The critics are referring to “Get Out” as the modern day horror twist on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” But isn’t the horror in itself the idea that a young white woman would bring home her black boyfriend to meet the family? It may depend on your point of view. In the Variety podcast, “Playback with Kristopher Tapley”, even Jordan Peele, the writer-director of the film, is billing it that way. While there are definitely similar story elements between the Sidney Poitier classic and the new box office horror smash, is that the correct comparison?
The premise itself seems more like that of “The Wickerman”. In the case of “Get Out”, the Armitage family knows that the boyfriend is black and they prey on that. In actuality, the family has been planning and setting things in motion prior to the arrival of the main character, Chris. This has been set up since Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) began dating their daughter Rose (played by Allison Williams).
While the plot is pretty predictable from the trailer, Peele does an amazing job of getting us through the story with some very intense and eerie scenes. Coupled with a harrowing film score, this is a horror film that stays true to the classic elements of the genre, which makes it a great horror film.
Throughout the main character’s journey, the element of surprise is inevitable. We can’t quite put our fingers on the awkward interactions between Chris and the affluent white family, their friends, or the dead stares and aloofness of the few African-Americans that are in the area. The film’s social commentary on interactions between races cannot be escaped. This may be the film that presents the age-old issue in a more pleasant theatrical setting, even if it is a horror movie. But is that perhaps the real tragedy that Peele is trying to expose?
From the onset of the film we see Chris questioning Rose on whether or not she informed her family of his complexion. She assures him that race is not an issue and that he’s being paranoid. After all, her neurosurgeon father is a huge fan of Obama and would have voted for him for a third term if given the option. The love of Obama should definitely make Chris feel more comfortable as they head out into the boonies for the weekend.
Along the way, an unexpected accident involving a deer sets the tone for the relationship setup between Rose and Chris on racial matters. When the white police officer shows up at Rose’s request, he asks Chris for identification even though he wasn’t the driver. Chris, knowing how black men need to tread lightly when dealing with white authority figures, obliges, however Rose becomes defiant, questioning the officer’s actions. When they are back in the car, the “myth” about interactions between blacks and the police have become clear to Rose having now seen it firsthand. Chris has nothing to say. This is nothing new to him and he has been bred for this situation since his conception. This scene only sets the tone for the inevitable throughout the film.
Any situation where a significant other is meeting the family for the first time is going to produce anxiety. That anxiety and tension is only tripled, if not quadrupled, when it’s happening between races.
Finally arriving at the ritzy property, the first noticeable person is a black groundskeeper. As they drive by, he stares into the window at Chris. At no point does he bat an eyelash or produce a smile. But Chris should be able to relax, knowing that there is another person of color around, right? At least until he tries to interact with the other African-Americans later in the film. The Armitage family greets Chris with open arms, however, their sly comments and change in dialect when addressing Chris make for an uncomfortable situation. Remaining polite, Chris tries to laugh it off while Rose is visibly appalled by the behavior of her father (played by Bradley Whitfield). His constant “my man” rhetoric is shocking. She later apologizes to Chris and confirms his previous feelings about bringing home a black man were warranted. On the tour of the home, the father makes it a point to tap into black history by stating that his relative ran against Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympic Games. Would this fun fact have been mentioned if Chris were of another persuasion?
As the film goes on we see more race baiting between the Armitage’s, their friends and Chris. It includes Rose’s brother challenging Chris’ physicality to whites asking Chris at an annual gathering about the black perspective or his enviable strength and prowess. All the while, Chris grins and bears it, as most African-Americans do in these situations. Otherwise, a reaction could have you marked as hypersensitive, paranoid or, God forbid, angry.
A lot of critics seem to be comparing the film’s social themes with the post-Obama/Trump era and are wondering if this will bring about discussion. The reality is, white women have been bringing black men home for decades and vice-versa. These feelings and experiences are not new. Peele just brings it to the forefront in this film and flips it into a survivalist type of setting. But hasn’t it always been? Any situation where a significant other is meeting the family for the first time is going to produce anxiety. That anxiety and tension is only tripled, if not quadrupled, when it’s happening between races. One never knows what to expect and, thanks to Peele, we now have a worse-case scenario situation that may help facilitate these conversations.
This conversation doesn’t just occur in relationships, either. These themes can easily be seen in the corporate world. For some African-Americans, the routine of being the only one in a room is all too familiar. It’s become expected in those situations to get asked the “black” questions or to give the “black” opinion on a subject. Is it curiosity? Or do we just not have anything universal to talk about? The same goes for whites dealing with other cultures, but the tendency is to discuss black and white. However, the nonwhite groups undoubtedly are interchangeable.
Peele created a real setting, with real situations, and real reactions. Then he peppered in elements to amplify the horrific, which is brilliant, to say the least.
So what’s the message? Is Peele saying stay away from white people and not to trust them, as Preston Mitchum suggests in his The Root article, “’Get Out’ Proves that ‘Nice Racism’ and White Liberalism are Never to be Trusted”? It’s deeper than that. And the aforementioned is not a viable solution. The lyrics of the chorus in the opening song when we first meet the couple say it all: “But stay woke” (Donald Glover “Redbone”). It would be interesting to see if someone could identify the number of interracial couples that went to see this film and then see whose relationships were changed as a result of seeing it. I’m pretty sure I saw Tyrone and Becky leave the theater together, hand in hand, smiling. So I’m curious as to what the conversation was like on the way home. That, of course, is assuming there was a conversation at all.
Peele set out to make a horror movie and he achieves that. It just so happens that the basis of the story and setting are an affluent white community were the few African-Americans who are there are part of a takeover plot. The essence of a horror movie is that the setting is uncomfortable, and Peele achieves the desired effect. Everything else is left to the viewer’s interpretation. All of the incidents and interactions that happen are things that occur with African-Americans in these environments in real life. Peele created a real setting, with real situations, and real reactions. Then he peppered in elements to amplify the horrific, which is brilliant, to say the least.
The main idea in this movie is about the brainwashing of people, not just the black people, but also the white people and one random Asian at the Armitage party. For years, people have had ideas about other cultures based on what they’ve seen in the media or what they’ve been told. While some of the representations are no doubt accurate, there is an immediate need to stop the assumption that every person you encounter is like that. This is true of all cultures. If we’re ever going to get to a place where we can coexist, then the cards need to be laid out on the table and healthy discussion needs to occur.
Racism is a term that is often used very loosely. Sometimes, the better word to use is ignorance. That ignorance comes from being brainwashed, and we’ve all endured years of brainwashing. When it comes to real racism, Tourè said it best in his book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?
“If you move through the world expecting racism at every turn, you’ll lose ― carrying around a shield like that would spend tremendous spiritual energy and would more often cut you off from positive interactions than protect you from destructive ones.”
In order to progress, it is imperative that everyone change their mentality. Otherwise, collectively, we will never win.