Jordan Peele, a renowned comedian and actor, recently made a pivot in his career with his directorial debut Get Out. The comedic horror film has shocked the world, critics cannot stop talking about it, and Get Out has been prevalent both in and out of the BC classroom. What sets Peele’s film apart from other horror movies that have debuted in the past year? What has Peele done differently?
It is no coincidence that the horror genre flourishes in times of turmoil. Consider how Godzilla (1954) followed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or how films about man-on-man violence such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) rose to popularity after the televised Vietnam war. Then, of course, there was The Purge: Election year (2016) that accomplished whatever it was supposed to. The horror genre has always had the ability to address the anxieties of society more indirectly than other genres. This strategy aims to scare the audience on a more personal level. By subconsciously tapping into various fears that are reflected in society, horror films hopefully help the viewers through them. So, through this understanding, what are the collective anxieties commentated on by Get Out?
While the majority of contemporary cinema is playing it safe with the topic of race relations, Peele dared to take the necessary risk, and he steered clear of the country’s comfort zone. In the film, Peele strives to redefine what is considered racist, exposes a rooted desire for racial control, and emphasizes examples of discrimination that African Americans face in the United States. More than most would think, this is a subject highly fitting for a horror film.
Rose’s family makes sure to address street slang as though they are trying to find a middle ground, all while failing to treat Chris as just another person. Despite the clear and heart warming intention to make Chris feel welcome, the attention to the elephant in the room only feeds Chris’ growing restlessness. Peele proves that relaxed conversations like these are normally glossed over by audiences, simply because this temperament doesn't fit into the category of what is normally defined as racist. The family’s comments are casually framed as if under the impression that their outspoken liberalism gives them a right to converse without a filter. There is no stereotypical “southern redneck,” but Peele makes sure to emphasize just how anxious Chris is made to feel in an everyday situation.
Supplementing how Chris was treated by Rose’s family, other guests, who arrive later in the film, all identity Chris first as black and secondly as Rose's boyfriend. The tone of the evening quickly escalates from a passionate golfer offhandedly claiming that “I do know Tiger” to other guests becoming overly comfortable with praising Chris’ sexual prowess and physical superiority. Chris becomes the object of the guests' desire.
The guests seem to believe that their comments are acceptable because they are simultaneously demonstrating their liberal progressiveness, but in actuality, Chris is singled out because of his race. Peele is critiquing those who may see themselves as allies to movements against racism, yet who involuntarily do more harm than good. By marking Rose’s family and the guests as the bad guys, Peele sheds light on the potential disguise of liberalism. Many people fail to actively consider how negatively this treatment could impact the life of an African-American.
At the climax of the film, Chris discovers that the Armitage family, including Rose, has a history of abducting, hypnotizing, and then hijacking African American bodies through hypnotic domination and neurosurgery. Chris realizes that he is just another victim. This whole master scheme that drives the plot is actually an introspective commentary on Peele’s part. The guests at the gathering are not necessarily praising African Americans, but instead are relishing in the idea of controlling them.
Daniel Kaluuya, the actor who plays Chris, spoke on the film, saying, “It speaks to all the subconscious stuff that I’ve felt, growing up as a black man in the industry. People [think] racism is something you do as opposed to something you believe.” Get Out provides insight into an African American’s experience of facing the racism that is not open to trendy confrontation. It shows the racism that is not a choice but instead is a product of ignorance.
Get Out promotes an awareness that helped me to recognize an ignorance that both I and a handful of my close peers on campus have been guilty of. Discrimination is still present in our society, but unless you are personally affected, it is easy to miss it.