‘Emergency’ is a film that brilliantly captures how racism haunts Black people and shapes our choices

OPINION: What would you do if you were a Black man and found a young white girl blacked out on the floor of your place?

"Emergency." (Amazon Studios)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I saw an amazing Black film recently that no one is talking about—Emergency (it’s on Amazon Prime). It’s a gripping journey through one long, wild night where two Black college students on their way to a party find, on the living room floor, a drunk, vomiting, possibly dying white girl. This, of course, is an emergency. They don’t know who she is or how she got there but they know they are young Black men, which means they know their truth will not be believed. They know everyone will assume they put her in this position and are lying about having done nothing. So if they do the right thing and call the police, they will end up getting arrested or possibly shot. 

They have a whole argument about the likelihood of getting shot by police. But their hearts won’t let them just leave her to die. So they try to get her help, leading them to drive around with this limp white girl in their van. It’s an insane adventure that reminds me of the story of the tar baby, a statue covered with tar. The more you fight against it, the more you get stuck to it. In each scene, things get worse and worse. It reminds me of other sophisticated independent films like Dear White People, Dope and Zola, which blends comedy with a thrilling adventure, racial realness and serious stakes to tell great Black stories in really interesting ways.  

Emergency is a film that deals brilliantly with how racism haunts us and shapes Black choices. Racism is like another character in the film, a monster quietly closing off the movie’s easy choices (call the police) and leaving the brothers with nothing but hard options (find a way to get this girl to the hospital without anyone noticing). In Black lives, racism can turn the easiest interaction into the premise of a horror film. Racism, for the two men, means they won’t be believed when they say they had nothing to do with this girl being sick, so they have to try to save her in a way that doesn’t implicate them. It’s frightening as hell—here’s a dying white girl who you have to save without anyone knowing that you’re saving her because if they realize you are then they will surely think you are the reason why she’s dying. 

“Emergency” (Amazon Studios)

We understand why they don’t say nope and reject the mission. They aren’t heartless, and we see the Du Boisian double consciousness at work. They know they are good people, and they want to remain good people, which means they have to try to save her, but they live in a world that assumes they’re not to be trusted, that assumes they’re up to no good. They have to keep that in mind with every step they take toward trying to save her life. 

These guys have the monster of racism on their back while moving through a complex life or death situation, which is ultimately a heightened version of the stress we all deal with. We know that if we get angry and raise our voices, it’ll be perceived as more threatening than if others do that. We know that if we drive too long, we’ll probably get pulled over. We know that this world will penalize us for being Black whenever it can, and even though we love being Black, racism makes our lives harder.

Emergency also delicately deals with the complexity of Blackness and the non-monolithic nature of our community. We have two lead Black characters who are entirely different people—one is a fun-loving, cool guy who’s constantly vaping, and the other is a straight-laced, science-loving, nerdy, nice guy who’s worried about what’s going on with his experiment back in the lab. At one point, they argue about what it means to be Black, and the nerdier one stands up and says, hey, I’m not any less Black than you. Why should you get to be the judge of what Blackness is? As someone who has been told “you’re not being Black enough,” I always love Black characters who fight back and reject the Oreo tag and say there’s more than one way to be Black. You don’t have to be from the hood to be Black. We can respect hood culture and still say that it doesn’t have a stranglehold on the definition of Blackness. People act like Blackness is like milk that will spoil the longer it’s away from the fridge, which, in this analogy is, the hood. Nah. 

Emergency is gripping, powerful and realistic—not only could this scenario happen to any Black boy at a predominantly white university, but the story of how racism turned a simple interaction into something harrowing and even life-threatening is a story many of us could tell. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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