I love The Purge movies.
I’ve seen all of them with the exception of The First Purge (2018), though it will be one of the movies I watch this year for my annual Halloween Movie Marathon.
The Purge as a concept is fascinating, and I appreciate the fact that the movies don’t shy away from the idea that, in a world where the Purge exists, the most vulnerable people will be black and brown people in particular and poor people in general.
The entire series doesn’t shy away from the very real racial and socioeconomic forces that shape our world and would definitely apply in the world of The Purge.
The Purge: Election Year (2016) continues with the themes established in the previous film The Purge: Anarchy (2014) that the Purge exists as a way for the government to rid the country of the poor and others who drag down the economy so those government funds can be funneled into the pockets of the wealthy white elite.
In Election Year, the people are now fully aware of how the government uses Purge night to cull the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised, and this knowledge has caused a new Independent candidate for president, Senator Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) to surge in the polls over the establishment candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor).
The Senator is running on ending the Purge as she is the last surviving member of her family who were all killed on Purge night 25 years prior. Her bodyguard and the head of her security team is Frank Grillo reprising his role as Leo Barnes from The Purge: Anarchy, where he was a Purger trying to avenge the death of his son.
When the New Founding Fathers of America (NFAA) make a move to assassinate the Senator to prevent her from winning the election, she finds herself out in the open on Purge night trying to survive.
Along the way, she encounters a rag-tag group of black and brown people who set out to help her survive the night; and this is where the movie loses me.
On the one hand, the film obviously gets the real socio-economic and racial aspects at play in a world where once a year, everyone gets to kill and commit crimes with impunity.
On the other hand, they set up a scenario where black and brown people have to sacrifice their lives for a white savior to ascend to the throne and save them all.
The Purge: Election Year manages to be a horror film and White Savior film complete with a Magical Negro trope all in one. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I can’t easily overlook the vary obvious and problematic themes at play throughout the film.
To drive the point home, there is one point in the film where one of the main characters Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) — a store owner who finds himself helping protect the Senator — says, while in a standoff with other black activists trying to ensure the Senator’s win by assassinating her rival:
“I’m going to tell you right now, I like black folks. But I’m not going to let you shoot these white people. These are our white people, m’kay.”
Joe can’t let the Senator get shot and will protect her, even from other black activists who’ve been putting in the work to end the Purge, long before Senator Roan ever thought about running for office.
I mean, if Joe doesn’t protect the Senator, how are they all going to be saved, since the film wants us to beleive that Senator Roan is the only one who can save these black and brown people from the horrors of Purge night.
The idea that black people need saving by some well-meaning white person is a common theme that Hollywood loves to produce, perpetuate, and reward.
From The Help (2011) to Green Book (2018), Hollywood regularly rewards films where some spunky, well-meaning, enlightened white person, comes in and saves the poor, black and brown people from themselves or some other outside force.
The fact this theme shows up in a popular horror movie franchise shouldn’t be surprising, but since The Purge movies seem to (mostly) get race and economics and how the two intertwine you’d think they would be less prone to such a narrative.
The movie overall would have worked better if the Senator wasn’t a pretty, blond white woman who experienced one horrific night in her life, but was instead a black or brown woman who grew up with the terror of Purge night and the havoc it wrecks not just on her personally but her community as a whole.
The film missed an opportunity to really showcase — from the perspective of someone who would have lived with the fear of the Purge their whole lives, — the horror of knowing that for one night each year, you and everyone and everything you know are not just the targets of Purgers for elimination, but the government as well.
For the black people in the Purge-verse, they may no longer be three-fifths of a person, but now they are target price, little more than an object that other groups get to use to purge their sins or indulge in their sickest of fantasies.
That’s a story worth telling, one Purge: Election Year, walks right up to but doesn’t tell and instead opts to tell a safer and possibly more bankable story about a white woman who needs saving by the less fortunate so she can ultimately save everyone.
Unfortunately, The Purge: Election Year missed the opportunity to tell a story that would have been even more thought-provoking and relevant to the world we live in than The Purge films already are.
For such a progressive movie franchise, you’d expect better than perpetuating the White Savior trope, and it’s a shame they chose to tell the easier story instead of, the more poignant one that was right there for the taking.