‘Get Out’ and American Carnage
Get Out is one of those films which naturally gives pause to its viewers. As I left a theatre which had a largely black audience, I couldn’t help but notice that most of us were deep in thought. Slowly shuffling towards the exit. Our eyes glazed over. Transfixed on something deep within our minds. Perhaps we were struggling with our own ‘sunken place’.
The film depicts the ultimate attempt at cultural appropriation. Chillingly, the theft of black bodies occurs by those who despise the black right to life, yet covet the supposed natural gifts (presented as sexual, athletic and artistic tropes in the film) of black people. Moreover, themes regarding the social anxiety that black people feel in all-white spaces (due to fear of hostility, alienation and abuse), black disbelief concerning their oppression and interracial relationships are within the movie. However, the fear surrounding bodily theft was the most important subject within the film.
The bodily theft of black people is an important theme in Afro-diasporic folklore. It is no surprise that African-Americans before abolition described the destruction of families by slaveholders via the sale of their loved ones as ‘stealing’ or having been ‘stole’. Another prime example comes from Haiti with the zombie archetype. Zombies have been noted to have been an extension of the philosophy of enslaved people regarding their own dehumanization. That thought process being, what if the last refuge of the enslaved man, women or child — the mind — was robbed from them? What if, even the escape which ostensibly comes with death was really an unending brutality? That fear has never left us.
Similar to zombies, the plot of Get Out may appear fantastical on the surface, but I do not think that it is. If you were to just examine the African-American Horror Experience in the United States, if the villainous actions of the antagonists of Get Out had actually occurred…it would just be another thread in a pattern which loathes black life and autonomy in the United States.
The United States of America is the country where Black towns and areas of settlement such as Rosewood in Florida and Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma were devastated because of the actions of female white supremacists who lied without any moral restraint. Drawing upon fear of Black males and their mythical predation of white women. An old fear in a white supremacist society which was exhibited in the 1915 D.W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation. Rosewood was burnt to the ground and has never been rebuilt while airplanes, alleged by survivors, dropped burning balls of turpentine on the prosperous Black neighbourhood of Greenwood.
It is also important to note that the white female accuser of Emmett Till confessed that she lied about the incident which led to his torture and death at the hands of a pair of white supremacist men.
The United States of America is also the country where elements of the US government (through the U.S. Public Health Service) conducted a 40 year ‘study’ to observe the progression of untreated syphilis among Black men. Poor African-American farmers and sharecroppers were lied to about the nature of their illness (syphilis) and information was withheld from them which could have treated their disease. None of the men were told they even had syphilis. By the end of the study, dozens of men had died, 40 wives had contracted syphilis and 19 children contracted congenital syphilis.
The United States of America is the same land in which its government conducted illegal activities (up to and including assassination) to eliminate black activists and groups including Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. The 1969 assassination of Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton while he was asleep in bed with his pregnant partner is among the most brazen acts of COINTELPRO. No one went to jail for his murder.
On top of all these aforementioned crimes in the African-American Experience is hundreds of years of brutal chattel slavery, the American Apartheid of Jim Crow and the current Carceral State which over-polices and structurally targets African-Americans. The final insult (and horror), is the desire for the victims of white supremacy by the assailants to forget the past. The disregard the present. To head towards a mirage which is deemed a future. An example lies below:
All of the above has occurred in the past or is still occurring today. Is it really hard to believe that the plot of Get Out is merely a nightmare brought on by Afro-diasporic fear such as zombies? Or, is it a rumination on possibilities within the cruel, unceasing empire of white supremacy? If so, we can only hope that the greatest adversary of white supremacy — African resistance, remains strong in the face of an ever-evolving foe.
- Ganga Zumba