Black cinema is in the midst of a revival, with black writers and directors creating stories that are reflective of the black experience. The latest of such films is Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated horror/comedy Get Out. The film received 100 percent positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, which is a rare occurrence. According to the LA Times Get Out also topped the box office with $30.5 million in ticket sales.
Get Out was actually one of the previews that played before Moonlight, and I was instantly intrigued by the premise. The quick version of the plot is that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s parents for the first time. Chris is understandably apprehensive, as we all tend to be when meeting our SO’s parents for the first time. Another layer of anxiety is added to this already tense situation when Chris learns that Rose has not revealed to her parents that he is black. Again, these are all pretty mundane fears that any of us would have. Upon arriving at the house, Chris almost instantly senses that something isn’t quite right with this white family. He quickly learns that his suspicions are more than accurate.
Truth be told, I have never really been one for scary movies, especially the kinds that can actually happen, or that will make me afraid to live alone. For example, I can handle Nightmare on Elm Street far better than I can handle Saw or Final Destination. Because of my aversion to the genre, I never realized how underrepresented black people are in horror films, rather I knew, but didn’t understand the social implications of it, or the ways in which it reflects what white America thinks of black men. What makes Get Out special is that it shits on the trope of the random black dude in the scary movie. As writer Frederick McKindra put it in his well written Buzzfeed piece, “Get Out and the Purge franchise finally make black men the protagonists of horror films and center their real-life terror of living in suburban America.” He goes on to say that for the first time we get to see a fully developed black character be scared, instead of scary. Dude. That floored me, because I never realized the truth in that. Because black men are viewed to be so dangerous IRL, a fully developed black character is rarely afforded the opportunity to die in a way that matters. The black character typically has such an arbitrary role to begin with, so when they are randomly killed off, it never means much when they die in the grand scheme of the film. Likewise because black skin has been weaponized in real life, black victims are rarely ever actually seen as victims. It is always presumed that we are somehow responsible for our pain, or even our death. Think back to the many senseless deaths of young black men that we’ve seen, and white America’s initial reaction was to victim blame. It is interesting (to say the least) that even in horror films wherein there are fantastical monsters and creatures, it is still so very unlikely that a black character can be a multi dimensional person, thus a real victim with real implications in the plot. That is the beauty in Chris’ character. He gets to be the focus of the film, and thus a real victim.
The films’s director, Jordan Peele said he wanted to make a movie viewers would need to see twice. Whether he did that as a matter of artistic merit, or just to lure people into purchasing a second ticket, dammit he succeeded. After seeing the movie, my friends and I sat a restaurant for literal hours dissecting the many talking points, and highlighting the things we noticed that we couldn’t discuss in the theater. I really have to go back to see the movie for a second time, because I just know there’s something I missed. In the meantime, here are 15 things I peeped during and after viewing one. There are spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, stop right here, and come back later.
- Chris used the cotton stuffing in the arm of the chair he was strapped to, to plug his ears so that he wouldn’t be subdued into the final stages of the transformation. This is notable given the role that cotton picking played in the enslavement of black people. His arms and feet were bound, much like a slave would be shackled, and cotton ended up saving his life. The irony there is just awe inducing.
- Upon arriving at the Armitage’s house, Rose and Chris share with Rose’s parents that they’d hit a deer. This prompts Rose’s father Dean to talk about how deer need to be eradicated, because of how they are ruining the ecosystem. This is coded language for how he actually feels about black people, and the need to control their role in the ecosystem. It is also important to note that when going to the “sunken place” Chris was much like a deer in headlights during hypnosis as he was paralyzed, and unable to do anything to save himself. The irony is that he ended up using the antlers of a taxidermied deer to kill Dean.
- After Rose and Chris hit the deer that seems to come out of nowhere, Chris is compelled to go find it, and see if it’s okay. We later find out that this is because Chris feels that he abandoned his mother when she was struck by a car, and ultimately died. He feels a deep sense of guilt that he is the cause of her eventual death, because he thinks he could’ve somehow come to her rescue. This is also why he went back to save Georgina after accidentally hitting her with his car.
