How Get Out Deftly Tackles Privilege and the Minority Experience

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How <i>Get Out</i> Deftly Tackles Privilege and the Minority Experience

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, subverts and explores horror tropes in the process of delivering scathing social commentary. Critics and audiences alike can’t stop talking about the film and the way it handles racism, both systematic and personal. There is so much more to Get Out than just a dissection of race relations, however. The film also makes sharp, brilliant commentary on the relationships between minority groups. Get Out’s protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), is a black male put into a position usually reserved for women in horror.

Chris is a final girl. Or in this case, a final guy.

While there have been other men in this position (Ash in the Evil Dead series, for starters), few have been minorities themselves. Perhaps the only other example is George Romero’s 1968 zombie opus, Night of the Living Dead. Get Out wears its influences on its sleeve and Night of the Living Dead is a clear source of inspiration, but it’s not the most telling one.

At the Sundance premiere of Get Out, Peele told audiences that he got the idea for the film during the 2008 Democratic primaries.

“All of a sudden the country was kind of focused on black civil rights and women’s civil rights movements and where they intersect,” Peele said. “And there was kind of this question of, who deserves to be president more? Who’s waited long enough? Which is an absurd thing—that civil rights are even divided.”

Peele began thinking about The Stepford Wives and the surprising correlations between the subjugation of women and of black people. With those specific ideas in mind, he set out to make a film about what it is to be a minority: the anxieties, everyday realities, and overwhelming truths of systematic oppression. Get Out makes the minority experience accessible through classic horror tropes, while also commenting on how minorities are viewed through the primarily white male gaze of cinema.

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When Chris first meets his girlfriend Rose’s family, they greet one another on a porch while the camera stays back, positioned at a low angle behind the family’s groundskeeper a’la Michael Myers in Halloween. The shot has a double meaning, depending on the viewer’s knowledge of the ending. At first viewing, the shot appears to show a fellow minority viewing inevitable tragedy. It feels like a warning, creating tension through subtle nonverbal cues. Once the viewer knows the ending, and understands that the black groundskeeper is actually Rose’s grandfather, the shot’s meaning changes entirely. A racist, dangerous white male is actually watching Chris’ introduction to the family. The white gaze is ever present in the Armitage house.

Chris is rendered helpless by his new surroundings. He’s not only trapped by the social limitations of his situation (meeting the parents is the worst, without them being psycho body snatchers), but by his isolation among enemies. While many final girls have a number of allies who are killed off one by one, Chris is alone from the start. Like Erin in You’re Next, even the people who seem like allies are actually responsible for his suffering. Chris’ one shining beacon of hope throughout the first half of Get Out is Rose, and Rose is perhaps the worst villain of all.

Get Out’s first major twist is that Rose is complicit in her family kidnapping African Americans and using them as physical hosts for old white folks. The second is that the black characters who behave strangely aren’t lobotomized or reprogrammed a la Stepford Wives or Disturbing Behavior, but instead they are simply hosts for aging caucasians. Rose’s betrayal is so awful because she seems to truly understand the plight of minorities. She has a keen understanding of the “woke” perspective and purposely demonstrates the behavior of allies in front of Chris to make him believe her innocence.

In his Emmy-winning stand-up special Talking for Clapping, Patton Oswalt goes on a brief rant about evil people learning the vernacular of people they want to oppress.

“If you get hung up on words, you’re gonna let a lot of evil motherf***ers slip through, because evil people learn the correct terms very quickly,” he says. “They’re the first ones to learn it, so they can smuggle their evil shit through.”

Rose is just such an evil MF, co-opting the language of the oppressed in order to keep them under her thumb. She even betrays her own gender, seducing a young black woman for her grandmother to inhabit. The evil of her family seems more benign by contrast. Her father and brother are ignorant to white privilege to the point of lusting after blackness. Dean Armitage would have voted Obama in for a third term. His son Jeremy goes on a dinner table rant about Chris’ genetic makeup and physical potential. It’s casual eugenics, though they are both as ignorant about their wrongness as a character like Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. They can’t understand what it is to be black, because the concept is so completely foreign.

