(Writer’s Note: I’ve read and re-read this piece about ten times in an effort to ensure I wasn’t re-treading shit that many others have feverishly already placed on the interwebs. I leave it to you to be the ultimate judge of that though. And, shout out to Son of Baldwin for beating me to the punch with the pithy post title. The conversation in that piece is deep and dope, and you should read it all. )
If you hushed anyone, especially a black person, because they were talking during your viewing of Get Out, Imma need you to get the fuck outta here. If there was a ever a movie that worked specifically off of the audience dynamics, call-and-response culture of blackness and the cause-and-effect nature of cinema, it’s Get Out. Also, if you haven’t seen the film yet, please exit stage left until you have.
They gone? Good.
So, like many of you, when I saw the first trailer for Get Out way back when, I immediately thought it was a comedy. Not just because it was Jordan Peele. But also because we lived in a pre-Moonlight, pre-Trump, pre-Viola-finally-got-her-Oscar world. Of course, as things rolled out, the multiverse has proven that anything is possible. What’s funny about this concept of limitless possibility is that Get Out proves it and expounds upon it when it comes to the evils of racism. And by “evils I racism,” I really mean the evils of white people and White People™. But we’ll get to that.
Anyway, let’s start with the plot to orient this voyage through dap’s thought processes. New York photog Chris (Daniel Kuluuya) is dating Rose Armitage (Allison Williams.) On this particular weekend, Chris is taking a trip with Rose to meet her family (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Caleb Landry Jones) at their secluded home upstate. The gag is, they don’t know he’s black. Things quickly go downhill from the moment they step foot on the Armitage family estate, leading to a discovery of missing black men, strange-acting black servants and some serious WTF moments. While Chris deals with the increasing drama, his best friend Rodney (Lil Rel) continuously warns him to “get out.” This culminates with Rodney coming in Chris’ greatest moment of need at the end of the film.
Off top, I feel confident in saying that the film is a masterwork in leaning on black reactions and presenting one long set of red flags. For while Chris may be intelligent and capable, all horror films always need an inroad to the shenanigans — an unknown unknown that the main characters don’t know, but that we know. It’s the narrative information that behooves us to yell “get the fuck out!” and “you in danger girl!” at the screen. It’s the thing that could save them, or not put them in the monster’s path to begin with. Sometimes it’s common sense that’s somehow ignored in the narrative world, like in Alien where the entire idea of approaching a room full of alien eggs is ludicrous. Or, it’s a contextual piece of information that no one knows until things are revealed. Think Friday the 13th, wherein we find out that Jason’s mom just hates bullies and young people having sex. In each of these cases, there’s a pathway by which our suspension of belief is put into play. It separates us from the experience, shielding audiences from the acts of the horror while allowing us to engage with it from the real world.
Or at least, that’s how things go for most audiences.
Black folks are never exactly safely removed when it comes to horror. As such, most of of our engagement with these types of movies is very different. Based on understanding the fantasy as part of a larger universe, we often see ourselves in the victims as much as we see ourselves in the monster. If you haven’t seen it coming by now, this take is of course grounded in our friend Robin Wood’s theories of horror and monsters as battles between Normality and The Other. To sum things up quickly: Wood theorized that horror works by playing Normality against its repressed self, The Other. In this polarity, The Other becomes a repository for social ills and those things deemed digressive from polite society. And when you consider the history of black folks in this country, as both heroes and demons, who else is most equipped to grapple with these worlds while often being the subject of their ire?
So what makes Get Out different? Methinks it has something to do with the movie being built upon this peculiar relationship between black folks and horror — engaging with it, subverting it, fulfilling it, etc. At every moment, Chris is given a red flag – a “don’t go” or “get out” moment – and yet he stays. And, in the 3x times I’ve seen this movie, the majority of the (black) audience pleads with him and the film itself, calling bullshit and taking notes. It’s an interesting dynamic for a couple reasons.
The first is that it’s obviously fan-service to a particular audience. Black audiences enjoy talking to the screen. And Jordan Peele knows this. It’s a cultural experience that, while black folks aren’t a monolith, is generally shared across the American diaspora. And again, this is especially true when it comes to the horror genre. Thinking again of this otherization of us as a market and people with stories, maybe it’s because we’ve been underserved for so long.