- Dean reveals very early the source of the family’s hatred towards black men during the tour of the house. It stems from his father losing to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Nazi Germany. Jesse Owens’ victory was a clear challenge to Hitler’s belief that German “Aryan” people were the superior race. Dean’s father clearly felt overshadowed by this physical and political victory, spawning an extreme sense of jealousy and hatred for black men’s physical ability. We later see in the video Chris is forced to watch that Dean’s father was the mastermind behind the whole transformation process.
- Chris uses a ball to subdue Jeremy, thus escaping that room, and the next phase of transformation. Often times black men are taught that the only way to escape a bad environment is through physical prowess, by excelling as an athlete. In this case, a ball actually did save a black man’s life.
- While Chris is in the basement of the home presumably undergoing the torturous transformation he’s been lured there for, Rose is casually listening to (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, and looking up NCAA top prospects on her tablet. Her physical posture shows her indifference, yet the song reflects that she is very much pleased with her actions both previous and current. This not only shows how white women can be complicit in crimes against black people (this past election for example) but also that the family only saw the value in the physical capabilities of black bodies. This is an overriding theme in the premise of the movie in that there is no value placed on the minds of the black men chosen, only the physical or artistic talents (Chris was a photographer, Andre was a jazz musician). However, the quick thinking of both Chris and his only friend in the movie are what ultimately save them.
- The trigger for Chris’ hypnosis was the tapping of a teaspoon on a tea cup, a very subtle means to a horrific end. Often times acts of racism are very subtle, and there is a feeling of paranoia when you notice them, and even more so if you call them out. However, you know what it is when you see it. This is why the lead actor Daniel Kaluuya likens racism to being in a real life horror film in his interview with Vulture. There is an assumed paranoia associated with accusations of racism. The same paranoia that the lead characters in most horror films experience when they try to explain some supernatural occurrence.
- Everything comes together when Chris discovers the photos of Rose with all of the other black men she dated. All of the black men chosen were dark skinned.
- Chris’ clue that something was off with the other black people at the house was their inability to recognize social cues associated with black culture. When he tried to dap Andre up at the party, Andre misses the cue. When Chris mentions that he didn’t want to be a snitch to Georgina, she isn’t familiar with the term. Obviously not all black people in the world know these social norms; therefore, those weren’t what solidified for Chris that these people weren’t in essence black. It did, however give him pause, for him to know something was awry. He wasn’t in the presence of black people who he could connect with, which can also feel alienating. Think of starting a new job, and trying to connect with the few other black people there, and them not fully understanding you. You feel isolated.
- At the entrance of the house there are two pillars with symbols that look like the Greek letter Omega. Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet, and is often referred to as the end. We sometimes refer to God as being the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Going into the Armitage’s home signified a possible end for Chris.
- The father, Dean mentions in one of his many monologues during the film, the cleansing power of fire, and how it reminds us all of our own mortality. Dean ends up setting fire to the entire house when falls after Chris stabs him with the deer antlers. The very thing he hopes to eradicate (black men and deer) are what kill him.
- Chris had just escaped the house by justifiably killing everyone in it. After everything that he had gone through to survive, when he saw the police lights of the car, his first inclination was still to put his hands up to show that he wasn’t a threat. In spite of all that happened, he knew that he would still be presumed to be the villain that came to attack a white family.
- Chris is rescued by his friend Rod. This isn’t a common theme in the horror genre. As writer Frederick McKindra points out, black characters in horror films rarely have any real connection to the world outside of their white friends. Typically that character has no one to rely on to be their saving grace, so this was a welcome departure from that common theme.
- The sunken place is similar to the actual paralyzing state of being when you are unable to defend yourself against racism in certain settings like the workplace. The hypnosis is a satirical/extreme example of the psychology associated with enduring racism of all kinds. You are aware that it is happening, but the need to keep your job, or not go to jail prevents you from being able to react. The mind of the actual black person was trapped in the sunken place, and while they were aware, they were unable to react.
- The first song we hear at the beginning of the movie is Childish Gambino’s Redbone. Director Jordan Peele was very intentional in choosing this song for the intro to the movie. “Well, first of all, I love the ‘Stay Woke’ [lyric] — that’s what this movie is about. I wanted to make sure that this movie satisfied the black horror movie audience’s need for characters to be smart and do things that intelligent, observant people would do,” Peele told HipHopDX.