I am definitely not a horror movie fan, so even after hearing so much praise for “Get Out,” it took me a long time to actually watch it. The film was written, produced, and directed by comedian Jordan Peele, and it’s a big step away from his usual work, namely the Comedy Central series, “Key & Peele,” which he is known for. However the film still manages to incorporate comedy, and it is centered around a topic that Peele has always cared about: racism in the United States. Labeled a “social thriller” by Peele himself, the film follows a young black man, Chris, who is going to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.
This is not a movie that is “just for black people,” though it does point out a lot of the modern-day prejudices that black people face in our country (and in Britain, Samuel L. Jackson). It’s a reminder to all of those who don’t have to experience it in real life that while yes, slavery has ended, racism has not.
If you don’t mind spoilers, read on about 5 important issues the film addresses (or watch the trailer here):
1) Black fetishization is not a compliment:
The weekend of Chris’s visit to his girlfriend, Rose’s, family coincides with their annual get together, where dozens of well-off white people gather. The main event turns out to be ogling Chris. Things that people might try to pass off as compliments make Chris deeply uncomfortable throughout the weekend. Comments like “Nowadays, black is in style,” or lewd remarks about a black person’s body is not a compliment. It is at the very least slightly creepy and at most, a gross ignorance and perpetuation of the prejudices against black people in the U.S. For people who have never experienced this type of treatment, it is easy to pass off as nothing, but seeing it through Chris’s eyes allows the entire audience to get a glimpse at something that is a daily occurrence for people of color.
2) Black people are the victims of violence, not the perpetrators:
As it turns out, the party is not merely for catching up; the true purpose is to bid on Chris. The winner gets their brain transplanted into Chris’s body, which has already been done with countless other black friends and boyfriends that Rose has brought home. So behind all the niceties and “I voted for Obama”‘s, they were plotting Chris’s kidnapping and murder the whole time.
In this film, Chris is neither a villain or predator, not even a quickly killed-off side character or comedic relief. It is actually his story of true (albeit exaggerated) fears that are centered in the present-day reality for black people in our country.
3) Not all of the people bidding on Chris were white:
In fact, one of them was a wealthy Asian American man. Though the inclusion of Asian perspectives within the diversity conversation is a very important topic, that is not the purpose of this movie. I will always fight for positive representation for Asian Americans on-screen, but there is also something to be said about our own complacency and involvement within a country and system that oppresses black Americans. I know that my experience as an Asian American woman is not the same as Chris’s, and it’s important that I can acknowledge that and try to see things from perspectives other than my own.
Alongside that, it is also an important reminder that race and wealth intersect to shape our privilege, the way people treat us, and the way we treat others. Wealth can’t erase racial prejudices, but it can add a layer of privilege, which can be seen in the actions of the Asian man in “Get Out.”
(It’s also important to note that while this portrayal wasn’t necessarily positive, there were no offensive Asian stereotypes used, which is more than most films can say.)
4) Police brutality:
Major spoiler: Chris manages to escape before having someone else’s brain put into him. However, Rose hunts him down and tries to kill him. Chris manages to pin her down, and as he is strangling her, she all of a sudden breaks out into a sadistic smile. A police car pulls up, Rose feigns fear, and Chris gets up with his hands raised. The whole theater gasped in anticipation, knowing that after surviving so much, Chris was at best, going to be locked up for life, or at worst, going to be killed by the officer about to step out of the car.
Luckily, the person in the police car ended up being Chris’s best friend who was there to save him, but for a moment, the whole theater was able to experience just a fraction of the fear that black people must face in their interactions with the police.
5) Your identity is shaped by your surroundings:
After seeing the movie, a friend expressed disappointment that Rose ended up being such a flat character, instead of going against her parents and saving Chris. From my perspective, it wouldn’t make any sense for her to change her views. This is not to say that people can’t change or choose a path different from how they were raised, but it does require work and conscious effort. Rose doesn’t know anything beyond her own upbringing, where she was taught to see black people as bodies to use for her own benefit. Even when she was getting her numerous black boyfriends to fall in love with her, she was faking any empathy for their experiences, so she lost any opportunity to actually understand them. Rose would never have been able to diverge from her family’s beliefs until she began to see the black people that they were using as actual human beings and not unwitting bodies for the taking. And she would have been unlikely to ever humanize them because her perceived superiority benefited her. She was allowed to continue on without any guilt, forgoing any personal responsibility to do the work to become human herself.
This is a strong reminder to people that while it can be extremely hard to see the world from other people’s perspectives and give up your own power so that others may be treated equally, it is a necessary component of our own humanity to acknowledge other human beings.