By Heather Witherow and Cortez Alston
Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, follows the story of a young interracial couple. Rose, played by Allison Williams, wants to bring her African American boyfriend, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, home to meet her family, the Armitage’s. Before the couple even meets her family, Chris worries that her family may not approve of the couple because of their interracial relationship or that they may be racist. Although Rose assures Chris that he has nothing to worry about, peculiar occurrences ensue from the minute the couple arrives to the Armitage’s home. Events such as a garden party where everyone seems to be obsessed with Chris’ physical attributes as well as the scene in which Chris is hypnotized by Rose’s mother further confuse the audience and cause Chris to grow with paranoia. As the plot thickens everything soon becomes clear and Chris’ natural suspicions and darkest fears become reality as he realizes his relationship with Rose was truly a shame. Rose and her family run a slave auction business where they sell the bodies of black men to the highest white bidders. Peele uses this extreme plot to place a spotlight on many racial issues that most people believe no longer exist. Peele’s take on the modern day racist events that happen on a daily basis are spot on and make the film uncannily relatable to all Americans.
Historical and Cultural Context
The film touches on the racial microaggressions and subtle racism that people of color suffer from every day while also reaching back into the past and using it as a metaphor through the use of the slave auctions scene. Slave auctions represent an oppressive event that demonstrate the lack of power black people had over their lives and themselves. Peele makes the slave auction scene and the scenes following seem outrageous, but they actually exist in our society today. They primarily exist in less extreme and less blatant ways, but black people are still struggling to be considered equal in all aspects of life as well as struggling to have complete control over their bodies. During the garden party scene comes the barrage of racial microaggressions that automatically send people’s racist radars spinning and often cause laughter. What is truly comical is the fact that viewers fail to realize that those lines are used on a daily basis. Not in the exact same tone or wording but the premise of those statements is implied by a large percentage of Americans. They simply fail to realize what they are saying is racist or that their words fall under the category of racial microaggressions. Peele places microaggressions all throughout the movie; he simply over emphasizes them in the party scene. Most viewers never catch the “easter-eggs” placed in almost every line of dialogue. Peele does this to show how numb and ignorant American people are to what is racist or what is not. Racism has become a staple of American society and is embedded in the way Americans operate. Being a part of the community that suffers as a result of this, Peele makes the film pointing out these seemingly subtle issues that can grow into larger ones. What makes this film even more impactful is its time of release. The racial tensions brewing within the country this year alone have caused a lot of division. Discrimination and racism are being widely discussed and challenged throughout the United States. One of the most prominent examples of racism in 2017 focuses around police brutality towards African Americans. Police brutality cases have been on the path to being brought to the center of many discussions since controversy around discrimination towards African Americans by the police force erupted in 2014. The first case of police brutality that gained attention across America as a result of media occurred in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. On August 14th, Michael Brown, an African American teenager, was fatally shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson. The young man had been accused of robbing a store, but was unarmed. After an altercation with Wilson, the officer shot at Brown six times, leaving two in the back of his head. In response to this incident, protests erupted in Ferguson and sparked debate across the country. The shooting in Ferguson turned out to be the first of many cases of police brutality in the upcoming years. Every passing year, the controversy surrounding discrimination and racism grew in strength largely due to an increasing number of people recording incidences of police brutality on their phones and broadcasting them across the internet to bring awareness to the discrimination that African Americans face in the modern world. These events are now inspiring movements to promote change in policies in the police departments to better protect people of color. One of the most prominent movements of 2017 is the Black Lives Matter campaign, which focused on decreasing discrimination and advocating for racial equality. The organization works to promote racial equality in the United States, specifically in the justice system, by holding peaceful protests and rallies throughout America. Clearly, 2017 was a year of opposing viewpoints around the treatment of African Americans, specifically by the justice system. Get Out came out of a year of strife focused around racism and discrimination of African Americans. The film brought light to subtle racism and caused it to become a larger topic of discussion as well as forced the viewers to question themselves on if they too contributed to American racism.