It may be a cultural trope, but it’s no lie that black people seriously over-index as the first casualties in horror, let alone other genres. So as the most expendable people in these films, we’re often traumatized and ready to watch the rest of the crew die. In these cases we root for the monster, knowing that if only Stacey’s dumbass hadn’t left the window open she wouldn’t be getting ate up right now. This reliance on common sense is what makes Get Out such a raucous film to watch with black people, because it invests directly in our knowledge — it believes we’re smart people and gives us the opportunity to call things out and enjoy the foolishness.
But maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word. For, the other side of this is that Chris basically has every opportunity to not be turned into a negro plaything and he doesn’t act decisively until the final movement of the film. We’ll get to that in a minute. But I really wanna focus on this — can we even enjoy seeing ourselves embodied on-screen whilst making all the objectively *wrong choices*?
The answer lies in subtext.
On the surface – or to a non-black, non-code-switching audience – Chris is the classic weak link. As the main character and subject of trauma, he needs to fall victim in order to rise victorious. It’s a oft repeated setup in horror, and to some, would seem completely fine for Get Out. However, the tension is that for black/code-savvy audiences, this is infuriating. As much as Get Out spurs a lot of laughs (from horrific and comedic moments,) every black person I’ve talked to about the movie mentions how *stressful* the viewing experience is. This is because of that infuriating element — Chris is repeatedly gaslighted and even mocked into doubting his trustworthy instincts. In a way, that’s the true horror of the film because black people experience this bullshit daily in real life. Thus the horrific nature of every moment of this film is heightened and amplified, because these things aren’t made up. It’s at once a validation of black feelings and a confirmation of black fears.
Maybe this is the price of being seen, heard and catered to in a film like Get Out. For while it speaks to us directly, it also puts stock in the very things that still threaten our lives when we walk out of the theater. This isn’t a negative statement either, as there isn’t a pain porn element to Get Out. Much the opposite: there’s a clear care and investment shown by Peele and his production team in letting black people be fully human throughout the viewing experience of this movie. Unfortunately, part of that includes a lot of hairline-thinning moments only a bounced rent check could reproduce.
BLACK SKIN, WHITE ENVY
After my second viewing, a friend mentioned that Get Out might not be a proper horror film because it lacked a certain layer of fantasy. I had to disagree with the quickness. There’s definitely a layer of fantasy in this movie, but it’s not exactly what you’d think it’d be (if you don’t think about these things especially; hi, whyfolks!) The fantastical notion here isn’t that Chris was hypnotized. Or that a white family in upstate New York is a part of a secret society that murders and kidnaps black people for science. Rather, the fantasy at play is the world that Chris chooses to live in for the majority of the film.
Well before he’s gaslit into questioning everything around him, he chooses to be apolitical and neutral in his relationship with Rose and her family. At every moment, he chooses the path of least resistance, believing and possibly hoping, that his gut is wrong. And yet, even when he’s proven right about the monstrous racism at work, he doesn’t choose self-preservation. It’s only when he literally has no choice but to escape that he becomes active in his choices. In a way, it’s telling that his departure from a fantasy world based on the assumption of good intentions first is violent.
Of course, this is the large line of thought that’s been splashed across publications bigger than this one, right? That the film is about the myth that we live in a “post-racial” world and that “liberal elites” are the real danger. For said elites, who exclusively enjoy podcasts hosted by white dudes who all happen to sound like Ira Glass, this may be news. But for folks who live in a less couched world, this shit is about as late as ya wcw’s period when you had your first pregnancy scare.
My point is this: the film makes a concerted effort to build some conversation around the dangers that exist for black people when we choose to try to live in these fantasies with illusions that everything is hunky dory. It’s a de-centering of whiteness, and establishment of a black gaze, that is incredibly precise and important. Throughout its runtime, Get Out makes a point of showing that, like your meemaw tells you: to assume is to make an ass out of me and an ass outta you. These worlds, where we can simply hope against our own best interest, that White People™ are good and honest and not racist, are not built for us. Instead, they are built upon us. There is no “post-racial” world without black people being complicit in trying to make things as non-threatening for white folks as possible. As much as they are delusions of grandeur on the part of racists, they are also supported by our willingness to perform a multitude of labors in order to make space for white folks. By the time we’ve exhausted ourselves to do so, we become wide open to any and all attacks. And thus, there is no space for our humanity, literally, in them.
