Native American Iconography: Analyzing Peele’s Critique of American Imperialism in Us

Lucas Johnson Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Melissa Etzler Butler University
In Jordan Peele’s Us (2019), humans are suddenly overrun and attacked by an underground population of doppelgängers, referred to as the “Tethered”. Throughout the film, the Tethered and their scheme to take over America closely mirror U.S. imperialist and colonial tendencies from the early 1600s to the late 1800s. The Tethered plan on replacing everyone in the United States by killing them and taking over their lives. Peele uses this connection to highlight how perspective and bias can shape opinion and reactions towards injustice. To many twenty-first century Americans, U.S. imperialism is seen as a necessary evil, one that helped push the world into modernity. In fact, 40% of Americans don’t even think Native Americans still exist. When the Tethered take over in Us, however, it is considered a horror movie. In this paper, I discuss how Peele incorporates various aspects of Native American iconography and themes in several significant scenes to illustrate this point. For example, I read the transition in the mise-en-scène from Native American themed signage to European themed signage as commentary on the erasure of Native history, the Tethereds’ use of Manifest Destiny as justification for invasion as a critique of imperialist hypocrisy, and the Tethereds’ unchecked growth and resulting negative consequences as an extended metaphor for America’s colonial expansion. I argue that Peele uses his film to push a strikingly controversial narrative into contemporary discussion: the idea that America’s past actions and present culture should not be revered as patriotic feats of ancient glory.
Competitive Paper--All Disciplines (includes an Oral Presentation)
Competitive Paper (includes an Oral Presentation)

When & Where

09:45 AM
Jordan Hall 276