Michelle gets real about the horrors of white liberal racism and the brilliance of Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out.
This edition of Reel Feels dives into the extremely loud and incredibly close world of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. A film that tells the story of an African American man navigating in the world of his white girlfriend and her family, Get Out creates a pure, authentic horror film that thrills on the anxieties of black America. Uncomfortability and hesitation from the main character Chris, as played by Daniel Kaluuya (aka Bing from Black Mirror‘s “15 Million Merits”), might seem petty and unreasonable at first as he questions his girlfriend’s experience with presenting black men to her all white family, but we soon discover it’s entirely significant and justified to be as cautious.
Get Out is an observatory example of white liberal racism, you know, the type we fail to acknowledge exists in our society. Through the cinematic aesthetics of the horror genre, Peele reveals the true horror: the elite group of individuals who use privilege and liberal stances to mask their racism. It’s potent and the driven source behind the scares of the film, but this only works because it’s horrifying to recognize and distinguish there is a real problem. White liberal racism is terrifying, because it’s not the face of what we have come to accept as racism. I think generally people have an idea of racism as people in white cloaks who burn crosses and hold meetings in the woods, police brutality and racial profiling, photos and memes objectifying a particular group of people and stereotypes, or the Neo-Nazi movements. Too often racism is though to be explicit and blatant in order to be registered, but as Peele does so well in the reveal, the passive, undercover racism associated with the liberals is far more dangerous, and to be honest, worse.
There is an element of naivety and obliviousness rooted in white liberal racism, and it stems from the dangers of complacency. Agreeing to or turning away from the permissive nature of systemic racism, creates room for residency in perpetrating these racial indecencies. The race relations of Get Out prove that when we subscribe to an idea of what racism looks like, we disable the ability to register our own potential to violate, exploit, and marginalize others. The best example of this comes from Rose’s father who is played by Bradley Whitford. As he is “bonding” with Chris, he makes it clear that if he were able to, he would have voted for Obama in a third term. By saying this, he’s trying to reassure Chris that he’s one of the “good” ones. The “good” white people who indulge in other cultures without the observation and inclination that there may be some appropriation in their actions. The same people who believe that “understanding” a culture is enough merit to be excused of evaluation for potential racism. Creating an issue with the identification of this type of person, illustrates the threat and hazard of complacency. Best seen in the introduction and evolution of Rose’s character, played excellently by Allison Williams (Marnie from Girls), which serves as the “white” flag of surrender to any danger. She’s considerate, caring, affectionate, aware, and defensive towards the inappropriate behavior from her family members. She seemingly uses her privilege and social awareness for good, as she defends her boyfriend when an officer requests his identification after an accident in which Rose was driving. She provides safety, comfort, and security as she exemplifies a distance she has created from the awkward racial tensions of her family and friends. She creates a relationship with the audience member, both of color and white. For instance, she assists white audience members through their possible guilt and uncomfortability with racism, and a reassuring, safety net for the audience members of color who begin to feel safe in her care as Chris does. However, it is in this secure bond she has formed with both Chris and the audience that sets up the biggest threat in the film. When Chris is in danger, we’re in danger, because we’re about to take on some heavy stuff. Rose becomes a villain and the key component to the thrilling action of Get Out when her character begins to align with the sadistic lives of her parents. This is where a great deal of anxiety and tension develops as an audience member because for individuals like myself, Rose was an extension of myself. It’s not enough to proclaim that you’ve removed yourself from the narrative of racism in America or the rhetoric of bigotry, because when we become complacent, we become ignorant. This creates the biggest roadblock in true, effective progress and change, because we remain passive and stationary.
Without the use of cliches and tropes of the horror genre, Peele was able to design a dynamic that feels like it sits among the classics. In a recent interview for Nerdist, he reveals that he had approximately 20 classic horror films that provided the biggest influence for Get Out. This includes the Stepford Wives, which provided social commentary during the women’s liberation movement and laid out the blueprint for the commentary of his film.What I appreciated the most in Get Out was the genuine terror depicted within the film. The unsettling realization that the characters in the film are the people around me. They never feel close to me. They feel distant and predatory, but if you look closely and reevaluate my relationship to the film, it becomes clear that these are real people. They look like people we know, live in a place that doesn’t feel foreign, they speak like many people you may interact with, and they represent an America we’ve learned to accept through the tales we’re told by the media. It is in that familiarity and mirrored-like reflection that really sent chills down my spine during this screening. This is a reality and although the film takes the issues of racism to an extreme, it never negates the realistic subject matter that this country has a real, existing problem. I won’t spoil the film or reveal too much, but there is a prevalent use of hypnosis within the film that I believe provides a great deal of detail to conceptualizing our relationship to the racial injustice of Get Out. Hypnosis is used to make a patient vulnerable and susceptible to suggestions in order to curb an addiction, open up blocked memories, etc. This is an association to the “hypnosis” white liberals are under, as they walk through life in a daily trance that makes them vulnerable and susceptible to remain permissive towards these issues. Although we may not hunt black individuals for sport or reincarnate the slave trade of our past, we are just as harmful to people of color with our permissiveness, cultural appropriation, and inappropriate desire to see things with more optimism than warranted.
Get Out currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I guarantee you it’s beyond well-deserved. Smart, funny, relevant, and thrilling, this is a film I was pleasantly surprised by and will continue to sell to everyone I know. If the brilliant mind of Jordan Peele (yes that Peele of Key and Peele) isn’t enough to drive you to the theater, the fantastic cast of Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Lakeith Stanfield, and more should do the trick. Oh yeah, and this is such a breath of fresh air and creativity for the horror genre, so you don’t have to settle for remakes or cookie cutter attempts at shaking you to your core!