Readily admitted by the film’s director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a subversive amalgam of horror films and other movies. Through what it does and does not do, Get Out implants you into the life of African Americans today. From Peele’s point of view, the threat to African Americans of Klansmen and burning crosses is dwarfed by a white suburban culture that fetishizes and fears black identity.
Get Out’s opening scene inverts John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween begins with protagonist Laurie unaware of villain Michael Myers stalking her in broad daylight. Upon release Halloween was perceived as a damning commentary on declining teenage morality with the slasher Michael Myers acting as judge and executioner. On another level Halloween reflects social anxiety among the middle class in 1970’s America towards the decaying and predominantly black inner-city. Myers’ entrance into the Illinois suburbs and the bloodshed he causes is the dreaded violence, crime and drugs of urban areas flooding into the prosperous environs. In stark contrast Get Out begins with a black man warily walking through the suburbs at night. In Get Out, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and others render the suburbs an alien territory for black people instead of what most audiences originally saw in Michael Myer’s hunting ground, a sanctuary away from the stormy city.
The contrasting narrative of perception and location persists throughout Get Out’s first five minutes. A tracking shot of woodland alongside the score evokes the southern backwaters of Deliverance and Southern Comfort. Yet once protagonist Chris travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family we find ourselves not in the archaic deep south but the pristine woods of upstate New York.
By inverting what we expect from film, Jordan Peele rips the viewer out from the white male vision of most directors and firmly plants the narrative into a black perspective. Take Get Out’s first interaction with a white character besides Rose. Chris is stopped while driving and questioned by a police officer, opening the sadly familiar mix of inferiority and fear which can be projected onto African Americans.
Chris’s reception at Rose’s home is unexpected. He doesn’t receive the anticipated mix of hostility and condescension of which the police officer’s reaction to him was a forewarning. More alarmingly, Chris is lavished with adoration from Rose’s family and friends, praising him with an unfettered frankness for the traits they stereo-typically expect him and African Americans to have.
The appreciation of the older white suburbanites populating Rose’s community for Chris and black identity is skin deep. Their infatuation with the attributes black people supposedly possess is a fetishization of black identity, reducing black identity from an equal to a body of trophies covering sex appeal to just plain coolness. In turn the white man’s obsession with Chris’ uniqueness reverts the black man into a physical object, a band-aid for their own flaws, something to be auctioned off and used. Instead of progressing from the prejudice of segregation and slavery, the racism of white America towards African America has simply inverted; from sub-human to superhuman but not yet a fellow man.
The big reveal of Get Out is that Rose and her family have been luring black people to their home to be auctioned off to their white clientele. Their victims are first brainwashed by Rose’s mother into compliance then Rose’s father transplants the client’s brain into the younger black victim.
The sanitised racism lurking beneath the surface of Get Out is personified in the film’s four black victims including Chris. Each victim of Rose’s family, having been brainwashed into becoming hosts for the minds of the older white clientele, represent a stereotype of African American identity. Georgina the maid is motherliness and domestic servility, Walter the gardener embodies athleticism and Andre King is sex appeal. Chris, the fourth victim, represents artistry. In an ironic foreshadowing Chris talks to Jim Hudson before Jim buys Chris in the auction. Jim, an older blind art collector who never had ‘the vision’ for photography comments that Chris, a professional photographer, truly has ‘the eyes’. Jim’s words, and his later attempt to have his brain transplanted into Chris’ head, have an irony to them. Jim never sees Chris beyond being a pair of eyes, forgetting that it is Chris’ mind, along with his heritage, that adds the colour to his vibrant photos of New York City which make up his work.
Ultimately, I could be wrong about Get Out’s deeper meaning. Yet the film still exemplifies the power of film to take someone like myself, a white middle-class kid from England, and put me in someone else’s shoes.
By Saul Shimmin