On one level, this manifests in the film as Chris’ inability to actually speak up about the racist things around him. Whether it’s out of fear or otherwise doesn’t matter. This is because every time he doesn’t address something definitively, he continues to put himself at danger, all to appease his own self-doubt and/or the white people around him and keep the peace. It’s a matter of life and death, and he consistently makes illogical decisions in the name of playing metaphorical no-contact football with racists. The irony of this is that Chris’ black spidey sense is very much alive. From his interactions with Georgina and Walter to his “I told you so” moment with Rose to his conversations with Rodney, it’s clear that he knows things are wrong. Yet between the self-doubt and his willingness to cling to some hope, he still doesn’t get out.
For me, this fluctuation between knowing better and doing the opposite is signified by the open kiddie closet in Rose’s room. It makes an appearance early in the film, during Chris’ attempt to smoke. And it becomes an important narrative moment right before he’s taken to the basement. In its constant haunting him as a small but conspicuous door that’s left open, it symbolizes the curiosity of survival: he knows that there’s something he’s missing, that maybe he should investigate and/or push back, and yet, he doesn’t. One could argue that, on a literal level, it’s because of his black spidey senses that he doesn’t investigate either. A big rule in the “don’t die in the horror movie” playbook is “don’t go looking in places that you don’t know where they lead, fam.” But I’d like to think that, due to its repeat appearances, it could be both. In either case, Daniel Kuluuya does an amazing job of presenting this double consciousness and tension. In his 0-to-100 performances, you see the strained flickers of concern and absurd confusion mixed with the need (or want) to fit in, or at least, be unbothered. Of course, there is no safety in neutrality in Get Out, and the film makes a point of this continuously.
To take things even further, this world of alt-safety also manifests as black consciousness being erased and hidden in The Sunken Place. Quite literally, Chris and the other potential colonies for whiteness cannot exist in union with their colonizers, and so they must be suppressed and repressed. If we fish for real-world analogs, this is the erasure of blackness in any context: American history, the workplace, popular culture, etc. Of course we rise in spite of this erasure. However, this is not just because black folks have a penchant for turning 15 cents into a dollar. Rather it’s in tandem with the fact that the very fabric of racism is so dependent on our existence that we can’t be erased in full. In the film, these truths are manifest in the constant struggle between Georgina and her white colonizer; the momentary loss of control, the crying. (Writer’s Note: It’s important to note here too that these impressions are only truly understood after watching the film twice. As the second viewing allows you time to focus on these characters – Georgina, Walter and Logan– without worrying about missing out on the narrative arc itself.) It’s a damning and haunting metaphor for the dynamics at play. What’s more, things are even more wild when you examine the scene wherein Georgina (the colonizer) is admiring herself in the window.
In this eerie moment, Chris watches in shock as Georgina purposely stops to caress her face and wig. There’s a vulnerability there in those moments — her hands lovingly follow the line of her jaw and press against her face. Contrast this with her consistent hounding and predatory treatment of Chris. In particular, the scene where she gives him the death stare while holding carrot cake is fucking scary. We can only wonder how deeply she hates this part, where she has to act as a servant in her own home while these men are treated like kings, if only for 36 hours. Between these two scenes, we gain some very deep perspective in relation to the polarity of racism, as Georgina expresses it. She’s at once in love with her (stolen) negro body but hateful of Chris’ sexual violation of and proximity to the virginal whiteness of her granddaughter. The two are not mutually exclusive and speak directly to the tortured connection between hating something that you can only love by owning, dominating or destroying. It’s a racial Catch-22 that adds a layer of monstrosity to the plot and what I believe is Get Out‘s thesis on racism at large.
There can be no superiority without deeming someone else inferior. And yet, by virtue of creating this dynamic, the inverse is always possible and true. If those who deem themselves superior admit weakness or are afflicted, they automatically lose their superiority and the vacuum is filled. In the world of Get Out, the infirm racists of the Coagula Society seek to refill this vacuum by simply assuming black bodies and thus completing the cycle. In their minds, a black body can be a vehicle to further white dominance, in spite of their hatred of the black body itself. Again, only by owning the body can they love it, and possibly, themselves. It’s a routine of mental gymnastics that I doubt even Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Dominique Dawes combined could perform.
On the flip side of all this, there’s this amazing ignorance at play with white colonizers of black bodies in Get Out. This is illustrated by all three characters — Walter, Georgina and Logan — but it’s Chris’ interactions with Logan and Georgina that shine most. In the case of Logan (formerly Andre,) Chris tries to suss out his disposition when an asian guest questions Chris about black people’s advantages and disadvantages in the modern world. Of course, Logan replies that he can only say that the “African-American experience has been mostly good.” But, he can’t speak at length because he hasn’t had time to “leave the house.” There’s a ton of ways to attack what’s going on in this scene, so I’ll limit it a bit here.
