"The Strange Thing About the Johnsons" is definitely a strange film.
If you would like to watch it, Gotdamnzo watches it on YouTube. He makes it even more bearable. Of course, you're probably asking, why does this need to be bearable?
Well, here's a basic summary of the movie. (I also should put a trigger warning in here: I will be addressing sexual assault for the duration of this article).
It's very short, about thirty minutes. We start out with a son in his room. It is important to note that this family is black, which plays a very, very important role in this movie. He's holding a picture in his hand and having some very private alone time. His dad walks in, has a conversation about how this is perfectly natural, and leaves.
This first scene is very cringy in of itself. The father seems to get a little too close, touches too many things, and overstays his welcome. While what he does is not inherently bad, the pastel colors, the smiling and his apparent comfort make the scene uncomfortable.
When the father leaves, the son sets the photo down. We see that it is a picture of his father.
Cut to sons wedding day. We learn that the son is assaulting his father. The mom sees this and chooses to ignore it. Every. Single. Time. Even when her husband screams, she simply turns up the TV and ignores it.
The father writes a novel called "Cocoon Man" on what his son has done to him. The son finds it and burns his words, which I find to be the most quintessential moment of the film.
After, the father runs into the street and dies, unable to take the son's actions anymore. The mother reads the memoir, finds out that the son has been doing this since prom night, and confronts him. They duke it out and mom eventually kills him with a fire poker.
Going back to the fact that this family is black and the son burns his father's words, this movie forces us to ask several uncomfortable questions. What does it mean for a black man to get sexually assaulted? What does it mean for a black dad to get assaulted by his own son? How does society react?
Historically, black men are seen as the epitome of strength. The reason the black man is the first to die in horror movies? When the first round of horror movies came out, white people seeing a black man die raised the horror meter. Because during that time seeing the "strongest" die first made the movie all the scarier.
The memoir, "Cocoon Man", is titled that for a reason. Black men are often silenced from their own emotional experiences.
A cocoon is a space where, internally, insects reach maturity. The reason his book has a cocoon in the title and not butterfly or moth or wasp is because he is stuck. Inside. Trying to grow but having nothing to grow into, no place to turn socially and talk with people.
He is stuck in his trauma. He is stuck because it's his son. He is stuck because his wife ignores it. He is silenced.
When the son burns the first version of the memoir, he essentially silences his father. He takes away those words, burns those emotions. Kills that part of him.
The father has a second copy of the memoir hidden. Ironically he blossoms in death. He grabs it, runs into the street, and dies. That's when his wife gets ahold of it and reads it.
She is the first person to acknowledge his trauma, to finally acknowledge that he has been hurt. And it leads her to kill her son the same way the son killed his father's words-through fire.
Even though this movie is cringy and uncomfortable, it addresses something we socially do not want to discuss: the violation of the black male body.
Of course, the black female body and the black non-binary body are both equally up for discussion.
But this movie takes a very important step forward in jump-starting a discussion on black people and sexual assault, especially when that assault is unexpected and complicated.
A friend mentioned the dad could have fought back. Could have pushed him away and said no. This did briefly cross my mind, but this is something we constantly push victims to justify.
Why didn't you say no? Why didn't you stop this? The impetus is on the "you", not the person who is doing the violating. The one who will not listen to "stop" or "no".
The father was clearly in fear the whole time and clearly felt like he did not have a voice. The son often did the talking for him. At the end of the day, the father had no choice.
And that is what we should be discussing.
Black bodies and choice.