“Get Out” the Layers: A Review
If you haven’t seen the film yet, well then, Get Out…of this review that is. Chuckle. I’m corny, I know. But seriously, that’s my official spoiler alert, because this review, think-piece (or whatever you want to call it) is chock-full of spoilers.
Tweedly, deedly, diddy doo…. *twiddles thumbs aimlessly while folks exit stage left*
Lead actor Daniel Kaluuya imitating my facial expression during AND after seeing the film (Image via Deadline).
Alright. I trust that all of you readers that are still here have either A) seen the film, or B) just don’t care, so either way, on to the good stuff. But first, WOW! Kudos to Jordan Peele for truly flexing his writing and directing chops with this one. Excellent is an understatement.
Also, bigups to leading actor Daniel Kaluuya for his performance as Chris. It’s a rarity to see an outstanding performance in any horror flick (and that’s just another reason why this one is set apart), but he truly performed. I first saw the English (yes, he’s a Brit) actor in an episode of Black Mirror, and was blown away by his gut-wrenching monologue in the episode. If you haven’t seen it, go watch now. Yes, now. Anyway, Kaluuya brings an emotional quality to his roles that’s akin to theater. I hope that he gets his just due for this part.
There’s so much to digest about Get Out. There are so many layers to this film that it’s practically impossible for me as a writer to get it all down after only seeing the film once, so I won’t even try. I’m not that audacious. However, I will touch on a few themes, and make an attempt to peel back a few of the layers that were truly profound to me. And who knows — maybe after I’ve seen Get Out a few more times I can add to the list. Until then, here’s what I’ve got:
Get Out begins with Chris Washington (Kaluuya) packing for his weekend trip with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams, Girls), his white girlfriend. He is going on a boyfriend’s pilgrimage to meet her parents for the first time. As Rose helps Chris do a final run through of his packing checklist, there’s a lingering hesitation in the air when he finally asks her, “Do they know that I’m black?”
What struck me about his question wasn’t the question at all, but the fear in his voice. It was the apology in his inquiry. It was almost as if he’d asked her, “Do they know that I have a criminal record?” “Do they know that I’m black? Have you told them about this flaw?”
THAT is how pervasive white supremacy is.
1. Not Your Average Horror Flick
How appropriate is it that Get Out is a horror flick? I can remember late last year when I first saw the trailer for the film, and thinking oh man, this must be a comedy. A spoof of some sort. Surely, no one was serious about this film. A legitimate horror film that focuses on race? Sure, the Black American experience can be horrific, but a filmmaker actually shining the lens on that experience? Nope. Not serious. Unreal.
But, I was mistaken. It indeed is real. Get Out takes us there. And Jordan Peele gets it right. I think the fact that I (and SEVERAL of my close friends and family) was initially taken aback at the notion of a film like this says a lot about society. Our gut reactions were tell-tale: “Who the hell is Jordan Peele to tell this story, in this way, at this moment?”
2. Duh: White Privilege
One of the most blatant aspects of the film is the way in which it illustrates white privilege. Right from the outset, when we see Rose shrug off Chris’s question about whether she’s mentioned to her parents the fact that he’s black is evidence of her white privilege: she’s able to live without a second thought about her racial identity, whereas he literally cannot escape his worries about what his ethnicity might mean to her family (and how it might affect their interactions).
But the most obvious illustration of white privilege is shown when Chris and Rose encounter the police officer after their car accident. When the officer asks Chris for his driver’s license, he is quick to comply. Rose, however, is staunchly opposed to the officer’s interrogation of Chris; she calls it “bullsh*t” and repeatedly and aggressively tells the officer that Chris doesn’t have to comply with the officer’s request.
Eventually, the officer obliges her, and leaves the couple. Clearly, this is evidence of her privilege. Many, many black people have ended up dead (yes, DEAD) for being a lot less demanding than she was. Other real-life black people have been arrested for being as demanding as she was.
Can you imagine if the shoe was on the other foot? If Chris had been just as assertive as Rose? This might have been a different film entirely.
3. (Not So) Micro-Aggressions
Fast forward to the visit with the Armitages and friends:
Woman says to Rose (about Chris) “Is it true what they say…?” *touches Chris’s chest and winks suggestively*
Rose’s brother to Chris: “Your genetic makeup suggests that you would be good at it [fighting].”
“Do you golf? I use to. I LOVE Tiger.”
