Director: Jordan Peele (USA, Japan). Year of Release: 2017
The suburbs, late at night. A black man is on his mobile phone explaining that he’s got terribly lost. He hangs up, and tries to pull up a map on the phone. As he’s doing this, a car pulls up, crawling behind him at a snail’s pace. “Run, Rabbit, Run” plays from the car stereo. The man turns round. He doesn’t feel like this sort of shit again. The music seems to get louder. Someone whacks the man on his head and bundles him into the car boot.
The opening credits roll.
Chris and Rose are packing. He’s getting ready to meet her family for the first time. He asks her “they do know I’m black,right?” That won’t be a problem, she answers. They’re NOT racist. My dad would have voted for Obama for a third time if he could, and I’m sure he’ll tell you that (later on, he does). As they’re driving upstate, there’s suddenly a big thud. They’ve hit a deer, which is now lying half-dead at the side of the road.
Rose calls the cops. One of the first things the cop does is ask Chris for his driving license. Chris calmly hands it over, while Rose gets increasingly irate. Why do the cops always behave like this with Black people, even when they’re just passengers? Eventually, they’re allowed to drive on, and arrive at the house of Rose’s parents (call us Dean and Missy). He’s a surgeon, she’s a psychologist, and the house is huge. The nearest people live the other side of the lake.
Dean is overly friendly, as if trying to prove that he has no problems talking to black people. He even uses phrases like “my man” and “thang”. He is slightly apologetic about the black servants, but they came to look after his parents and he couldn’t bear to let them go. Did he tell you that his father was beaten by Jesse Owens in the qualifying trials for the 1936 Olympics? Rose’s brother Jeremy is more forthright, saying that with his genetic make up, Chris should be a sportsman.
If Rose’s family are a mixture between unctuous and creepy, the servants are also slightly strange. They’re not quite Uncle Toms, but they are a little too polite to the boss. They’re not morons, but they don’t express much. They’re a little, well, odd. Get Out adeptly uses the horror trope of showing people to be slightly off, but not too much. Maybe you’re just misjudging them. Chris starts to think that Walter the handyman is being funny with him because he has a thing for Rose.
That week-end, there’s a big family party full of old, rich, white folks. There is one Asian-American – who effectively asks Chris if Black people have all the advantages now. There’s also a Black man, here with a woman twice his age. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognise him as being the man in the pre-credit scene. Chris’s exchanges with the rich white folk are full of microagressions. One marvels at Chris’s physical strength while a woman asks Rose if it’s true what they say about Black men.
Get Out was released when discussion about race in the US was at a crossroads. Black Lives Matter was highlighting institutional racism, and in particular police violence. At the same time, the recent election of Donald Trump was leading many white liberals to locate the problem, not with institutions, but with individuals. In particular with the obviously racist working class people who had voted for Trump. Get Out refuses to accept this simplistic narrative.
The racists in Get Out are well-educated. They went to the best schools, although their only interaction with Black people is with the people who work for them. For them racism is about exerting control. It’s not even always about the colour of someone’s skin. As someone says in the film, it doesn’t really matter if the people he exploits is black or white, they just happen to be black at the moment, maybe because more Black people have the powerlessness that he can exploit.
Get Out shows what it is like as a Black person to be in the company of people like this. There are countless scenes in which Chris is surrounded with people who believe that they are showing him how liberal they are but who are clearly to understand any of his life. These scenes are excruciating – as they should be. These people aren’t bigots as such. They just live in an environment that is so remote from that of a working class man that they are literally unable to empathise.
This is just the set up. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the rich white liberals are not just insensitive – they are also evil. Their apparent concern for Chris’s health – Missy insistently offers him hypnotherapy to help him stop smoking – is shown to be much more sinister than the smug patronising of a liberal who knows what’s good for you much better than you do yourself. These are people who see Chris as a product to be exploited.
Chris’s mate Rod has a wild theory about Black people being drugged and used as sex slaves. This theory, while ever so slightly mad, doesn’t end up being too wide off the mark. Get Out shows how, although slavery has been formally abolished in the USA, white people – specifically rich white people – are still able to profit from black people’s bodies. It is a righteous scream against this continuing oppression, nicely packaged in a horror film which is both scary and funny.