“As long as I’m in Polo’s smilin’ they think they got me
But they would try to crack me if they ever see a black me”
-Kanye West (Gorgeous)
Around the time Barack Obama became the first black president in the United States, the term “Obama’s post-racial America” began to get thrown around. I found it unsettling at the time because it was the kind of term people throw around who are the last kind of people who should be making the observation of whether or not America is post-racial.
By Obama’s second term it was clear that anyone who thought America was post-racial was sourly mistaken as the nation dealt with the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, and finally the racially charged rhetoric of Trump in the 2016 election. And yet if anyone would actually take the time to sit down with a minority, especially a black man, would find that racism is alive and well.
Jordan Peele’s writer/director debut Get Out is a look into the terrifying modern reality of black men in America. Jordan is actually married to white actress Chelsea Peretti and his firsthand experience certainly has to inform the similar situation of the two lead characters of Get Out and it sounds as if many of these circumstances and situations of the film are based in real feelings and experiences of navigating subconscious racial tensions.
African American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is dating the white Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) who decides to take him to meet her family in suburbia America. Chris tells her he’s worried about the race difference but Rose thinks he is being paranoid. But soon he finds his paranoia might be more than that when the white family and friends become increasingly creepy towards him.
At first Chris’s interaction with the family is filled with the awkward stuff: comments about sports and name-dropping notable black people. Here Jordan Peele slowly peels back the layers of thinly veiled racism of the progressive white American. There’s a strong sense in which the black person must simply endure the displays by the progressive white American to demonstrate how not racist they are by constantly mentioning race. And yet by constantly viewing the black person as black first and foremost, racism rears its ugly head.
And yet the black man is still seen as something exotic and as a body to be fetishized. Chris is asked about his prowess at sports, often as an icebreaker as if the main feature of any black man is his physical strength, a stereotype steeped in centuries of black men being enslaved and used for manual labor.
Even more than that, the black body is seen as something sexually desirable. One women is so bold as to ask Rose if it’s true what they say about black men. All these comments see Chris as nothing more than a body to perform and less of a person with thought, desires, and interests.
It’s the other black people Chris meets that give him a sense that there is something deeply sick about this community. Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) are the servants for the Armitage family and they are creepily happy and servile. These other blacks in the community represent the ideal black person in the eyes of the racist white American. This is the good negro, the one that aids the white man and is seen as a valuable member of the community in part because the good negro does not challenge or question the authority of the white establishment.
In contrast, Chris is notable as a person for his work as a photographer. His work depicts images that are often dark and challenging, confrontational to the viewer and uneasy to look at. His art becomes an expression for a reality and experience that is unsettling to the white establishment, which mirrors how Get Out functions in a predominantly white culture.
Like great fiction, Get Out is a lie that tells the truth. Every exaggeration, every tall tale exposes yet another layer of the depths of racism against blacks in America. The real lie was talks of a post-racial America and the truth is the horrifying racism that still lurks in the hearts of well-meaning people. And that is the mark of a great horror film, one that unleashes the horrors of truth and exposes the evil within and around us.
© James Blake Ewing 2017