Get the Fuck Outta Here: A Dialogue on Jordan Peele’s GET OUT
Writer and educator Law Ware had the wonderful idea of he and I having a dialogue on the recently released horror film, Get Out. The film, written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele, stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, a photographer dating a white woman named Rose (Allison Williams). Rose takes Chris home to meet her “liberal/progressive” parents in their New England home and that’s when shit, literally and figuratively, goes left.
The film is multilayered and speaks quite deftly to the terror of being black in the United States. Law and I were anxious to get the conversation started. We spoke on Sunday, the same day as the Oscars, where the specter of race hung over everything like a noose on a poplar tree. There was so much to talk about and as much as we unpacked, there was still so much left to cover (like the end scene, for example). We might need a part two.
[PLEASE NOTE: This discussion will contain SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.]
Robert Jones, Jr: So about Get Out. Shall we begin? I’m a horror film buff. I like to watch them to better understand the psychology of other human beings. And I’m very critical of them because a lot of them are dishonest garbage. But this one here? Chile, this is one of the greatest, maybe the greatest, horror film I’ve ever seen.
The opening scene. Did you peep how Jordan Peele flips the script on who the actual menace is? How he reverses course on how the black body is always seen as the threat on the streets and in elevators and such. But here, we have an ordinary black person walking in a neighborhood in which he “doesn’t belong” and the menace is the white people seeking to police his presence in very literal and nefarious terms. This was a brilliant metaphor for stop-and-frisk and the so-called “Concerned Neighbor” phenomena, both of which often end with the death of us. Sundown Towns and shit.
Law Ware: Absolutely. And what I found to be utterly brilliant about that scene, and the movie holistically, is that he uses established horror film tropes to critique Whiteness and white fears. He could have put this in the mouth of our protagonist, but he uses the language of film. That’s why I think many don’t see what he is up to. We are accustomed to preachifying in “important films.” Peele is too nuanced for that.
RJJ: Precisely. And it’s those nuances, those metaphors, that subtext that speaks to some of us on a subconscious level, that made Get Out such a terrifying experience. My partner was as deeply moved by this film as I was, perhaps deeper. But as you imply, it also explains the misreadings of the film that I have seen or encountered. One person insisted that it was a film designed to let white people off the hook. I was flabbergasted by two things: 1. That the person actually watched the film — with that reveal and that ending — and got that from it, and 2. That the person actually thought this film was for white people in any way, shape, or form. To me, this was a film for black people. And it spoke to us in our own language and felt no need to explain anything to us. It assumed we already knew certain things and proceeded from that knowing. If anything perplexed me, it was knowing that Peele is biracial and has a white mother, and is also married to a white woman. I assumed that the movie would be certain unfavorable things based on that. I assumed he’d be more understanding and apologetic to Whiteness. But the exact opposite was true. So I’m implicated in making certain false judgments about black people based on their backgrounds. And I wonder if this film operates, in some ways, as Peele’s cry for help.
LW: That speaks to a fundamental misconception many have about the film. To my eyes, this is a horror film that centers the fears and anxiety of black and brown heterosexual men (more about this later). I could easily see a person watching this film and seeing it as a slow-burn thriller, but not a horror film. Once we move from jump scares to a deeper examination of the implications of what is shown on screen, we begin to see the full scope of what makes this film horrific: the pervasive, vicious nature of white supremacy — an ideology that Peele is forced to live with both existentially and psychologically.
RJJ: The point you make about this film being about the anxieties and fears of black/brown cisgender heterosexual men is an important one. One of my critiques of this film is the roles black women/queer people play in it. Peele doesn’t ignore us. And I don’t expect my identity group to be centered in someone else’s experience. However, if you’re going to include my group, please be extra-sensitive. That whole scene about Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, did a multitude of things. It highlighted that black queer people have something to fear from white queer people — and that’s absolutely true! That was something that even James Baldwin noted. But that scene was also couched as comedy relief, which, in my opinion, undercuts its impact and links it to the same kinds of queerantagonistic, Eddie-Murphyesque, let’s-make-fun-of-the-fags-by-mocking-them-and-what-they-do-sexually traditions we often see in comedy. And we say nothing about the inherent heterosexism of such displays because they’re so ubiquitous and laughter is meant to disarm. And then there’s the role of black women in the film. I really want a black woman’s read of their portrayals because like with the black queer male moments, I think two or more things were happening at once, not all bad, but definitely not all good.
