The subversive magic of Get Out

They say the best art is born from pain. If that’s the case, Get Out is the very best of art indeed. This genre-busting, myth-smashing, society-splitting movie nearly broke the internet when it dropped.

This ‘social horror’, ‘psychological thriller’, or ‘comedy-horror’- however you choose to see it – created a new type of film by both satirizing and made sinister everyday interactions that often go unnoticed. Technically, it’s a simple film about a young black man who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents. But peel back the layers and it’s a movie about racism that takes aim at white liberals, it’s a film about race where the blacks are the protagonists, and it’s a psychological thriller where everyday interactions are rendered sinister.

It’s also very good.

A rash of podcasts and articles came out to fete the work, which somehow transcended the genre of ‘horror’ to include commentary on society itself. Code Switch, For Colored Nerds, Another Round, Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood and other podcasts with African American hosts all devoted episodes to it, marveling at how it captured and satirized one aspect of the black experience that rarely gets attention.

Interviews with filmmaker Jordan Peele have revealed that the idea for Get Out was conceived during the Obama administration, when liberal whites were embracing the idea of a ‘postracial’ society and pronouncing racism dead. Obama’s election, it was believed, meant that Americans could hold hands and get along, and signified that the worst of times were behind us.

But for many African Americans, even back then, that wasn’t the case. Few believed that racism had disappeared on January 22, 2009, when Obama was inaugurated. Instead, many were frustrated that there was less energy and scope to deal with the real social and structural issues that remained in place. Whether small slights or institutional obstacles, many areas remained a challenge.

Get Out is also the first movie to directly take aim at white liberals- a group that historically had been given a cloak of social protection, due to harsher criticism routinely doled out to their more conservative counterparts. Seemingly off-the-hook, this seemed to make white liberals the authority on what is or isn’t racism, particularly if specific words or phrases were avoided. For many African Americans, this felt like they were being gaslighted: told that nothing was wrong when racial issues were everywhere.

I want to be clear: I don’t have an issue with white liberals. But I also don’t think that being a white liberal makes someone immune to casual racism, and Get Out does a great job of highlighting that difference. And what’s truly subversive about it from a Hollywood perspective is that Get Out refuses to apologize to white people or make the viewing experience more comfortable for them.

Specific areas of Get Out stand out as familiar experiences to many African Americans: Chris’s body is stroked and admired by a woman who later asks if ‘it’s better’. Chis is asked about ‘the Black experience’ in a group of mostly-white party guests. The Armitage family and their friends go out of their way to show off their knowledge – and love of – black celebrities and culture. Obama, Tiger Woods, and black slang is mentioned more than is necessary. Chris is objectified, fetishized, envied, and admired. And even, most ominously, sold off in a modern slave auction. The paradoxical feeling of being both conspicuous and unseen is one shared by many black Americans, particularly if they work in mostly-white environments.

What’s perhaps most revolutionary about Get Out is that it’s from the perspective of a black protagonist. We follow Chris’s sense of apprehension, of danger, of suspicion, and we’re aware that he is surrounded by people who look nothing like him. For Colored Nerds discussed the shock of being able to share the perspective of the protagonist in a race-based film, particularly a horror film. It’s a cliché that blacks always die first in horror movies, but Get Out makes the African American the hero, recognizing his right to life and his body as he fights to maintain control of it.

Jordan Peele may have created a new movie category. As a comedian, as a biracial man, and as a black man in an interracial marriage, he likely has a unique perspective on race in America. By shining a light on the parts of society that we may want to hide or deny in an effort to remake ourselves, he makes uncomfortable truths impossible to deny. Even if we’re having fun.

 

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