First off is the inclusion of an older asian man in this cadre of vampiric racists. It’s very important that he’s included because it tips off the fact that racism, and in this case anti-blackness, is by no means solitary. Rather, it cross-pollinates amongst the wealthy and non-black alike. It’s an easter egg of social commentary and something that I hope is interrogated further amidst not just asian communities, but non-black people of color as a whole.
Secondly, the usage of “African-American” is a subtle linguistic tip. These folks are racist, but they’re sensitive to what verbiage they’re using in the presence of black people. For whatever reason, the usage of “black” has been deemed a live grenade in polite conversation. And thus, “African-American” is used as a signal of alternative safety for black people amidst mixed company. Of course, we know better.
Thirdly, there’s Logan’s answer itself. As a 60+ year old white man of wealth, he has no need really to know of the black experience. What does it mean to him? Nothing. Moreover, it’s telling that he admits never leaving the house. On a surface level, this has narrative purpose, as we discover that flashing lights upset the control he has over his stolen black body’s true consciousness. So it’d make sense that he’d control his stimuli as much as possible in order to enjoy the spoils of Andre’s body thoroughly. But it also hints at something more profound — Logan has no interest in knowing about the real black experience now that he too is black. In his cloistered existence, he is still Logan, The White Man and can retain his whiteness. But the moment he leaves the house, he’s Just Another Nigga and is subject to the “African-American experience” in full.
From his potential interactions with white people outside of his society to simply running into black people on the street (let alone the police,) his unwillingness to go outside is an implicit confirmation that black people are not safe in this world. By being ill-equipped to function, and with no willingness to learn to, Logan can’t leave his own bubble. It’s a profound bind. But of course, if we look again for real-world analog, the conceit is that it’s cool to dabble in blackness but it’s not cool to actually uphold, defend or truly experience blackness. Because the products of blackness are desirable, but the consequences of any association with it, are not. The walk between this narrative idea and things like cultural appropriation, theft and anti-blackness, again, are pretty short. So, I won’t waste a paragraph on it. You smart or whateva.
LISTENNNNN…TO THE ANCESTORS
Let’s talk music and technical stuff though.
Get Out excels in something very hard to do when it comes to most movies, and horror in general: playing between texture and minimalism. While Get Out works heavily to build narrative layers, its formal aspects are deceptively spare in most places, hiding things in plain sight or providing ample room for scares and drama. This is especially true when it comes to aural moments, wherein it invests heavily in sounds as narrative devices and shock-inducers. For instance, piano and string stings help play up jump scares, like Georgina’s creepy walking around in the background. Or, the entire soundtrack.
The film opens with an unwitting Andre being kidnapped by Jeremy, who’s playing a song with the lyrics “run, rabbit, run.” We then get a cut to quickly moving footage of ghostly trees, whilst a chorus sings in kiSwahili. According to le Twitter, and confirmed by Jordan Peele, the lyrics roughly translate to “listen to [your] ancestors — run away.” This then cuts quickly to Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” with a specific focus on the chorus of “stay woke, niggas creeping / they gon’ find you, gon’ catch you slipping.”
There’s a hell of a subtext here. By weaving this collection of music together, Peele is clearly creating a subliminal bed that we lay in. Through this formal setup, we’re primed to warn Chris to get the fuck out from the opening of the film. It’s an establishment of tone and expectation, specifically as it relates to the call-and-response that we’ve reviewed earlier. But it’s also an interesting play wherein the film seems to be speaking to the audience *and* the characters. For example, why didn’t Andre run when a creepy car begins to stalk him? While any black person should immediately get it, Peele makes it a point to have Andre speak his inner monologue out loud: “Alright man, don’t do nothing crazy. Just keep walking.” Here, in spite of hearing the song and all things being a red flag, Peele shows us ourselves in these situations. While we may want Andre to run, we know that, maybe we wouldn’t have done so either. It’s an explicit presentation of a certain limiting of self that Get Out explores more thoroughly with Chris throughout the film.
In Get Out and the real world, black people aren’t safe anywhere. But even when we’re in fight or flight mode we limit our actions by our surroundings. Especially when it’s amongst white people. It’s a code-switching that is informed by the knowledge that any action that’s even remotely seen as excessive or violent can be a means by which our death sentence can be quickly carried out. Of course, the irony of Get Out is that, it’s not until those actions become violent that survival is actually guaranteed. Is Peele suggesting then that, it’s only when we stop surrendering to white terror and gazes that we’ll be (more) free?
