It took me a while to finally watch Get Out. When it was released in February, I was still in the throes of “graduate student life,” and on the verge of finals week. Thankfully, I have plenty of time of my hands now!
The directorial debut of Jordan Peele was the breakout hit of the year. Usually, February is considered the dead period for films, this time Logan and Get Out filled that void, with Get Out grossing $254.3 mill, on a $4.5 mill budget. That kind of return doesn’t happen on accident. Get Out is one of the best films of the year because Peele vocalized a truism, being black in America is like a horror film.
The film opens with a lost black man, who we later find out is Andre Hayworth (Lakeith Stanfield), walking in an affluent neighborhood. A car slowly pulls alongside of him. He decides to turn around saying, “Not today. Not me.” The scene is funny in itself, playing against a horror motif (the hunted person not continuing in the same direction). However, it’s also autobiographical. Walking in an affluent neighborhood, as a black person, you’re always aware that you’re an outsider. Some of the signs of not being welcomed are subtle, the need to cross the street because you know the white person you’re walking behind may be startled, the need to quickly walk ahead of the person you’re behind because even in broad daylight you’ll get the multiple look behinds, the cop car that seems to circle around to you multiple times, or the avoidance of looking at slow rolling cars.
Later, we transition to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer who has a white girlfriend, named Rose (Allison Williams). Chris has been invited to meet Rose’s parents and one of the first things he asks is, “Do they know I’m black?” This line of questioning leads to some funny back-and-forth, Peele excels at these small one-liners, but there is a grain of truth. Every single time I dated someone who wasn’t African American, my father would ask me if her parents knew I was black. Some may scoff at this question, but it is an important one. I’ve been in situations where I knew I wasn’t welcomed by the family for very obvious reasons. On the other hand, Chris is welcomed with opened arms to Rose’s family, including Rose’s dad (Bradley Whitford) stating, “I would have voted for Obama for a third term.”
Mostly, Get Out is filled with awkward conversations between whites and blacks. Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), wants to know what kind of family Chris comes from, Rose’s father can’t stop saying, “My man,” Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) comments on Chris’s genetic make-up and fighting physique. This also extends to ‘the gathering,’ a get-together the Armitages hold. The white guests asks Chris what it’s like to be black in America, comment on how strong he is, and ask whether sex is better with black men. All of these interactions seem funny and weird because they’re actually quite familiar. It’s not difficult to imagine people being racially tone deaf because we see it every day. The talent of Peele is his ability to play on stereotypes and truisms, to demonstrate the parts of race we rarely want to admit to ourselves, not only to comedic effect, but towards fear. Asking if sex is better with black men seems innocuous because it is, until it’s not.
The cast is rounded out, first by Rod Williams (Lil Rey Howery), Chris’s loud, funny, and intelligent black friend, who’s meant to represent the audience’s concerns, then by Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the Armitages’ black maid, and finally, by Walter (Marcus Henderson), the Armitages’ black groundskeeper. Great movies are usually taken to another level by a phenomenal supporting casts.
Gabriel and Henderson represent the first signs of trouble, playing on the stereotype of the passive aggressive Uncle Tom dutifully serving their white counterpart. We realize something’s wrong because their performances are so heavy handed and brilliant. Meanwhile, Howery’s turn as the obnoxious friend spouting out stereotypes and truisms of being black in America is at first taken as a silly character. Howery’s character is very much another truism. That is, of people who point out discrepancies in treatment between races being regarded as ‘silly’ or ‘overly dramatic.’
Everything in Get Out seems innocuous on first blush, everything, especially when Rose’s mom wants to use hypnosis to cure Chris of his smoking habit. But that’s the key to Get Out, the innocuousness of it. The only fault that could happen when viewing it is thinking that if the bad things that did occur didn’t take place, then it wouldn’t be so scary. However, the silly stereotypes on their own double as horror. To every bit of laughter, there’s a little bit of fear hidden underneath. A black guy using a funny one liner about a car following behind him is funny, until you realize that happens every day (the car following behind, not the one liner). Talking about black people automatically being better at sports is funny, until you realize that those perceived traits date back to slavery.
As previously mentioned, at one point, Chris is asked to explain the black experience in America. Rather than answer, he finds another black person in the crowd to explain. The person he finds articulates the experience with the answer that white people “want” to hear, being black in America is a fine experience with very little inhibitions. Peele giving this explanation through an obviously faulty source says that the answer is quite the opposite. Being black in America is often like being in a horror film.
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Photo Credit: IMDb