Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ and the “New Racism”
A Movie Too Tough, Even For Liberals
DISCLAIMER: THIS SHIT GOT SPOILERS
Like many others, I was treated to one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in a long time this past weekend when I went to see Get Out. A psychological thriller and the directorial debut of Key and Peele’s Jordan Peele, and surely the talk of the entertainment world at the moment.
The more I talk about it with others, especially black men, the more I ultimately learn about the film and the subject matter. That, to me, also speaks to the film’s genius and near perfection. Many think pieces have been written that essentially surmise that the point of the film is to wholly distrust white folks, which, I’d say, is a reach, but it definitely warns not to wholly (naively) trust them. The opening credits feature the song “Redbone” by Childish Gambino, in which the lyrics “stay woke” are repeated right before the film really gets going. And that is a key theme -- to say that even the nice liberal white folks are capable of sinister shit, whether they be fully aware of it or not, so STAY WOKE. Considering Peele’s background -- raised by a white mother and married to a white woman -- it’s hard to believe that this film is meant to call all white people the devil. Peele has stated that despite being bi-racial he identifies and experiences life in America as a black man. Ultimately, I think this film is about us -- black heterosexual men navigating America. There are few more extreme examples of maneuvering through a maze than going to meet your white girlfriend’s family, especially when you add the fact that that family is merely sizing you up to see if you have the right combination of physical and artistic prowess to make hijacking your mind and body worthwhile. I think we’re now dealing with a legit horror story; specifically in the artistic sensationalism of the subject matter—white people aren’t harvesting black folks for their minds and bodies in real life, at least I don’t think.
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It’s impossible to see Get Out and be numb to what’s going on in the film, whether it makes you angry, sad or laugh. It manages to live up to the hype regarding the film’s commentary on race relations and tackles deep-seated issues like identity crisis in both communities: black people’s own hypnotic desire to fit into white spaces, or in extreme cases be white, and white’s desire to explore the taboo of blackness, whether that's sexually, culturally, or athletically (I know I’m not the only one who’s heard of the extra bone in our legs). Despite this fact, it never feels preachy despite being blisteringly intelligent throughout -- both in theme and dialogue. The genius of the film is in its subtlety -- the meticulous details within all of the interactions. It’s real; too real. Eerily real. Some have been disappointed with the lack of jump-scare moments in this film, but what’s terrifying is that this is something that really happens; I mean, really happens. As a black man who’s had experiences venturing into mainly white spaces, the anxiety you feel as the film’s protagonist, Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) “meets the family” is very real and given the film’s turn, creepy as fuck! This film is an indictment on the dangers of passive whiteness, liberalism and “the new racism”. Yes, they’re no longer burning crosses on your front lawn, but now they perpetuate through psychological warfare and coded language, through the fetishizing of the black body, or at the astonishment of our ability to eloquently articulate a thought. To some, this new racism proves all the more sinister as it is still the same at its core, yet it operates under the guise of the friendly face, the hip white guy and the two-time Obama voters who would’ve voted a third time if they could. A scene from another film, Malcolm X comes to mind: a school teacher tells a young Malcolm X that he can’t be a lawyer because he’s black and that he should instead focus on carpentry, like Jesus. While I don’t believe all well-meaning white folks are secretly that person, I do think it’s a hilarious sub textual element of this film. And to be clear, that, for me, reads more as an inside joke for the film’s black viewers than a legitimate declaration of social warfare. The idea of the inside joke is something that made itself clear to me based on my theater experience seeing the film. Lines from the father of the girlfriend, Dean (played by Bradley Whitford) like, “I love experiencing other people’s cultures” or the brother Jeremy (played by Caleb Landry Jones) who says “with your genetic makeup, if you really pushed yourself you could be a beast”, were hilarious for pretty much the black viewers in the audience exclusively and because it was such a clever fucking queue as to who Dean and Jeremy really were and of what they really thought. If you’re a real life Dean or Jeremy it may have gone undetected, but for a real life black American, those phrases set off the same alarms that phrases like, “some of my best friends are black” set off, and that’s not done without intention. It reminds me very much of the recent SNL sketch “Election Night” that featured Dave Chappelle, in which Chappelle sarcastically asks “Oh, all the racists are in Kentucky?” to a room of white liberals -- they seemed to be oblivious to the jab, as were many of the white audience members in this theater. In the age of Trump and the reemergence of celebrating blatant bigotry, you should also take the white liberal with a grain of salt because, if forced to choose, they will still choose that same ol’ whiteness.
Where the film doesn’t exactly knock it out of the park I think, is the representation of a black woman’s perspective on this issue, because it’s important and probably more multi-layered. My immediate guess is that the closest women in Peele’s life aren’t black women, so it’s understandable that would be his blind spot. I am sure a black woman’s version of Get Out would’ve been very marketable, equally hilarious, and probably darker as well. Ultimately I don’t think the film is made with the black woman’s gaze in mind—which I think is problematic if done on purpose. I give Peele the benefit of the doubt, though, and that it’s done more so as a shortcoming and not a conscious decision. The one black woman depicted -- the house servant Georgina (played by Betty Gabriel)-- is never established beyond the revelation that she’s a former fling of Rose’s and that she's, in fact, Rose’s grandmother implanted into a black woman’s body—a possible symbolic of white feminism’s tendency toward the erasure of black women? Perhaps. I think the vagueness in of itself speaks to this being a blind spot for Peele since everything else is so meticulously laid out. As I’ve said before, this film is primarily focused on black men and is at least loosely a reflection of Peele’s inner thoughts, so I’m not really mad at him about it. But yeah, a weak spot.
Lastly, what must be addressed is the purporting by some wypipo that this film is racist. I'm laughing at you if you are one of those clowns. What’s most interesting about these critiques is that this film is unquestionably focusing on liberal white people, specifically. You know, the special snowflakes of America. If liberals can’t handle watching this to the point that they feel the need to claim victimhood, then maybe they truly are snowflakes. And a tip of the cap to Jordan Peele. If you’re a conservative who can’t recognize that Peele is making fun of the same people you’re making fun of, then I really don’t know what to tell you. But hey, you probably also thought a Trump presidency would be good for working class people. It also wouldn’t come as much surprise if those claiming the film to be racist are the same ones who suggest that there’s no excuse for black folks to do better, given that the Jim Crow days are over. Looks like they can recognize racism beyond the classic 1960’s footage after all. No classic racial tropes. No Klan members depicted. Not utterances of “niggER”. And yet the racism is still there. Interesting.