LW: I thought of you during that scene! I knew that you would have a robust critique. It is clear that he has some growing to do in that area. And it is important for us to be bifocal in our analysis. We must praise what he gets right while pushing him to be more intersectionally intentional.
RJJ: And like any of us, we have to leave room for someone not to get every single thing 100% correct. There is no such thing as perfect art. And just because we have a criticism of an object, it doesn’t mean that the object isn’t still profound, accomplished, and brilliant.
LW: What did you think of the scene with the police officer — especially in light of the revelation we get about the girlfriend later?
RJJ: That scene was probably the most obvious and literal critique of Whiteness and, in particular, white liberalism, in the film. It recalls a scene in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, where Wesley Snipes’s character is being accosted by police and Annabella Sciorra’s character intervenes thinking she can save him if she just lets the cops know that he’s with her. White privilege prevented both Sciorra’s character and Rose in Get Out from realizing how their benevolent belligerence can actually make things much worse for black people. Though, I may have to re-evaluate that scene with the reveal/twist that comes later in the film, and see that, perhaps, Rose was intentionally, sadistically, putting the protagonist in harm’s way. That would make the scene actually function as a critique of white “innocence,” particularly of those white folks who don’t believe they can be racist because they have black friends/lovers.
What did you make of it?
LW: What struck me about that scene is the way it shows how a white person (dare I say a white feminist?) can be angered by overt racism and still be complicit in white supremacy. That brings me to the scene of them being in the room together after dinner. I read her outrage with her parents as genuine. That uncomfortable confrontation was not necessary for the later plot machinations. It was a character moment. So I could see her being upset and uncomfortable with the conversation while still engaged in anti-Blackness. If that is in fact what happened, then it’s an even more damning critique of Whiteness. It shows how one can march in the streets, wear a t-shirt, share a hashtag, cry at a video, and still be anti-black at the core.
RJJ: That’s interesting! The film definitely implies that hatred isn’t a necessary component of anti-Blackness and anti-black racism. All that’s required, according to this film, and I agree, is Whiteness and/or allegiance to Whiteness. Which brings us the role of the black people in the film. Chris’ role is quite interesting. He’s both an indictment of black men and our possible savior. On the one hand, this is a man who can’t explain why he never came to his own black mother’s aid; didn’t even lift a finger to help her; let her, in effect, die through his inability or unwillingness to act. He’s a guy that sees a white woman as the only thing he has left — which he, himself, said — even though he also has a black male best friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery) and a dog. Then, on the other hand, he’s there to illustrate for us the perils of such beliefs and actions — the dangers of aspiring to white adjacency and race neutrality, how betrayal becomes self-betrayal — in a way that is as uncomfortable as it is inescapable. And therein lies the genius. Like the kids say, “There’s levels to this shit.”
LW: And this is where Peele, to me, plays with horror expectations again. Let me explain: I saw this film with a mostly black audience. They were talking to the film as we are wont to do, but this time the conversation was about how he was waking to a dangerous situation racially. In other films, the things one thinks is: “Why are you going down those stairs? Why are you in the woods?” etc. In this case, the statements centered on awareness of racialized danger: “Why are you playing along with these white folks? Why are you laughing that off?” Peele gives us a protagonist who is just as unwise as the protagonists in your typical horror film, but his problematic actions stem from a desire to enter into this white world — which, to me, was fascinating. The few interracial couples I sat near shifted uncomfortably throughout the entire first half.
RJJ: You just blew my mind with that observation. Whew and damn! LOL! Speaking of waking to dangerous situations, one of the most terrifying aspects of the film was concept of “The Sunken Place.” That idea frightened me. I interpreted it as many things: W.E.B. DuBois’ “double consciousness,” code-switching, cultural appropriation, what Whiteness does to the black mind and psyche, but most of all, the desire to be white and what must happen to the black parts of yourself in order to make that journey. Just the pure visual of it was horrifying and sublime. My sister Crystal said she read it as “the opposite of being woke.” My goodness my! And then the next step: surgical “coagulation” as the inherent failure of integration, the danger it presents to black people, and how our proximity to Whiteness, literally and figuratively, may seem like a blessing, but embedded within that blessing is the most toxic of curses. Can you imagine? What was your read on it?
