ARTICLE / LONG READ
GET OUT (Jordan Peele 2017) is about a young black man who goes to the
house of his white girlfriend's parents for the weekend. At first, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) reads the family's overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter Rose's (Allison Williams) interracial relationship. But, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly alarming discoveries lead him to a horrifying struggle for survival. This struggle sets up the premise of a sick fantasy whereby the rich upper-class white characters literally want to become black.
Following its Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy, Peele tweeted in response that “GET OUT is a documentary”. The tweet invited widespread discussion. If we were to take Peele’s statement literally, he would be wrong. Metaphorically, however, Peele might have been onto something. A documentary is a type of genre that documents the real world and real people with a film camera. GET OUT does engage with a lot of realistic themes and includes scenes about race that provoke issues in the real world.
One scene involves a cop who pulls over Chris and Rose and asks to see Chris’s ID, inspite of him not driving the car. This type of systematic abuse and racism from the law is common in the United States, especially towards black people in America. As a Vanity Fair article published in 2016 notes: “In San Francisco, ‘although Black people accounted for less than 15 percent of all stops in 2015, they accounted for over 42 percent of all non-consent searches following stops’. This proved unwarranted: ‘Of all people searched without consent, Black and Hispanic people had the lowest ‘hit rates’ (i.e. the lowest rate of contraband recovered)”. It could be argued that because the unjust scene is common in real life and happens day to day, it could be seen as a
recreation of real life.
Documentaries only scrape the surface of real life. In DOCUMENTARY FILM: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION, media scholar Patricia Aufderheide describes documentaries as “portraits of real life, using real life as their raw material”. GET OUT represents a portrait of the real world, through a political scope, paralleling the unjust treatment many black people face on a daily basis. GET OUT comments on societal issues with its use of the representation of racism.
In AN INFINITY OF INTERPRETATIONS: A BIT OF SOCIAL COMMENTARY ON AND A PHILOSOPHICAL EXAMINATION OF LIFE IN THESE TIMES, author Ronald E Kimmons believes that “social commentary can be written for the purpose of social change or it can be written for the purpose of conversation”. By using the horror genre to explain the struggles that black people face with racism in America, social commentary parallels contemporary fears and issues to construct a believable story in filmmaking, making horror films feel scarier.
GET OUT REPRESENTS A PORTRAIT OF THE REAL WORLD, PARALLELING THE UNJUST TREATMENT MANY BLACK PEOPLE FACE ON A DAILY BASIS.
This is apparent with issues such as disease outbreaks in the late 2000s, with zombie films such as THE CRAZIES (Breck Eisner 2010) and television shows like THE WALKING DEAD (Fox 2010-) emerging from real-world issues such as Ebola and influenza. IN HORROR NOIRE: BLACKS IN AMERICAN HORROR FILMS FROM THE 1890S TO PRESENT, media ecologist Robin R Means Coleman suggests that the zombie film LAND OF THE DEAD (George A Romero 2005) is filled with social commentary, noting that the film’s “social commentary is all about boundaries - corporation vs public, rich vs poor, insiders vs outsiders”. This demonstrates that horror films embrace social commentary and issues to tell a story within its genre.
In an interview for PBS NewsHour in 2017, Jordan Peele said that “for me the social thriller is the thriller in which the fears and the horrors and the thrills are coming from society, they are coming from the way in which humans interact”. He suggested that the social thriller emulates the fears of society in a way that depicts the evil that permeates humanity, through the many conflicts that we create as a species. Peele visualises this on screen with the way that white characters interact with Chris, by defining his character purely on his race, rather than his personal identity.
It could be said that GET OUT is an out-and out horror with good reason because it does employ typical horror conventions. As author Bruce F Kawin expresses in HORROR AND THE HORROR FILM, “horror can be filled with violence, cruelty and gore [...] It can present a dark beauty or sick fantasy”. GET OUT delivers on all the points Kawin explains.
Rose's family, the Armitages, are quite elusive in when it comes to representation, especially their ideologies. Her parents are depicted as middle-class cultural liberals and do not have a problem with their daughter dating a black man. However, they constantly bring up black culture around Chris to try and justify that they are not racist: “I would have voted for Obama for a third term”, says Rose’s father, unprompted. This overt and explicit acceptance of all things black only makes Chris feel more alienated. As the film enters its third act, a racist ideology becomes more blatant, particularly from the family's party guests. Chris gets auctioned off by the Armitages and is bought by Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a blind man who refuses to believe that he is racist by buying him. Because he does not share the same typical racist views as the others - he tells Chris: “I couldn't give a shit what colour you are” - Jim believes his actions are justified. This could be seen as an extreme version of liberal racism, however. Jim may only want Chris for his eyes, it does not ignore the fact he is praying upon someone from a less privileged position.
THE SOCIAL THRILLER EMULATES THE FEARS OF SOCIETY IN A WAY THAT DEPICTS THE EVIL THAT PERMEATES HUMANITY.
Negative stereotypes surround black people in the United States. They are often seen as thugs, gangsters and uneducated, all of which Chris worries Rose’s parents will think of him. Chris may have this attitude towards his own race because of how unjust the media is about black people. In THE BLACK IMAGE IN THE WHITE MIND, media and public affairs scholar, Robert M Entman clarifies the bias in the media: “Racial representation on television actually does not appear to match crime statistics, with local news over-representating black perpetrators, underrepresenting black victims”. Chris's concerns suggest that because black people are frequently associated with crime in the news, he has a bad image. The film actively breaks this stereotype by making Chris not follow any of the traits as he is just a regular guy who happens to be an awardwinning photographer.
GET OUT comments on the prevalence of nonovert, casual racism. This is evident when Chris meets an older white couple at a party and the man talks about golf, but tries to relate to Chris by saying, “I do know Tiger”, in reference to Tiger Woods and assuming Chris knows every black person. The subtlety of racism increases when an older woman goes to feel Chris’s muscles, assuming that he is strong. She says to him, “Is it true, is it better?” referring to his sexual attributes, another racial stereotype. Earlier in the film, Chris has dinner with Rose’s family and Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) brings up Chris’s physical attributes: “With your frame and genetic makeup, if you really pushed your body, I mean really trained, you know, no pussy-footing around, you would be a fucking beast”. Jeremy assumes Chris can become a great fighter because of his genetics alone.
This could be seen as Jeremy not seeing Chris as a person but more as an animal by using the term, “beast”. An insult disguised as a compliment and a clear form of liberal racism. According to author and journalist Jim Sleeper in his book LIBERAL RACISM: HOW FIXATING ON RACE SUBVERTS THE AMERICAN DREAM, “liberal racism patronizes non-whites by expecting (and getting) less of them then they are fully capable of achieving”. Jeremy is in a position of power and although he is apparently complimenting Chris, he only sees him for one thing - a fighter - disregarding any other attributes he may have as an individual
NEGROPHILIA IS LESS A WAY OF UNDERSTANDING BLACK PEOPLE THAN IT IS ABOUT USING BLACK CULTURE FOR ONESELF.