Rose understands, though, because of her own subjugation as a woman and her relationships with people of color. It’s likely that her mother, hypnotist Missy, is aware as well. Missy and Rose are both strong, independent women, but neither is completely free of the patriarchal power struggle. To create power for themselves, they turn on another minority. This lack of intersectionality plagues real-life social justice movements. In recent history, the Women’s March on D.C. was heavily criticized for being overwhelmingly white and cisgendered. White women have fought for centuries for their rights as equals to white men, while often forgetting their sisters of color and LGBTQ+ sisters.

This isn’t always intentional, of course, but it’s just as insidious as overt racism. It may be even worse, hidden under the guise of equality. The guests at the Armitage estate hide their racist beliefs beneath benign language. They comment on Chris’ body like he were a prize animal, and not another human being. When the final twist is revealed and viewers understand that the guests were bidding on who gets to actually be Chris, the ogling makes all the more sense.

In The Stepford Wives, men wanted their wives controlled. They wanted domination and subservience. Get Out takes it one step further—the old white folks don’t want submissive slaves; they want total appropriation of blackness, to co-opt black identity for themselves. They want complete control, a step beyond slavery. If The Stepford Wives examined the male fear of independent-thinking, feminist women, then Get Out examines what it is to be feared and have that fear turned against you. Get Out, at its core, is a film about the human experience and how that experience is shaded by race, class, gender, and more.

Our understanding of one another as human beings is limited by our own experiences. A straight white man can never completely understand what it is to be black, female, or gay, because they do not have correlating experiences. Minorities share some common threads, threads that should be used to unite for a common good. A white woman can’t comprehend being afraid of the police because of the color of her skin, but she knows what it’s like to be mistrustful of men and the violence they can inflict. This shared mistrust in those who are supposed to be helpful could, in theory, help two very disparate people understand one another more completely.

Instead, Rose uses her experience to break down Chris’ defense mechanisms. She reassures him again and again, and he believes her both out of his love for her and because she seems to truly understand. When a police officer asks for his I.D. even though Rose was driving, she argues with the officer, sticking her neck out for Chris. She demonstrates to Chris that she is an ally, when in reality she is willing to do whatever it takes to be on top. While Chris is being prepped to have his brain removed, she sits eating cereal and drinking milk while stalking basketball players for her next victim. She’s completely apathetic about his demise, and has no problem slipping back into her role as the loving girlfriend when Chris eventually gains the upper hand.

Allison Williams gives life to Rose’s manipulation of Chris. She’s charismatic and sweet until she isn’t, and though her involvement in her family’s sick plan is a bit of a weak twist, her portrayal is nuanced enough to keep things on track. Rose does not become an arch villain the moment Chris finds the box full of photos showing Rose and her many, many black exes. Instead, she only distances herself from what’s happening in the basement, in part because Chris was “one of her favorites.” She refers to him as such, like a comfy sweatshirt that’s grown too worn or a pair of shoes the dog chewed up. She objectifies Chris completely, separating the man she dated from the body he inhabits, metaphorically speaking. (This is juxtaposed with her father wanting to separate Chris’ mind from his body a bit more literally.)

The process of transferring an old white mind into a young black body is much like the idea of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” The problem with putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is that you’re still yourself. The old white folks may have the body of a black person, but they still think like old white folks. They lack the experience of being black, and while it’s possible for them to learn while they inhabit their new bodies, it’s not likely.

While Get Out speaks to casual racism and concerns over co-opting black culture, its strongest point lies in its awareness of privilege and the minority experience. When Chris tells another young black man at a party that he’s relieved to see another black guy there, the feeling is understandable. There’s a solidarity in being cut from the same societal cloth. Many final girls have been let down by the women they choose to trust because they expect that kind of solidarity.

Thankfully, the one black man Chris knows he can trust comes to his rescue in a trope-smashing way, driving up with police lights flashing. Instead of being gunned down like Ben in Night of the Living Dead, Chris is saved by law enforcement. In a film that plays with themes as heavy as this one, Rod’s rescue of Chris seems like a reminder that nothing is as it seems. In any other horror film (and possibly in real life), the flashing of those red and blue lights could signal death for Chris. Instead, it’s the opposite.

Get Out pushes for people to move past their preconceptions about one another. We’re all human, trying to survive and thrive in an increasingly hostile world. Instead of joining in on society’s push to keep the disenfranchised down, those who have been repeatedly hurt by the system should try to find their commonalities and protect one another. No one else will.

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