LW: I wrestled with that. I read that through a Jungian lens. A kind of black collective unconscious wherein we hide our pain from ourselves. Going to that place and being lost with none of the beauty that comes with being black (community, art, love) is a terrifying idea. I also thought of The Sunken Place as sunken ships. Slave ships.
RJJ: You’re giving me the creeps. Middle Passage teas. Whoa. We’ve done all this talking and we’re only halfway through the movie. That’s how deep this rabbit hole goes.
LW: I think this is the kind of film that grows on you. There is something that came to mind for me. The film turns on its head the myth of the black male rapist. It is the white woman who is the predator in the film. She is the threat who violates these black men and women in the most intrusive and violent way.
RJJ: I’m glad you noted black men and women. It was a key reveal that Rose was responsible for baiting/capturing black men and black women; that she was a white queer character (or pretended to be one) who used her white privilege and desirability to destroy black people along the entire gender/sexuality spectrum. And she was completely aware of how harmless she would be perceived, how desired she would be by black people who are “into white people” and used that to her advantage.
Remember her phone call to Rod? She turned on that Missy Anne shit with the quickness. It was a weaponized tool in her arsenal. She totally attempted to turn the tables using the idea that she was the “white damsel in distress” being pursued by “the black brute.” Her performance there brought up for me every time a white woman lied and said a black man raped her, causing all sorts of death and destruction to black people and black communities in the wake of that lie. This is timely given how Carolyn Bryant recently admitted, without fear of repercussion, that she lied about Emmett Till’s actions — a lie that cost him the sanctity of his own body and the potential of his own life. But Rose didn’t fool Rod, though. How important is it for us to have a Rod in our lives?
LW: Yes. For me Rod was important. He embodied black humor, black kindness, and black wisdom. It is fitting that he saves the day. Because, to use the words Kiese Laymon told me some time ago: We got us. And indeed we must — cuz who else does?
RJJ: In the immortal words of Keith Sweat: NOBOOOOODY. LOL! Kiese be knowing.
It’s hard for me to get past, though, the role of black women in this film. Georgina (Betty Gabriel) was complex, complicated, and there was a sense that there was some nuance there. For example, there was a moment when she tried to break through and help Chris, tears and everything, but was sublimated again. Additionally, a later reveal let us know clearly that she was Rose’s victim, which might have been commentary on the role of black women in white women’s feminism.
But what about Detective LaToya (played by the underrated, but ever-brilliant Erika Alexander)? There was an opportunity there, I think, for a black woman to be heroic (even if in an implicating way) and she was, instead, indifferent, of no assistance, mocking, aligned with the establishment. Was that Peele’s way of saying that black women are tired of being everyone’s mule (which is an incredibly valid position)? Or that not even black cops are on our side? Or does he simply lack insight into the plight/perspectives of black women? And could he have, then, asked a black woman for her perspective?
And yo, Georgina and Walter (Marcus Henderson) were Rose’s “grandparents” as implanted into black people. Can you get into the rape narratives that would inform such a choice? That was some real, old-time plantation rape stuff going on there. That was Peele telling us about their family trees and ours. Back to Baldwin: “We know what happened, and we know who had the whip. And it was not my grandmother who raped anybody.”
LW: You a fool for the Keith Sweat! I had to go listen to it right quick. LOL! I think it’s an area of ignorance on Peele’s part. His other work lacked nuance as it relates to black women. He has room to grow in that area. As to your second point: There was a clear fetishizing of the black body. A desire to have access to Blackness while remaining ontologically white. The scenes of Walter illustrate that. He is always engaged in some kind of physical activity: running, chopping wood, etc. That speaks to that desire to violate and manipulate the black body without entering into a full union. In that world, they all know that Whiteness remains.
RJJ: That fetishizing of the black body thing is real. In queer circles, particularly in the spaces of white queer men, the black male body is fetishized to a great degree, to the point at which we are only known by one particular body part: BBC (which is their shorthand for Big Black Cock).
