Dear White People: A Guide To Watching “Get Out” With Black Audiences

Like many of you, I was super amped to check out Jordan Peele’s new horror flick “Get Out” in the theaters opening weekend. I’d been waiting to see the film ever since reading a profile on Peele earlier last year, and somehow knew instinctively that any story premised on a Black man going to meet his White girlfriend’s parents was enough to send a shiver down any Black person’s spine.

I also knew when deciding where to watch the movie that doing so amongst either a diverse audience or a predominantly Black one would have significant bearing on my experience of the film. Seeing a movie in New York, despite being one of the most diverse cities in the world, is always a toss up, since high theater prices — and, ahem, gentrification — have whitewashed many spaces that used to be reliably colorful. Ironically, the theater I ultimately chose in West Orange, New Jersey turned out to be nearly all Black, which was a pleasant surprise. I settled into my seat, ordered a beer (it was one of those nice dine-in theaters) and got ready to be scared shitless.

Then, right before the movie started, an older white woman randomly sat next to me — alone. I kept waiting to see if maybe she was waiting for a companion, but since all the seats were reserved and the theater was packed, that didn’t seem likely. As the movie progressed, every now and then, I could see her in my periphery watching my and other people’s reactions. To make matters worse, she hacked and sneezed LOUDLY throughout the entire movie, so much so that the sister across the aisle from me looked legitimately concerned for my health.

You good, Sis?

Nothing like a white person being super creepy right next to you at a movie about creepy white people.

Now, part of me wouldn’t be surprised if Peele and/or the film’s producers concocted the idea of hiring creepy White people to go into theaters and freak Black folks out during the screenings. In fact, that would be genius. However, in absence of that being part of the marketing strategy around “Get Out”, here’s some advice for White people who might possibly find themselves watching it in an audience of mostly Black theater-goers:

  1. Try to avoid going alone. You’ll look creepy AF.

I know that Key and Peele are hugely popular among white audiences, so it’s no surprise that white people would go to theaters to see this film. But, y’all. Being the lone Caucasian in a theater looks suspicious as all hell and well, historically speaking, is a red flag for every damn body. Sorry, we didn’t make up those rules, but these rules in particular are designed to protect us from your kinfolk.

Hey, is that seat taken?

If for some reason you have no friends (which is in itself creepy), or none that like watching Black people on the big screen (go get you some new friends then), try to avoid hacking up your lungs, sneezing obnoxiously and making weird grunting noises for the duration of the film. It’s not only weird and nasty, but we’ve all seen “Outbreak.” One horror story at a time, okay?

2. If you must go alone, no random comments to your seatmates.

I shouldn’t need to emphasize this much more, but okay. You see, there are lots of people (such as myself) who aren’t into making small talk, especially in movie theaters where generally-speaking silence is preferred. But in this specific instance, trying to whisper to me as I’m ****SPOILER ALERT*** watching people who look like you terrorize a bunch of people who look like me is not the move you want to make. I can’t guarantee that my post-traumatic slave syndrome won’t flair up at any given moment in which you’d be the target.

3. Don’t stare at people during the movie (or, at all?). Like. DO NOT DO IT.

Don’t get smacked, Jack.

4. Finally, don’t try to get other Black people to engage in your dissing of a Black film.

At my screening, after the movie was over (and after the entire theater of Black folks finished applauding) my White lady seatmate turned to me without missing a beat and said rather incredulously: “Now, this movie got 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Do you really think it deserved all that?” To which I turned my whole body around, looked her dead in the eye and said “Absolutely.”

Now, I meant what I said. Since seeing it on Saturday I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that they need to go watch this film, IN THE THEATERS. But let’s say for a moment that I didn’t — I still, under no circumstances, would have participated in White folks’ dissing of a Black-made film. And ESPECIALLY not a film that tackled such sensitive and triggering subject matter as “Get Out” does. Not today, Barbara. Not today.

Let me not get thrown outta of this theater.

Some folks have asked me, could she have been a film journalist or critic? Or perhaps she actually did work for the film studios and got paid to attend screenings and observe audiences’ reception? Sure, I’m willing to entertain those possibilities, though my background working with media informs me that she more than likely would’ve had to disclose that before asking people questions. So with that, I’m going to stick with my original thesis.

Truth be told, I hope that “Get Out” is a huge box office success, which the latest receipts show it’s well on its way to being. I also hope it does spark necessary conversation about what it means and looks like to be a “liberal” white person. More importantly though, I hope that my experience will serve as a cautionary tale for you, my melanin-deficient movie-goers, to practice greater self-awareness and cultural sensitivity when experiencing Black art among Black audiences. And also, to please — cover your damn mouth.

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