*strokes chin aggressively*
To return to sound: the movie uses its sounds sparingly so that you pay attention. A great example is the hypnosis device by-way-of-racist-tea-cup. Established early on in the film, it becomes a thru-line that determines Chris’ fate at pivotal moments. And yet, he pretty much ignores its potential effect on him until it becomes a real matter of life and death. Which is where the ultimate coalescing of sound, character action and subtext come into play.
Upon realizing that the tea cup being stirred is what sedates him, Chris uses cotton from the chair he’s bound to to protect himself from its effect. Cotton of course plays into the slavery sub-narrative here: Jeremy and Rose are slave-catchers tasked with roping in new hosts, the society members are plantation owners who openly bid on auctioned black bodies, and the economy of whiteness is preserved through the “wrangling” of blackness. There’s poetic justice then that cotton be the tool that brings about their downfall and a destruction of massa’s house. This slavery theme is also enforced and heightened by costuming in the final scenes — Rose wears an impossibly white button down shirt, high waisted camel pants and jackboots during her pursuit of Chris down a dark road. She also carries an old, single shot rifle whilst using her grandfather (walter) as an impromptu hunting dog. It’s brilliant and terribly painful in how deeply it taps on our history as stolen peoples in the Americas.
WHITE FOLKS™: NOT RENEWED FOR ANOTHER SEASON
Okay, so we’ve covered a fuckton of ground here. And I feel like I could write endlessly on this and still not hit all the points. But that’s okay. You’re smart. You’ll find the answers you need in different places. I am but one amongst a constellations of bright black minds.
So…how can I bring this to a close?
Back in the day, James Baldwin specifically stated:
“The question [white people] have got to ask [themselves]….If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him, you, the white people, invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question.” (Source: PBS)
It’s a part of a larger thread of thought. But his point there aligns with the premise of Get Out — White People™ invented the demons they chase after and envy. For them, we are at once quandary and quarry; a problem needing a final solution and an endless source to steal from. Note I didn’t say “white people” here. Rather, Get Out argues that any white person is potentially a monster that will prey upon us. Sure the headlines read “liberal elites,” but American racism in particular is so pervasive that we’re all affected. So in turn, all white people are afflicted. Thus, it’s not just about judging people as individuals — the whole brand is on trial here.
That’s what I found funny about Get Out‘s 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating from, at the time, almost all white critics. Objectively, it’s hard to argue against the merits of the film. It’s well made and has an intelligence behind it that’s multi-layered. So sure, it should be getting all the accolades it’s collecting. However, if we’re talking about the racism of white liberal elites, are these same critics not also the subject of the film? Like Rose, are they patting themselves on the back for being the “not racist” white person? How real is that, truly?
Again, the answer lies in the film itself. Coming from a black gaze that de-centers the often assumed humanity of white folks and whiteness, there’s enough evidence to argue that Get Out suggest there’s no certainty as to who these folks (white folks) are. As Chris rides away with Rodney, it must have dawned on him that he never actually knew Rose. This persona she invented for him, whom he told he loved, was all a ploy. In her act and actions, she was complicit in his destruction. If we take it to a meta level to speak on real life white folks, Pre-Final-Act-Rose was often completely blind to her own racism and that of her family. And in her blindness, she posed an imminent threat to him. For she would literally lead him into a den of macro- and micro-aggressions. In much the same way, white folks who remain couched in their good-enough-for-now “not racist” modes are just as dangerous as those who are openly racist. As Malcolm said, the deep south racist wolf and the northern liberal fox are but sides to one coin. And if you include “not racist” sheep dogs in the mix, it’s bad company all around.
So as the credits roll and we leave the fantastical-but-kinda-too-real-nightmare that is Get Out, it’s hard not to feel both elated and fucking skressed. Black folks are experiencing a renaissance in media, with a certain FUBU determination that’s providing as much diversity as it cold hard cash. Simultaneously, we’re living in a time where fascism and anti-blackness in their purest and crudest forms are as normal as terrible hot takes from Tapatio Lahren. For a film this coherent to be so popular gives me hope that, somewhere in the middle there’s enough of us looking around working on solutions. Despite this, my black spidey sense tells me to be like Drake and say “no new white people.” So, it looks like White Women™, micro-aggressions, racist china pieces, racist families, racist architecture, racist dinner parties, folks who can’t keep their gotdamn hands to themselves and cats who start sentences with “with your genetic makeup” are very much cancelled for the ‘99, and the 2000.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter