Get Out - "Timely representations of blackness"
Tuesday 11 April 2017, by
In short, loved it. In long, ‘Get Out’ is everything you’ve heard and more. Consistently, whether I’m in book club, the bar, in a secret black people meeting at work, people who’ve seen it want to see it again. And those who have seen it twice offer to go with me to see it for a third time. The only thing armchair critics are wrong about is that the film is scary. Not sure who billed it as a horror film, but know that it is suspense and social commentary.
This film is a meet the parents story, with black Chris, and white Rose, off to meet her parents, in a post-Obama colourblind America, in which Rose, to Chris’s consternation, doesn’t even need to tell her parents that he’s black. Although Chris is Rose’s first black boyfriend, she’s not worried about her parents; they voted for Obama after all. But ‘Get Out’ does try to reassure audiences early on that Rose is not naïve. When confronted with what she believes is overt racism directed at Chris, she is vocal in her opposition. But the question remains, what happens when the racism is covert? Can Rose recognise microagressions and what does she understand about white privilege and interracial relationships? And what is expected of her on all of these fronts?
The film works primarily because of the suspense/science fiction element, which is also a refreshing change from the slapstick, dramas and documentaries that aim to tackle similar issues. This also taps into the concept of black anxiety and pessimism, in which Chris is justifiably wary and not used as a reconciliatory character to alleviate white fears that there are grounded, smart, monogamous black men out there. Peele, who also wrote the screenplay, lulls you with recognisable comedic dialogue before taking a sharp turn to incongruous objects or reactions, then violence.
‘Get Out’ is also timely in a number of ways. After viewing, what immediately came to mind are representations of blackness. One trope is that ‘positive’ media representations are necessary to counteract the bad, so that a thug can’t represent black people in general when you have a doctor starring in a series, too. However, I would argue that positive representations can be just as dangerous when they neither speak truth to power nor reflect inner truths or knowledge created in subjects racialised as black. Then, of course, is the question of authenticity: who has the right to tell black stories? Instead of asking whether or not director Jordan Peele is really black, we should be asking what is he telling us about black manhood, masculinity and desire, when that body is in a white, progressive context? But I’m not sure I will ask that either, because the film does such an excellent job of moving the body and story away from institutions and into the home of liberal white America.
A surprising revelation in the film is an uncomfortable element of a particular form of multiculturalism in which racial diversity is welcome, as long as you’re Christie. Characterised as Barbie’s black friend, she is essentially chocolate Barbie with brown hair. She doesn’t have a different world view, history or smaller pool of romantic partners due to deindustrialisation and ghettoisation. In this brand, diversity is bringing something desirable to the dominant group which, ironically, strengthens and legitimises their culture. All the more better if it’s beautiful, delicious or entertaining. It’s also convenient: one can absorb the most accessible parts of a culture without ever having to share power or recognise the more toxic elements of that culture that results from structural inequality. It’s blues without the pain, passion without the heart.
So please, go see ‘Get Out’. See it twice.