Why Get Out is Genius
Get Out, the new cult classic film written and directed by Jordan Peele resonates with people for a reason. It’s layered. It’s complex. It handles very difficult issues skillfully and with humor, with rising tension that escalates with each changing scene. What sticks out to me most about the film is rather than handle the issue of racism in a black and white straightforward and obvious manner as most movies about historical racism do, Peele chose to metaphorically represent today’s brand of racism as a horror thriller in a modern setting.
Without revealing too much of the plot, because I encourage everyone to see the film, Peele establishes the sensitivity and caring that exist between Chris, a black man who is the central character of the film and his girlfriend Rose, who is white. Building on that greater than color love, he expands the genuine nature of the relationship of the two lovebirds to include Rose’s family. Rose’s mom and dad, both smiling and friendly, are quick to point out how liberal they are saying, “ I would have voted for Obama for a third term”. At every opportunity, Rose and her parents work to put Chris at ease as he spends the weekend with them at their house in the woods. Which by this point in the movie it seems as if Chris needs to just put his guard down and be more trusting. He is in a safe and supportive environment.
But Chris, like most black people in America, has painful struggles and emotional trauma in his past. These layers of emotional scars and psychological wounds that plague Chris like many black Americans, are unresolved and have hardly been faced by anyone. And like Chris, Black Americans move forward attempting to both ignore and overcome the past, centuries of systematic abuse due to racism, pretending as though they are healed and unaffected. Meanwhile American society, like the family in Get Out, encourages Black Americans to lower their guard and buy into the idea that racism is essentially gone and that Black people are viewed and treated the same as everyone else. The message conveyed is that Chris like the best among Black Americans, — the highly educated, the athletes, entertainers, professionals, etc can in fact assimilate completely. They merely have to embrace the idea that because of their talents, Chris was a skilled photographer, they are selected and chosen to assimilate completely. All they have to do is just relax and cooperate.
It is not long before Peele reveals that cooperation with the process being dictated by Rose’s parents is not quite nearly as benign as it appears. Chris is troubled throughout the film by the scripted and strange responses of the other blacks who are part of the family’s extended community. They seem bland. Emotionless. Different. Not having any distinct characteristics or disposition that reveals a shared history or even an awareness of Black people or the Black experience. Something is not right about them and Chris can feel it.
What does Chris discover about them? Peele uses a metaphor to demonstrate that assimilation into the family, where Chris like the other Blacks who are part of the family’s community could be free from all the emotional pain and baggage from his past, he just has to be reprogrammed and lobotomized.
I said, “Sink…”
Assimilation would require splicing his brain with a white persons brain such that the white mind could embody and control him and utilize him as an asset for their own purposes and even pleasure. Assimilation would come at the cost of a complete loss of his true identity, self determination and freedom.
To me the film is brilliant. Many of the comments the white characters made referring to the Black characters, I heard growing up in Syracuse, New York in the 80's. I imagine many of those things are still said to and about Black people in some communities today. But what resonated most with me is the process by which in the movie the family’s Black friends, like many of my talented Black peers today, were selected, programmed, and re-purposed to serve someone white.
I have fiercely fought to live according to my highest ideals. Always a willing team player and certainly practical in all matters, but never a surrogate. Always self determined, I put in the work to learn, process, and heal from the legacy of racism in America. It has granted me a measure of independence and freedom and joy. I processed my tears, the subsequent rage, and the disappointments. As a result, I know factually, there is a way forward without hollowing out one’s self identity and walking around in this country as an empty man with no awareness, no history, and no expressed love for his cultural legacy. Being American doesn’t require Black Americans lose our uniqueness, our story, our connection to our legacy. Most importantly, success in America should never come at the expense of severing our empathetic connection to fellow Black people and others who are still suffering in this country and around the world because their services weren’t needed and they have yet to develop a way for themselves. Get Out masterfully illustrates many of the dynamics at play in the drama of modern racism. Tackling the subject of modern racism as a horror film is nothing short of cinematic genius and worthy of acclaim. Thanks Jordan Peele.
social entrepreneur & author.