Swooping in on the wave of increased awareness about black lives and issues following this year’s Oscars, comes the chilling and deeply disturbing horror/comedy Get Out. The film follows the story of Chris, an unsuspecting young black man who goes to visit his girlfriend’s parents’ home in the woods, only to find himself trapped in a living nightmare. The brilliance of Get Out lies in its ability to portray different facets to racism which are visible in society, but not quite as noticeable as hate speech and violence.
Rose, Chris’s girlfriend, constantly tries to put him at ease about the visit, promising that her “family are not racist”. Yet when the couple arrive at the grand Armitage house, the family’s awkward attempts to express their admiration for black people to Chris spreads a sense of unease which is heightened by the strange robotic behavior of the household’s servants, Georgina and Walter – the only two black people in the household. As various reviewers have commented, Get Out represents the racial tensions in a post-racial liberal society: the Armitages allegedly “love” black people, but the exact path this “love” takes is beyond horrifying.
As shown during the party sequence, the liberal guests have no real respect for black people, as evidenced by their inability to treat Chris as a man, as opposed to a “black man”. Instead, their version of liberal tolerance is displayed as a disturbing fetishization of the black body. From their admiration of his physical strength (as Jeremy tells him, with his genetic make-up he could be a “fucking beast”), to their assumptions about his sexual potency, the guests make it clear that, while they may worship the black body, they have no interest in the black mind. Although Chris is an artist, a photographer who has made a name for himself, even the blind gallery owner doesn’t see Chris as a creative mind, but rather as an “eye”, yet another coveted body part of his. Everybody seems to be sizing Chris up as though he were a prize cow, a beautiful animal as opposed to a human being, creating an ominous parallel between him and the dead deer at the beginning of the film.
… their version of liberal tolerance is displayed as a disturbing fetishization of the black body. From their admiration of his physical strength, to their assumptions about his sexual potency, the guests make it clear that, while they may worship the black body, they have no interest in the black mind.
All of these sinister hints are brought to their climax when Chris finds himself tied up in the Armitage’s basement, where a video conference with the gallery owner finally brings to light what is happening in the house: black bodies are being “repurposed” by means of a brain transplant, to be populated by white minds. Suddenly, the guests’ obsession with Chris’s body becomes horribly clear: like cattle at a market, he was on display for the highest bidder to enslave. Except that this slavery holds no hope – no escape. With only very brief and limited control of their bodies, previous victims of Armitage’s operation are shadows – echoes of themselves stuck in a corner of their own minds.
The Armitages, really the ring-leaders of a cult-like organization, believe that black people need to be controlled in order to contribute to society, much like slave owners of the past. At the initial family dinner, Jeremy insensitively asks Chris if he has ever been in a street fight, perpetuating the stereotype that young black men must have been involved in violence at some point in their lives and that perhaps this is their only purpose. When Armitage asks Chris “what is your purpose in life”, he is directly linking Chris with these violent, hooligan stereotypes. As Chris sits tied up, looking at the stag’s head mounted on an opposite wall, we recall the eerie parallel between the dead deer and Chris – Armitage essentially views both as pests which should be destroyed.
He goes as far as to believe that what he is doing is good and right, because he is helping people he sees as useless to repurpose their physical and genetic advantages in service of “something bigger”. Ironically, it is the family’s very ignorance of Chris’s intellect that enables him to escape, as he uses exactly what they never counted on – his wits and creative thinking – to free himself. In spite of Chris’s escape, however, it is difficult to view Get Out as a film with a “happy ending”, given the number of previous victims who will potentially be forever trapped under white control in “The Sunken Place”.
Jordan Peele, the director of Get Out, has tweeted explaining that “The Sunken Place” represents marginalization: “No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us”. Thus, even when Chris’s friend Rod goes to the police to seek help with rescuing Chris, his story is met with disbelief by people – even people of colour – who have faith in a system which protects white people and ignores black pleas for help.
The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.
— Jordan Peele (@JordanPeele) March 17, 2017
There is a breathless moment in the final scene, where a blood-soaked Chris stands over the dying Rose as a police car screeches to a stop in front of them. In a country infamous for police brutality towards its black population, the sight of a black man standing over a dying white women rightly makes us fear that, in spite of everything he has gone through, Chris’s struggle is far from over. Although the driver turns out to be Rod, Peele cleverly highlights the danger of being a black person in a justice system which has a record of choosing the white narrative as truth.
Peele’s biting social commentary in this film serves as a reminder that, even in a post-Obama society, black people live in fear in a system which is only too happy to exploit them, but reluctant to listen to them. Through a combination of everyday incidents (such as the policeman on the road), and the horror of the Armitage’s seemingly welcoming home, Peele shows us that racism is far from “solved” – in many ways it has only changed and developed, hiding behind an ignorant comment by a smiling face.