters to distance themselves from national leadership. Don’t take my word for it–here’s a few links from the ADL:
- Nation of Islam Leader Farrakhan In His Own Words
- Nation of Islam
- Farrakhan Promotes Antisemitism, Anti-vaccine Conspiracies in “Swan Song” Saviours’ Day Address
The list goes on and on. I didn’t watch the trailer but you could feel a knot in my stomach as soon as I saw the headlines in Jewish media. To be honest, it’s just one of many reasons why it’s so hard to suspend belief and buy into a Jewish person and a follower of the Nation of Islam ending up with each other. It’s basically like Kentucky electing a Democratic senator in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Suspending any belief becomes impossible at this point. I feel like Kenya Barris just wants to offend as many people as possible in putting this film out into the world.
A few things come to mind about the film’s offensiveness. One, why in the hell is there a line saying: “We’ve got to Holocaust it down” This is not funny. Put it this way, Mel Brooks can get away with Holocaust humor but it would be cringe-worthy and out of place in a Brooks vehicle. There’s a fine line when it comes to Holocaust humor and this film crosses that line into full-on cringe-worthy territory. Watch Ferne Pearlstein’s The Last Laugh to realize why this line is very wrong.
When the two families meet each other for the first time, it turns into the Oppression Olympics. But prior to this, there’s a discussion about Louis Farrakhan, where Ezra sarcastically says he loves Louis Farrakhan. This leads to some awkward moments especially with his parents. Akbar even asks what Shelley knows about Farrakhan. She responds, “I’m familiar with what he said about the Jews.” See above links! As the initial meeting segues into a family meal together, things couldn’t get more cringe-worthy. Ezra and Shelley even exchange looks with each other. For what it’s worth, Jews recite Birkat Hamazon after eating a meal that includes a kezayit piece of bread–the film features Akbar saying it before the meal.
But seriously, once we get into the families eating together, it becomes a cringe-worthy discussion of Oppression Olympics. Why can’t we all just get along? Why does it have to become a comparison between the Holocaust and slavery? If you make it this far into the film, mazel tov! This is the point in which I basically made myself watch the rest of the film solely for review purposes. It essentially lost me for good there because there’s no reason to go into Oppression Olympics. Once you go there, it will never end well. I could list every terrible thing that has ever befallen the Jewish people. There’s even a holiday for practically every single one. Ask Jew Who Has It All. That this film is launching on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is insulting in and of itself.
There’s a better movie to be made that combines the talents of everyone involved but You People isn’t it. It’s not often that I see one of the best movies of the year and one of the worst movies of the year in the same week but here we are.
DIRECTOR: Kenya Barris
SCREENWRITERS: Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill
CAST: Jonah Hill, Lauren London, David Duchovny, Nia Long, Sam Jay, Elliott Gould, Travis Bennett, Molly Gordon, Rhea Perlman, Deon Cole, Andrea Savage, Mike Epps, Emily Arlook, Alani La La Anthony, Bryan Greenberg, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy
Netflix released You People in theaters on January 20, 2023 and streaming on January 27, 2023. Grade: 0.5/5
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