Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” does not shy away from showing what it’s about: race. That’s the kind of conspicuousness we desperately need right now.
“I get nervous when I’m around too many white people.” “Why us? Why black people?”
These are just a few of the signature lines that any viewer would loathe to part with when taking stock of comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, the new thriller/horror film “Get Out.”
Best known for his work in the Comedy Central hit Key and Peele (a show which I readily admit I’ve never watched before), Peele does not, for a millisecond, abandon his comedic sensibilities altogether — provided in spades by Lil Rey Howery (Chris’s best friend who works as a TSA officer) — in this superbly conceptualized and convincingly crafted treatment of family dynamics, cultural difference, and interracial dating.
Plot-wise, the story is simple. After four blissful months of dating, Rose (Allison Williams), a liberal, white upper-class girl and her accomplished, photographer boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) decide it’s time to meet her family, The Armitages, a clan of oddballs located in suburban space that looks like it was yanked straight from “The Shining.” With that idea in mind, the pair head out to her family’s estate.
Though completely on board with the decision, Chris, who is understandably pensive before the couple have even gotten into the first mile of their journey, asks Rose if her parents know he’s black, a concern which, by the sound of it — that is, the way he put the question — suggests that this wasn’t the first time the couple had discussed race.
Dating a black man is new territory for Rose. However, this doesn’t stop her from assuring Chris that her parents are just the right integration of modern and progressive to not give a shit about the racial or ethnic makeup of the man she’s dating. In fact, her dad is so — what’s the word, “conscious” or “woke” — that he would’ve voted for Barack Obama a third term.
Once there and extended hospitality, the obligatory and extremely awkward meet and greet and labored small talk between Chris and Rose’s parents is only compounded by the creepy vibe emitted by the estate’s black staff, housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson), that Chris immediately picks up on. Rose, meanwhile, seems oblivious to such goings on, downplaying his apprehensions and offering more pale reassurances, most of which begin to increasingly fall on deaf ears. There are reasons for this that, if you stick with the film, are revealed toward one of the climaxes.
From the previews alone we can gather that something else more sinister is in store for our black protagonist. However, the direction of the story goes much, much deeper than photographing the psychosis of American blackness. At least, I thought so.
For the thesis of “Get Out” is as much about how whites are addicted to black stereotypes and notions of black pathology as it is how these stereotypes hem in black potential and diversity and endanger, literally, black bodies.
We know The Armitages. Almost every black person living in America, at some point in their lives, have interacted with the cult-like shuffling of an individual white liberal family.
But, the shinier gem in Peele’s project is the movie’s intimation that cultishness — from a sense of exclusive entitlement to an inflated feeling of intellectual and cultural superiority to monopoly of the universal — is one of the defining characteristics of whiteness in general in American social life … generated, of course, from an existential lie.
Blackness is more than just “cool,” “dope,” or “in” thing for whites. It is a neural depository for everything seedy about sentient existence. It is critical to their self and group identity. And the parts of blackness whites focus on shift depending on the specific need.
And there is a definite need in this film.
The triumph of Peele’s script is that he exhausts the logic of this sociological truth and scientific falsehood — strange bedfellows, indeed. You’ll have a good time mulling over the specifics of this exhaustion, which I won’t spoil here.
All the cinematic staples that we’ve come to associate with and expect from the horror film genre are here: an eerie soundtrack, jump scares, creepy glares and stares, labored speech, chase scenes. There’s no slouching or half-stepping of any sort in the acting department. Even the excellent opening shot sets the tone for the synergic relationship between humor and terror maintained throughout the film.
But, “Get Out” stands out from the pack because the specific horror with which it deals is not only grounded in cultural reality but beautifully translates the national situation between the races in the aftermath of the Trump election. It’s a message to white liberals that the new “alt-right” is not the only brand of whiteness blacks are concerned about.
A proudly bold and self-aware satire, “Get Out” does not shy away from showing what it’s about: race. That’s the kind of conspicuousness we desperately need right now. That’s the kind of in your face commentary that the biracial brainchild behind this timely film provides.
Given the stubbornness and resiliency of white supremacy in America, I’m really surprised that a film like this hasn’t been made sooner. I certainly can’t think of any.
But, as the adage goes, better late than never.