“Sleight” Leaves Black Audiences Feeling Slighted

Sleight is a movie that will hopefully fall into the abyss along with The Birth of a Nation and that shitty Nina Simone biopic.

If you love films that showcase Black leads like I do, then you have probably heard of the movie Sleight. The movie is touted as the second act for the producers of  Get Out, a blackbuster (see what I did there?) hit that poignantly explores the plight of Black Americans through the lens of horror. This movie was groundbreaking for me because it legitimized what is often dismissed, Black fear in a white capitalist patriarchal society.

Get Out was so meaningful for me, that I jumped at the opportunity to see Sleight, a movie that surrounds the life of a Black magician. Or so I thought.

Sleight manages to sell its audiences on the idea that it will finally explore the life of the Black superhero. The audience member is expecting to see a young Black man enter into the tumultuous journey of balancing power with responsibility. You hope to see Bo endearingly attempt to navigate life, family, and schoolwork all while developing his incredible supernatural ability. The beginning of the movie promisingly nods to this expectation by discussing Bo’s impending engineering scholarship. The audience later learns that the  protagonist is forced to reject this academic opportunity due to extraneous life circumstances.

The movie’s lead, Bo, is a young Black man in the projects. His parents are inexplicably dead and he takes care of his younger sister by selling drugs. Groundbreaking, I know. To make matters worse, Bo’s helper is the Black woman next door, Georgie, who babysits his sister sometimes and provides life advice when he is in need. Georgie, of course, experiences no character developed. She is magically present whenever Bo needs help and disappears into the night when she is not needed. She is the epitome of exploited Black female labor with literally no reciprocity.

The only woman in this movie who experiences character development is Bo’s white partner who aggressively pursues Bo. A fact of which makes no sense because Bo is a man who is generally awful at communication and gives her no reason to want to further their relationship. He walks out on multiple dates to sell drugs, but somehow this woman continues to hold him down. The movie tries to explain this by alluding to abuse in her home.

By positioning his white partner as a damsel who is willing to hold Bo down and encourage him to leave the drug game in spite of her own repetitive trauma, the movie suggest that she is in fact the true hero. She babysits his sister and she loves Bo despite his dangerous lifestyle. Ultimately, it is Bo’s love for his partner and his sister that makes him stop trapping. I loathe this truth, because I am tired of seeing white woman celebrated as the savior of Black men. I am especially tired because through Bo’s relationship with this woman, Georgie’s labor is overshadowed and eventually erased.

Ultimately, this movie is about a Black drug dealer who sometimes does magic on the boardwalk to make money and who is (kind of?) an engineer. The movie makes no indication that Bo will ever return to school, but alludes to a sequel where he moves to San Diego with his white partner and his sister (with what money?) and becomes a super magician.

Sleight is super messy. The producers showed that they actually payed no attention to the writing of Jordan Peale, but rather profited off his labor so they could in turn produce a movie that reinforced the tropes that Get Out beautifully explored and took valiant efforts to undo. Bo is a Black man, that chooses to love a white woman, in order to save himself and his Black sister from a life of poverty and drugs. That story line is nothing new and left me as a Black audience member feeling disrespected, less than, and overwhelmingly slighted.

 

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