By Kharisma McIlwaine
Everyone who has seen “The Matrix” remembers the iconic “red and blue pill” reference. Both pills represent choices. The blue pill represents a choice to remain ignorant and unaware, while the red pill represents a willingness to learn the truth which is potentially unsettling and scary. The red pill can also signify a free-thinking attitude or waking up from a certain way of thinking.
The film “Red Pill” explores a lot of these ideologies. The story takes place during the months leading up to the 2020 election. During that time, a diverse group of friends from a variety of backgrounds take a road trip to Virginia — a known red state, where they hope to canvas homes and garner votes. “Red Pill” is written and directed by Tony Award winning actress Tonya Pinkins who also stars in the film as Cassandra, alongside Adesola A. Osakalumi (Bobby), Jake O’Flaherty (Nick), Luba Mason (Emelia), Kathryn Erbe (Lily), Rubén Blades (Rocky) and Catherine Curtin (Mercy).
The film begins with the aforementioned group of friends discussing their political views while en route to their AirBnb in Virginia. On the way, they are greeted by an extremely offensive and racist sign with the intention of scaring off Black people, Jewish people, and immigrants. Cassandra, the only Black woman in the group, continuously acts as the only voice of reason. She is the first to suggest leaving a very dangerous situation in the making, but no one listens.
The group ignores her warning and proceeds with the trip. After arriving at the property, the group is welcomed with yet another blatant warning that they are not welcome, and that danger is inevitable. They find a noose hanging in the garage and still make the decision to stay.
The audience soon discovers a fact that the group is completely unaware of — they are being watched through cameras hidden in the pictures of animals that decorate the home. Mercy, the white woman that is watching them, is doing so while plotting their demise, first alone and then with a cult of her followers. While discussions of race, gender and politics ruffle feathers, the real threats that are present begin to unfold when Bobby, the only Black man in the group, is killed first and disappears into the night.
Eventually one by one, the group of friends are hunted down, the men are killed, and only Cassandra, Emelia and Lily remain. The end of the film reveals that the “red pill” represents someone who infiltrates a group and destroys them from the inside. The red pill in this case was a foe who everyone thought was a friend.
While the scenes with the cult at times came across as odd and very unnerving, the overall message of “Red Pill” is clear — things are often not what they appear to be on the surface. With elements that mirror “Get Out” and “Handmaid’s Tale,” “Red Pill” presents horror through a lens of reality and what is really happening.
In 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, it revealed a lot of truths many still have a hard time admitting. One of those truths is that our country has always been divided, and that it has not changed. Another truth that was revealed is that white women in particular often help perpetuate that divide.
Fifty percent of white women voted for Trump in 2016, and that number increased in the 2020 election. So often, we hear conversations about allies, but the fact of the matter is that there are many white women who vote in direct opposition to their best interests, progress, and change. “Red Pill” highlights how a large portion of white women uphold and perpetuate the foundation of racism that is steeped into the very fabric of our country — feminism does not change that. Black women frequently find themselves in similar situations to Cassandra, where they are silenced while being surrounded by white women who claim the same or similar struggles.
Throughout “Red Pill,” audiences see flashbacks of Black women being tortured and tormented. The film ends with a group of white women mocking and laughing at the pain of the entire group, but specifically the trauma of Cassandra. Cassandra is broken first, and eventually put into chains and forced into a position of servitude. Although the artistic choices used in the film can be distracting at times, the overall message is clear. The constructs of whiteness and white feminism are detrimental to any semblance of the “land of the free” America claims to be.
We have two choices — acknowledge our painful past and present or continue to live in a constant state of denial. The only way that change can actually happen is for all of us to take a non-filtered look at harsh truths in an effort to move towards change — i.e. take the “red pill.”
“Red Pill” is available now to stream on digital platforms.
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