Themes and Style
Jordan Peele’s film is not only a criticism of discrimination and prejudice in the modern world, it is also a direct allusion to the era of slavery. Throughout the movie, references to the institution of slavery can clearly be seen by the audience. One of the most prominent and memorable scenes in the film, a scene about the white people playing
bingo, is actually an allusion to slave auctions. In the scene, a caucasian man can be observed leading a silent game of bingo. While at first it is unclear to the viewers what is occurring, it is obvious from the silence and eeriness that this is not a normal game of bingo. As the scene proceeds, a portrait of Chris is shown. Finally, when one man wins the game of bingo, it becomes evident that he has actually just bought Chris and his body. This scene is a clear allusion to the era of slavery because it depicts modern day slave markets. Not only do the white people in Get Out feel that they have total and complete authority over African Americans, they put so little value on them that they feel free to sell them. The white people in the community treat the African Americans as if they are not even human at all, but rather objects that can be traded or sold. This scene describes the way in which slavery has evolved overtime, yet remained similar in many ways. Another way in which Peele explores the evolution of slavery is through stereotypes. Stereotypes often times are passed down from generation to generation. The film’s theme song is titled Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga, an eerie yet oddly soothing hymn. The song is actually a Swahili Tribe song. The lyrics translate to “Listen to your ancestors. Something bad is coming. Run.” (“Get Out Movie Main Theme” n.pag.). Peele has these words seep into the minds of all his viewers and subconsciously challenges them. Of course, most viewers would not understand the true meaning of the words being sung into their ears, but nonetheless Peele finds it imperative to sprinkle different subjects of conflict throughout the film. Peele is not only attacking the minds of white Americans, but all Americans. Peele attacks this stigma through the films theme song: “Should We Truly Run from Where our Hearts Lead Us?”. This song is the question Peele is asking. The way in which Peele is able to attack so many different racial issues is what makes this film so impactful. Another aspect that makes this movie impactful is the fact that not only does Peele prove to the audience that everyone is contributing to racism, he shows viewers that racism is not always easy to see. Modern day racism has taken on new forms. Get Out explores one of the newest forms of racism, fascination racism, throughout the film. Fascination racism is when one racism is captivated by the physical features or mental talents of those of another skin color. The film explores this idea by making the white people mesmerized by the physical abilities of African Americans. Although this idea is demonstrated throughout the movie, it can be encapsulated by one scene. Soon after Chris arrives, the Armitage family throws a party to which all of their neighbors and friends come. When Rose introduces Chris to one of the white neighbors, the woman scans Chris. She examines his body and continually comments on how handsome he is throughout their conversation. Finally, although Chris is clearly uncomfortable, she goes so far as to touch him by feeling his muscles. This woman, along with all of the other neighbors at the party are enamored by the African American body. As the plot proceeds, the audience learns that there is a very specific reason everyone is interested in both Chris and his body. The white people actually plan to use his body as their own by removing his brain and inserting their own. They feel that they will make the “perfect human” by combining the white brain with the African American body. Although physically combining bodies is unrealistic, the theme serves as a method of depicting discrimination and exploring the idea of fascination racism in the modern world. By engaging with both traditional racism through allusions to the era of slavery and modern day racism through fascination racism, it is evident that Jordan Peele is trying to prove that racism and discrimination is not in the past, but rather is something that continues to cause problems in the United States.
Critics love this film. They too were forced to look at themselves as a result of the films themes and point. The film received a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes meaning that most critics were on the same page with this film in terms of its purpose (“Get Out” n.pag.). Major magazines and critic sources such as Variety, Empire, Common Sense Media and Rotten Tomatoes focus on the “savvy” and “witty” ways in which the film takes a “thoughtful look at race and the true colors of America” (“Get Out” n.pag.). These positive comments are combatted by an unlikely critic, Samuel L. Jackson, who states, “[Daniel Kaluuya, the actor that plays Chris] grew up in a country where, you know, they’ve been interracially dating for a hundred years . . . So what would a brother from America have made of that role?” (Busis n.pag). Jackson argues that actors from other nations cannot truly understand American racism because discrimination in the United States is unique. Although Jackson’s point certainly could be argued at length, there are bigger questions related to film such as the famous milk scene. Critics scrambled to understand its
importance and relevance; eventually Peele came out and explained why he placed that scene in the film. He felt it necessary to inform viewers of the fact that as of late white supremacy groups, especially the Ku Klux Klan, have adopted milk as a new form of white supremacy propaganda. Milk acts as a staple of white supremacy due to its importance in the human diet. White supremacists use this to further their agenda. The largest display of this occurred during a hijacking of Shia Labeouf’s livestream that was conducted after the election of Donald Trump to protest his presidency. Supremacists hijacked the site and were shown drinking milk and expressing how milk was a sign of their superiority. The scene was eerie and forced goosebumps to crawl up people’s necks, and for most Americans they had no idea that white supremacist had adopted milk to be a part of their propaganda. Peele wanted to show how even something as innocent as milk, a common household item plays a role in our racist society. Imagery such as this is what causes viewers of Peele’s masterpiece to fully address the fact that racism, forms of enslavement, and injustice are not just fables of the past, but rather a part of our everyday lives despite how far we have come as a culture and a nationwide community.
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“Get Out – Auction Scene HD.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 June 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M0g4dxoaro.
“Get Out Movie Main Theme ~ Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Mar. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbvnvweeSR8.
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Get Out, Jordan Peele, Fascination Racism, Modern Racism, Microaggressions, Afterlives of Slavery, Ethnic Cleansing, Cult-Like