Netflix Mindjob Movie The Strays is Crazy. A new wave of movies in the last couple of years have delved into a really, um… verboten sort of space… a place where film hasn’t ever gone before. Films like Get Out, Us, Sorry to Bother You, Antebellum, etc., etc. have sort of cracked open a new genre of conversation within film. The Strays actually uncorks two decidedly different lines of thinking – race in America, and the social pact between society’s mothers and their expectations, and the controversies around both… and we’ll delve into both as we track this story.
The Strays Walkthrough
As the movie opens, we watch as an obviously stressed out/manic Cheryl (Ashley Madekwe) who is obviously overcome. Maybe it’s an abusive partner. Maybe its an addiction? We don’t really know. But when talking on the phone, she tells the person on the other end that “She wants more.” The other person tells her that we all want more, but we make do. I mean, right? That is a reality we all suffer with day in and day out. I want a Learjet… but see? I’m making do! hahaha. But Cheryl has different plans. And so she writes a note about stepping out to get her hair done. In so doing, she has left her two children to live in the care of her sister.
We rejoin Cheryl, or should I say, Neve, some years later, and we see that she is now the deputy head of one of the best private and exclusive schools in England. How? The only allusion to how Cheryl/Neve pulled this feat off is when one of the board members mentions that she never turned in her references as requested. It comes off as something of a funny inside joke. Like… tsk tsk, we were going to get to that, and we never did, did we? Oh, well. Neve has married a white man, who is obviously fairly well off, and they have an ultra modern home that is meticulously proper in every possible way. And they also have two children (Mary and Sebastian – Maria Almeida and Samuel Paul Small) who she meticulously restricts from anything “Black” in their lives. (A few of the examples of Blackness that she restricts would be Black bands, and hair picks, coconut oil, etc. which are used as stand ins.) So what she is doing, in effect, is white-passing.
Well, Cheryl soon begins to see things. A new Black janitor at the school haunts her, and is obviously cavorting with her son. She sees this man standing outside her window. At the school. Basically everywhere and she can’t place why it is bothering her so much. But her pristine facade is unraveling quickly. She’s built it up over the past 15 years or so, but in the matter of five days its begun to crumble. Which brings us to Neve’s gala that she is throwing at the end of the week… a charity event to help with the world’s poor. “Can I put you down for £500?” “Quid?” Nods. “Actually put me down for £550.” This gala was to be Neve’s coming out party. Her defiant proclamation to White England that she has arrived… that she has finally graduated from her white-passing doctoral program. (Yeah, I know. This is edgy stuff. I’m just stating the facts mam… just the facts.)
Now, in an editorial coup, the movie leaps backwards five days, where we meet Carl and Dione (Joden Myrie and Bukky Bakray), the two children from her previous life. They’ve apparently tracked their mother down and they are determined to re-inject themselves into their mother’s life, come hell or high water (see what I did there? high water? hahaha. You did watch the movie before reading this right??) We, from their perspective as the duo, inject themselves into their mother’s life completely. Dione gets hired by Neve’s husband as an assistant and she also becomes Mary’s new best friend. Which, I might add, is why Mary kept arriving in the first half of the film with more and more infuriating hairstyles (infuriating to her mother to be clear). Carl becomes Sebastian’s best friend, and introduces him to weed, and he also teaches him how to stand up for himself to a (white) bully on his basketball team.
When Cheryl’s two original children arrive at the gala, invited by Mary, and she goes absolutely apoplectic in every way… this was a week’s worth of devolution towards this end. Which now means that her new husband and children know. They know that Neve, or rather Cheryl, has a past that she has hidden from them all. But if they would just give her ten minutes, she is going to fix this. She’s going to hold this all together. She is going to get back on track. And how will she do this? She’ll do it by buying these two nuisances off. £20k quid ought to do it. £10k each. But only if they go back to London from whence they came. And surprisingly! They take the deal. I assumed there was no way, none, they were taking that cash. But they did. huh. Okay. Interesting. Where is this going then?
The Ending of Netflix Strays movie explained
Then, in the middle of the night, Carl and Dione head to their mother’s home and let themselves in. They watch television, eat food, look at photos, they basically take over the house. And soon enough, Neve’s other family begins waking up. And they realize that they are now in a bit of trouble, because Carl? He is in no mood. He is going to forcefully reintroduce himself into the family where he belongs. So the duo decide, since it is Dione’s birthday, they will order out for Chinese, and play Scrabble. Because that is what normal family’s do for someone’s birthday.
