In his brilliant directorial debut, writer/director Jordan Peele explores everyday racism through the satirical horror film Get Out. By exploiting the cultural appropriation, microaggressions, and unintended racism black people deal with in their everyday lives from white people, Get Out makes a horror film out of a very real social experience which is perhaps even scarier than any other axe murderer horror film could ever be.
Every aspect of the film, from the events, dialogue, and soundtrack, indicates to viewers the menacing nature of the apparently well meaning Armitage family, their friends, and neighbors. In the opening scene where viewers meet the protagonist Chris, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” plays in the background. The chorus warns the viewers and Chris to “stay woke,” in the double sense of being “woke” to everyday racism, and alludes to the hypnosis induced sleep that Missy uses later in the film to control Chris. From the time that Chris and Rose arrive at the Armitages’ house, he is bombarded with various microaggressions from both the family and their party guests. Assorted friends of the Armitages comment on how Chris must be very strong, virile, and trendy because he is a black man. Little beknown to Chris, the so-called positive racist stereotypes the party-goers attribute him with are the reasons they are in attendance in the first place, in order to acquire his body for their own. Chris’ body is even sold off in a silent auction that replicates a slave auction, the highest bidder winning the physical qualities they seem to admire in Chris because of his race. On a deeper level, the affluent, white Armitages and friends symbolize how white American culture steals from black culture. The body snatching in the film is another form of the cultural appropriation that happens on a regular basis in real life. Various white celebrities, such as the Kardashians, have been spotted by the media as being fashion forward for appropriating styles that black women have been wearing for years. Cornrows, baby hairs, do-rags, and door knocker earrings on black women is often perceived as ghetto or hood by white people, but when appropriated by white women they are fashionable. Similarly, the hypnosis that Missy uses on Chris and her other victims represents how white culture also seeks to control black culture. Rampant police brutality against black people in this country is reflective of the disconnect between racist, white systems of power, and simply existing in America as a black person. When power cannot control otherness the way it desires the results are fatal. Get Out uses viewers’ knowledge of this epidemic and turns it on its head to create a happy twist ending for Chris, who is rescued by his friend Rod in a TSA car which initially appears to be a police car.
Blackness in America is a prolific subject in contemporary art due to the fact that it is a phenomenon that experienced by every black person living in America. Kara Walker takes the subject back to its roots during the Civil War through her 1994 work Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. The work is created in Walker’s signature paper cut-out silhouettes and brings together racist elements from the novel Gone With the Wind and exposes them with a narrative image. By doing so, Walker exploits the idealized, romanticized antebellum South depicted in literature and other media in culture like Gone With the Wind for the way that they treat black characters. In Glenn Ligon’s work, he appropriates text that reflects identity through race, mostly from black American authors. His Untitled (I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background) from 1990 uses the words of Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “how it feels to be colored me.” Ligon uses an oil stick over a stencil of Hurston’s words repeatedly so that they become muddied as they appear downwards. The quote reflects the concept of race as a social construct that only has power or meaning because people attribute them to it. The speaker in the text feels most colored when compared as otherness against white culture. Similarly in the film, Chris feels uncomfortable at the Armitage party as the only black person receiving nothing but racist comments. Upon meeting Andre, converted into Logan, he expresses his relief at seeing another black person at the party because their otherness is the same. The uneasy realization that Logan cannot connect with Chris through his blackness is what sets Chris off to the terror of the true nature of the Armitages.
What makes Get Out so groundbreaking is its use of a horrendous social phenomenon that happens to a large group of people in this country. It is a horror movie that not only uses conventional horror elements, like body snatching, but real life elements that are detrimental to certain people’s lives. The very real aspects of Get Out expose white liberal racism for what it is: racism. Even if it is well intentioned or positive, it is still as harmful as any other type of racism.