May 22, 2017
Get Out is a horror film (more of a psychological thriller, really) written and directed by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame. So when word got out that one of the minds behind the viral "Substitute Teacher" sketch had made a horror film I was intrigued. When I saw the trailer I was enthralled. It looked legitimately terrifying. And, like any good horror film, it looked rife with social commentary. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black man, goes to the suburbs to meet his white girlfriend's family and stumbles into what appears to a Stepford Wives situation for black people. This film only came out in South Korea on May 18th, a couple months after its US release. I was surprised and delighted that it came out here, because I figured the concept of race relations in the US suburbs would go over the head of your average South Korean (my girlfriend, who is Korean, confirmed this suspicion). So the heavy hitting social commentary would be lost.
Much of the humor on the sketch comedy show Key & Peele is a play on race relations. Whether it's a black substitute teacher mispronouncing white kid's names (as someone who has worked as a substitute teaching at a high school that was 51% black this is hilarious and tragically relatable) or the concept of Barack Obama having an "anger translator", the awkwardness between white people and black people is played for laughs. So, in a way, Get Out is commenting on the same things. Only instead of having a laugh at the absurdity, it creates tension by showing the undercurrent of menace below the surface of awkward interaction.
That's where this movie largely shines. It builds and maintains tension. While most horror films these days rely on gore, torture, and jump scares for their thrills Get Out creates a feeling of discomfort and tension throughout the film that becomes Kafkaesque. Seemingly innocuous questions like, "Do you golf, Chris?" are laced with menace and at first it's unclear why. Lines like "I just love Tiger Woods." are painfully awkward. In their attempts to appear not racist, the white characters only appear more racist. Chris's interactions with the local black people are even more unnerving. Their eyes belie their poised and overly polite speech. Part of the tension stems from the fact something is happening that you can't quite put your finger on, the other tension comes from how relatable that tension is. These types of encounters are very much a reality to African-Americans.
So what is this movie trying to say exactly? I'm white, but I grew up in a relatively diverse suburban area. My school was pretty much half white and half black. So while I can't relate to the black experience, still much of this movie hits home. I have witnessed and overheard the type of racism the movie presents. It's not as overt as n-words and cross burnings. It's the type of racism that's so subtle people don't notice it or acknowledge it unless it's happening to them. The concept is obvious from the trailer which shows something to do with hypnotism, and creepily "docile" black people. Basically, the type of racism on display here is this: It's not about caring about the color of someone's skin, it's about disregarding or having contempt for their cultural identity. "I don't care if a person's skin is black, as long as they don't 'act black'." And this type of attitude is overt in the US suburbs. It's not black skin these people take issue with, it's "blackness."
One thing I kept in mind the whole time is that Jordan Peele is married to Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), who is white. So, I'm left to wonder if he had a rough one the first time she brought him home. I mean, they did elope.