Question: How do you think this film got past the Hollywood gatekeepers and how do you think Hollywood is going to punish Peele for slipping this shit by? Why do you think so many white people like it? For that second question, my answer is that many white people don’t know that this movie implicates them. I think they’re too caught up in the idea that they’re innocent and that the film is talking about “Those Other White People” to notice that the film is actually saying that there are no innocent white people. Like how did Peele manage to make a Hollywood film that said, plainly, “Dear Black People: Don’t trust white people. None of them. Ever. Period. The End.”?
LW: To question one: the film was made by Peele, and so his previous success give him a great deal of freedom on the industry. Further, Blumhouse Productions, founded by Jason Blum (who is a producer on the film), gives directors a small budget and a great deal of artistic freedom as long as they stay within that budget. That’s, I suspect, why the film has such a subversive method. To question two: Yes, I think that is it. They don’t get the message. He has made a film for us — a horror film that they (white folks) can enjoy, but need us (people whose skin has been kissed by the sun) to fully understand.
RJJ: You know, I’m not even interested in them fully understanding it. I legit don’t care if they understand it. We understand it. That’s both primary and paramount to me. I was curious, however, as to what they liked about it. In the theater I went to in Brooklyn, the white people laughed at shit the black people didn’t find funny at all, like the surgery scene. What an odd scene to laugh at, I thought. I found that shit incredibly telling. Also, the camaraderie among the black patrons of the film was amazing. We were all giving each other The Look all throughout the film.
LW: Listen, I’m with you. We must stop worrying about white folks. If they like our work, fine. If not, they can get the hell on. I’m done with centering that gaze. But, the film does adhere to the majority of horror film tropes, and there are also a few jump scares — so that may be why. But as it relates to the message, I do not know why. Not at all.
RJJ: What have we left out? What did we overlook? Oh, the family! We haven’t talked about the Armitages (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and their son Josh. Or was it Connor? Or Jake? Or Cody? Or Gunnar? LOL!
LW: Luke? Jack? Dustin? LOL! [It was Jeremy, played by Caleb Landry Jones]
RJJ: The way they coddled and placated Jeremy’s brutality. That reminds me of all these young white men who shoot up schools and churches and blow up buildings and deface synagogues and mosques, and then the media tells us that they got “perfect scores on their SATs and they were boy scouts who walked grandmothers across streets and no one ever thought they could do something like this in a town like theirs!”™
And the Armitages, for me, were the embodiment of medical apartheid. All I thought about was the Tuskegee Experiments and the forced sterilization of black women in North Carolina and the studies that tell us how doctors treat black patients like we have a higher tolerance for pain than white patients and how psychiatrists are reluctant to help black people in need.
Like, I need you to tell me what wasn’t covered or touched upon in this film in regard to the black experience in the United States. And how did Peele fit all of it in without it feeling weighed down and pedantic?
LW: That is such an insightful point. I did not think to Dylan Roof, etc, but you’re right. How many white families tolerate violent behavior as long as it is limited to people of color? Seeing him hold a lacrosse stick brought the Duke sexual assault to mind. So sterilization and North Carolina makes sense.
I think we covered most of it. We can circle back when we have further epiphanies. And it did not feel weighed down with the weight of the subject matter because he is such a talented filmmaker. Going all the way back to Key and Peele, he showed himself to have talent. His sketches showed an understanding of film tropes and tone. So this film feels surefooted and effortless.
RJJ: Yeah. I imagine I’m going to think of something else after this conversation. LOL! Thank you for inviting me to discuss this with you. It was truly a privilege. I’m excited to see what’s next for Peele and for the genre in general now that this door has been kicked open.
LW: Thank you, my brother.
“Get Out Takes Cultural Appropriation to the Cultural Harvest Level” by Rebecca Carroll
“Get Out Proves That ‘Nice Racism’ and White Liberalism Are Never to Be Trusted” by Preston D. Mitchum
“Why Get Out, a Movie About Anti-Black Racism, Had an Asian Character” by Ranier Maningding
“Georgina and the Insanity of the Good Black Girl” by Adiza Jibril
“Get Out Reminds Us Only We Can Save Ourselves” by Preston Mitchum
All artwork retrieved from the Get Out website.
Law Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A contributor to The Root, Fusion, Slate and Dissent magazine, he is also contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times, and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned both his B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Essence, Gawker, and The Grio. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin, which can be found on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, and Twitter. His first novel is completed and is in the pitching stage, and he’s currently working on the second.