The so-called micro-aggressions were comical only because they were so in-your-face. The sad thing is THIS IS REAL LIFE PEOPLE! Let’s just take the prefix out of it, by the way. Micro-aggressions are aggressive, in-your-face statements that mean “You’re different, you’re other, I don’t know how to humanize you, I don’t care to treat you like an individual (or it’s just too much work), so here, let me make you feel uncomfortable.”
The crazy part is that to people of color and minorities these aggressive statements and/or actions are all too real, and happen on a weekly (if not daily) basis. Aggression should not be a part of daily life.
4. On the Difficulty of Interracial Dating
Dating is difficult, period. Another thing that Get Out does a splendid job of doing is showing one of the difficulties of interracial dating: one partner’s inability and/or refusal to identify with the unique issues that the minority partner faces.
Chris was literally going through a hellish experience with racist overtones that Rose shrugged off. She did not and could not truly identify with his experience. Although this of course is a caricature of conflict in interracial relationships, the sentiment is there.
AS AN ASIDE: Many people (WRONGLY) assumed that the film was an attempt to make a blanket statement against interracial relationships. This is so far from the truth that…yeah, I just don’t know what to tell those folks other than to point out the fact that the film’s creator, screenwriter and director (Jordan Peele) is biracial. Also, this little nugget is an observation; a takeaway. Not all interracial relationships are the same; not all interracial relationships have the same bucket of issues or problems; this is one film and one assessment. FYI.
5. Of Mules and Men
When the realization of what is actually happening dawns on him, Chris asks,
“Why us? Why Black people?”
The truth echoes both in history (remember the 3/5 clause?) and is evidenced all throughout the film. From the moment Chris arrives at the Armitages, his physical and ethnic characteristics and stereotypes about black people are poked at. Statements are made about his genetic makeup, his supposed sexual fortitude, his wits, physique, etc.
Black people are perceived as spectacles, objects of desires, toys, tools, but never equals. The film exposes this: blacks are the mules here. They have utility — but only in servility and docility — only as supplemental to the white people. Only as the apparatus. Black people are not fully people, not fully men and women, and this is (and has always been) the justification for using them as “…the mules of the world.”
6. “Everybody Wanna Be A N*gga, But Nobody Wanna Be A N*gga”
Soooo it’s clear that the hatred expressed for black folks is both deep and real in this film. Hellooo??? Who does this?
And yet, the cultural appropriation is taken to A WHOLE ‘NOTHER LEVEL!
This is what I call “everybody wanna be a n*gga, but nobody wanna be a n*gga” to the nth degree.
Seriously, just think about Grandpa Armitage being so stuck on the fact that he couldn’t beat a black dude, albeit Jesse Owens, in the Olympic qualifiers that he creates this weirdo-hypnosis-white-supremacist-circle-of-body-snatcher-friends to live vicariously through black bodies? Yeah, that’s a bit much.
Invasion of the Bodysnatchers: When White Supremacy Gets In Your Head. Literally.
This is where the symbolism gets deep, guys. And I sat in the theater thinking about it for a while. Why would the black people need to sit in the “sunken zone” while their white counterparts inhabit their bodies? What’s the function of that?
My take is that this notion is a statement about the pervasive nature of white supremacy in America. White supremacy is so ubiquitous that it inhabits us. Literally. It gets inside us until we (Black people, minorities) feel foreign in our own bodies.
Ever felt weird about having to sound out your “ethnic-sounding” name to a room full of whites?
Ever felt required to chemically change your hair or wear a weave to look professional (or to “make a statement” by reverting back to wearing your own hair)?
Ever been given (or gave) your children a special set of rules to ensure that they aren’t incorrectly perceived as a threat by white people?
Know what code-switching is? Ever code-switched?
I could go on. It’s keep it real time. We all know what this is. That’s what this film exposes — this whole idea of being invaded, in your mind and in your body, an inescapable invasion that feels like your body is being snatched. That’s white supremacy. That’s living in a society where one racial group dominates (socially, economically, etc.) over others.
8. A Note About the Ending
Lastly, the film does a fine job of situating the viewer within the black experience. When the police car pulls up at the end, I can remember thinking, aww man, WELP. He had a good run, but I guess this film ends tragically. At the same time, Rose perks up because the arrival of the police car means something entirely different for her.
I could be wrong, but I’m sure that we all, or at least most of us, felt a similar pang of despair for Chris in that moment.
Black man, white woman, bloody hands, police car. What was your gut reaction? Be honest. Let it resonate.