“The First Purge” is the fourth movie produced in “The Purge” series so far, but it is actually a prequel and describes how the purge came to be. Just like the other movies in the series, it’s set in the United States. In the beginning of the movie, different news outlets describe the current situation of the U.S., and it seems strikingly similar to modern-day society.
Issues such as rising unemployment, a mortgage crisis and the opioid epidemic are mentioned. Different videos of protestors all across the country are shown. You are then introduced to the newest political party of the United States — the New Founding Fathers of America, or the NFFA.
Despite America’s long-standing tradition of using a limited two-party system, this new political party forms and becomes rapidly supported by many Americans, including organizations such as the National Rifle Association, or NRA. It is this political party that endorses the first experimental Purge.
A woman named Dr. May Updale is the person responsible for creating the idea of the purge. It is a psychological experiment in which, for a limited amount of time, all crime is made legal by the government. Murder, theft, rape: all of these are allowed for 12 hours, which, in theory, allows citizens to release any sort of pent-up anger or frustration they have.
The first experimental purge is located on Staten Island, which is full of low-income housing projects and drug/street gangs. Many of the island-dwellers are people of color as well. Citizens living on the island are offered financial compensation by the government in exchange for remaining on the island during the experiment. They are offered even more money if they are willing to actually participate in the purge.
Before the purge begins, Updale and Arlo Sabian, the chief of staff of the NFFA, are interviewed and asked if the purge is a political device, which they deny. However, it becomes increasingly evident throughout the movie that this is most definitely the case.
“The First Purge” includes a lot political commentary, most of which are very in-your-face and obvious, though screenwriters also litter more subtle symbolisms throughout the film as well.
For example, in the opening scene, a white man is interviewing a black man named Skeletor. Skeletor is clearly unhinged, mentally unstable and possible addicted to some sort of drug substances.The white man provokes Skeletor to describe what he’s feeling, and Skeletor says he holds a “deep hate” inside him, one that he needs to “purge.” This is the first of many instances where the movie shows how the media portrays black people as angry and violent.
This device continues when the purge finally begins. Skeletor is the only one who actually participates fully and murders others, yet the NFFA spread the video of him killing and stated that it is exactly what they expected from the citizens of Staten Island. They let it circulate throughout social media and claim that more will follow in Skeletor’s footsteps.
They want to perpetuate the idea of black people existing as angry, violent people. This also supports the idea of black-on-black crime. The NFFA wants these people to fear one another and fight amongst themselves. That way they are not able to band together to fight back against the true enemy: The government.
The NFFA is meant to resemble the Republican party in a variety of ways. The first instance of this appears very early on, when it is shown that the NRA, notorious for supporting the Republican party, supports the NFFA. Another example is a quote from one of the members of the party. He states that the “American dream is dead. We will do whatever it takes to let you dream again.” This statement is startling similar to Donald Trump’s, the Republican president, campaign slogan “Make America great again.”
There is also a direct call-out to Donald Trump himself within the movie. In a particular scene, a woman is attacked and sexually assaulted before she escapes. As she runs away, she calls the assaulter a “pussy-grabbing motherfucker.” This is a direct reference to the Access Hollywood tape where Donald Trump is discussing women and says, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The more obvious political commentary becomes increasingly apparent as “The First Purge” progresses. Once the government realizes that the citizens of Staten Island not only refuse to harm one another, but decide to band together, they send in hired killers from overseas. All these mercenaries wear masks to disguise themselves as pre-existing street gangs from the island.
The NFFA continues to film the murders and spread them throughout the media in order to fuel the belief that these citizens are angry, violent people. In one particularly grim scene, these hired killers are dressed up as police officers and they are all surrounding a clearly-hurt black man on the ground. Refusing to be misunderstood, this is a direct correlation to the police brutality that exists within our current-day American society.
Not only does police brutality exist within the movie, but so does the Klu Klux Klan and even Nazis. Another grisly scene shows members of the Klu Klux Klan mercilessly murdering the black occupants of a church. The Nazis are shown towards the end of the movie when one of the hired killers wears an armband on his left upper-arm.
Some of the killers even don blackface. There is a scene where one of the black men is fighting someone wearing blackface. The racism that exists in this moment is obvious, but below that is an even more delicate sense of symbolism.
The audience watches as a black man strangles a white man who is disguised as a black man. This exemplifies how media skews your perspective of reality. You think it is black-on-black crime that needs to be recognized and dealt with. However, it is actually those in power, the white people, who are circulating this violence and hatred in the first place.
All of these subtleties, and even more evident cases of political commentary, work together to form a truly impactful movie. “The First Purge” will not only take your breath away, but incite within you a fiery need to become involved in politics so that we may never reach this point.