And, as this extraordinarily stressful mental pile up plays out – all Neve can think about is the fact that Carl has left the water running and water is going everywhere… ruining everything. And, like that itch that has been plaguing her under her wig, it eats and eats at her. (If you didn’t realize, her wigs were a metaphor for her white-passing, and her physical control of her environment absolutely… and so the itch was literally her past coming back to haunt her… up from the grave of her scalp, as it were.)
Carl has had enough of Neve’s husband Ian, and so he takes him into the weight room and ultimately ends up killing him by forcing him to attempt to lift too much weight. Simultaneously, the door rings, and their Chinese has arrived. But where has mummy put her purse again? Oh, yes, that’s right… let me get it. And when she returns to the door, in a flashback to the beginning… she looks in the mirror, decides it’s time to go, and leaves for good. And standing there agog, are the newly orphaned duo of Mary and Sebastian, who are then accompanied by the more experienced orphans of the foursome, Carl and Dione. Immediately they all know what has just happened. Their mother has flown the coop.
The True Story of The Strays
Martello-White is on the record as saying that his story, The Strays, is loosely based on a real-life story of a woman that denied she had two Black children. But it’s pretty obvious that this movie is only has but the loosest of connections to this seed of a truth. It’s clear that the movie’s devolution in the final quarter is an ode to the movie Funny Games, which is an absurdist commentary on class, not race. But otherwise, the situations are exactly the same. The duo have been severely traumatized by their mother’s decision to abandon them. Thus the forced singing of Happy Birthday. Carl even makes a reference to his debilitated mental health. They’ve been broken by their mother’s choice to just up and leave them one day. Cheryl doesn’t even know that her sister abandons the duo over to government care.
They pound the square peg thoroughly into that round hole… knowing full well, this is never going to work. But for an evening… here we are. All of us together, as one psychotically mad family! But why didn’t she bring them along? We know full well why: Ian wouldn’t have raised these two, thoroughly Black children. There’s no way. And, as the movie is wrapping up, he sort of tries to distance himself from her racism by telling her he wants a divorce. But we know better. We’ve seen conversations where he actively spoke about white flight and the underlying causes of this social disease. We know that he is just as racist as she is even in spite of marrying a Black woman.
Wait, what? No one in this movie is actively RACIST. Um. Oh, yes, they are. Racism percolates throughout this movie. From the neighbors in the well-groomed neighborhood. From the school. The polite conversation. It’s everywhere. Even Ian’s hiring of a “Black girl” at work seems to be straight off the “White I’m Not Racist” checklist. No? It’s okay to be Black, but only if you aren’t “being Black.” That is rough… like… yikes. But it’s true. How? Well, we watched as Mary and Sebastian take to Carl and Dione immediately. Why? Because they are starved for anything having to do with their heritage or who they really are. They innately know that they have been forced to abandon a part of themselves. To ignore it completely.
The Real Villain of the Movie Strays
It’s funny. You’d think that the villain of this movie would be Carl and Dione. They did, after all, kill Ian. But no. The real villain of this story is Cheryl, or Neve, whatever you prefer to call her. Why? Well… that’s an interesting question. Is it because she denied her Blackness and suborned everything to do with her culture and heritage? Or, is it because she is a mother, and she abandoned her two children? Think about it. In society today, to be a man, and to step out on your children is given a pass. Even worse, it’s a plague in the world of African American families, but it’s just a fact of life. Children in these broken families just have to learn to make do. But it’s an understood fact that mothers do not pull this same stunt. That is beyond the pale. Why? Why is this double standard so thickly coded into our DNA? Because the love of a mother, the physical connection, should transcend all chaos and everything this world will throw at us. Our mother’s will always be there. No?
Worse, Neve has abandoned her two children for a very specific purpose. To get a leg up. She left them behind EXPLICITLY in order to marry a white man that would assist her in her own intentional gentrification. This wouldn’t have been possible with two very dark skinned kids in tow. But her two pale skinned children? The trio pass perfectly in this white British subculture. But not her family of six… that never would have worked, and we all know it.
It’s a Shocking Movie
But it’s an even more radioactive truth. Have you read any Malcom Gladwell? An insightful writer who loves to connect disparate details of data in order to reach startling conclusions. He’s a great read. But with his book Outliers, in his epilogue, he tells of how numerous random chances gave his familial lineage an advantage. What was that advantage? It was the fact that his Black family had been granted lighter skin color than the darker skin toned Jamaicans around him. It was the horrible, hidden advantages that came with the lighter skin that opened new worlds to him that would have been closed otherwise. It was an advantage not simply based on working hard but rather on arbitrary yet powerful cultural and structural factors. To think otherwise of his accidental opportunity is ignorance. And it is despicably sad, this real as gravity reality.
Edited by: CY