Get Out and the Importance of Addressing Contemporary Racism

Now that I have had the opportunity to see Get Out a few times, I feel better equipped to write about it. I will begin by saying that everyone should see this film. (Watch the trailer.) It is an incredibly important commentary on contemporary racism in the United States and it does this through wit, compassion, humor, and a refusal to look away. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, likely best known for his comedy work on Key and Peele, Get Out is a horror film that taps into the psychological thriller/horror genre traditions but does so with some blurring into the realm of comedy. Peele worked with the horror juggernaut Blumhouse Productions. The performances of the actors are truly sublime, especially Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington (our protagonist), Betty Gabriel as Georgina, Lakeith Standfield as Andrew Logan King, and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery as Rod Williams. Get Out has exceeded the $100 million mark, which is brilliant given its production budget was $5 million. This film has had me thinking about it from the first trailer I saw and now having seen it a few times I’m thinking about it even more.

I do want to address the folks who are insisting that this film is a thriller, which is in part the distribution company’s marketing choices (I’m looking at you Universal). But this is largely because there is such a denigration and dismissal of the horror genre as a whole. This is my soapbox moment as a horror scholar, yes. Horror films are not all torture porn and gruesome deaths—though there is nothing wrong with those horror films, I know they aren’t for everyone. Horror films are complex and diverse group of genre traditions that disrupts the everyday and are recognizable as “horrifying” and relying upon physical and emotional violence (see the scholarship of Robin Means-Coleman, Kendall Phillips, and Isabel Pinedo). Additionally, the horror genre has a long history of being subversive and addressing social issues, calling attention to a myriad of cultural problems including racism and sexism.  So I’ll say even if you don’t like horror films, please give this film a chance and please don’t re-genre it as a thriller when you do.

If you have not seen this film, I implore you to go see it and to stop reading this post right now because I’m going to talk plot pieces and I don’t want to spoil the film.

Again…stop reading if you haven’t seen it because spoilers are coming.

One of the key features of the film’s address of contemporary racism is the way Rose (Allison Williams) continually dismisses and deflects Chris’s (Daniel Kaluuya) concerns about race and their interracial relationship. Rose speaks for Chris and places him in danger through her actions when they are interacting with a white police officer without realizing the potential for harm that her behavior establishes. She refuses to listen to his concerns about her family’s reaction to his race because her family can’t possibly be racist…they’re liberals for goodness sake…they voted for Obama and would have done so for “a third time.” I have heard people say this statement (along with I date Black people or I have a Black friend) to disavow the racism and microaggressions they are perpetuating. Rose is the epitome of the white feminist, who refuses to see the need for intersectionality or the long-term issues with racism in the feminist movement. Aisha Harris keenly points out how dangerous white womanhood continues to be in her piece “The Most Terrifying Villain in Get Out is White Womanhood.”

Get Out addresses the insidiousness of liberal racism, specifically the ways in which white liberal folks have created self-replicating racist systems that shut Black folks out of them all while espousing supposedly calls for equality. In Get Out, this takes the form of rich white people literally stealing the bodies of Black people, which the white folks seem to believe is some sort of compliment about the physical superiority of the Black body. It is Hudson wanting to co-opt Chris Black gaze (his photography skills and his “eye” for reality in his art) and supplant his white sensibility and gaze for Chris’s racialized vision (by the nature of his existence as a Black man). This enslavement of the Black body also demonstrates the way in which slavery also crushes the spirit of the individual, living in the “Sunken Place” of degradation and invisibility. In his piece “Why Get Out Is the Best Movie Ever Made about Slavery,” Steven Thrasher writes, “It shows the intimate ways whiteness uses—indeed, the ways in which whiteness needs to use and use up—Black bodies for its continued existence.”

Throughout the film, Peele uses super-focused close up shots of Black faces (only Black faces). Often, in these shots, the faces are off-center in the frame and set at angles to the lens but these extreme close ups of these Black faces center the experiences of the Black folks in the film. One of the moments I was most struck by in this film is the moment Missy (Catherine Keener) hypnotizes Chris, and he is paralyzed (See below). In this moment in Missy’s study, Peele uses this close up on Chris frozen face to emphasize Chris’s humanity and Missy’s monstrosity. The only movement in the frame comes from the tears streaking down Chris’s cheeks, his eyes and mouth frozen open in fear. This is a classic horror film tactic to show terror but also the horrific nature of the monsters our hero is facing…the monster in this moment is the white woman wielding her power and training as a therapist as a weapon. Chris’s face is so compelling and Peele’s emphasis on Chris’s horror while discovering that he was right to be concerned about this visit to Rose’s family. Missy’s monstrosity, her villain status, is established while our audience identification with Chris is solidified.

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Get Out is an amazing film that reifies our need to identify and dismantle the insidious nature of contemporary racism—racism that pretends it no longer exists and/or is a “conservative” and “rural” issue. It reminds us that we live in a racist culture that white folks have a responsibility to admit, address, and disassemble. Moreover, it’s a spectacular horror film that is creepy and atmospheric.

I would encourage folks to check out the following pieces if you’re interested in reading more about this film: Graveyard Shift Sisters’ “Get Out: Crafting a Masterpiece from the Horror of Racism,” B. Willis’s “The Most Overlooked and Underrated Characters in ‘Get Out’ Are Black Women,” and Bilge Ebiri’s “Critic’s Notebook: Why ‘Get Out’ and ‘Moonlight’ Are Breakthroughs in Black Filmmaking.” Also check out the Girl’s Will Be Ghouls review of the film in Episode 23 of their podcast.

3 thoughts on “Get Out and the Importance of Addressing Contemporary Racism

  1. jsebastian

    Great article, Amanda. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! Would you be interested in joining our little FB horror group and sharing this there as well?

    Reply

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