GET OUT is about the objectification, use, and abuse of the Black body. This is what makes it a horror film. It is also about solidarity and the crucial friendship between the protagonist Chris (played vividly by Daniel Kaluuya) and his captivating best buddy Rod William (Lil Rel Howery). Even though the two guys were rarely in the same space at the same time, TSA agent Rod was a viewer favorite. GET OUT is not, as some reviewers say, a satire about the awkward social interactions of Rose and her parents’ circle of friends when they meet her new Black boyfriend. The sustained tension of the film bears the weight of what racism feels like – not just what it looks like. Huge kudos to Jordan Peele (of the comedy duo Key & Peele) for giving us this “social thriller” (as he calls it) that he says has been living in his head since he was 13.
GET OUT is the only horror film I’ve ever seen. So all the references to classic horror flicks that other friends of mine spotted in it went over my head. Nonetheless, my impression is that the horror isn’t the blood per se: it’s the racism. To me this film is about the Black experience of racism. It conveys how something that might appear to a white person as a micro-aggression, may very well have a much bigger impact on a Black person because of the context of their lives. Two hundred and fifty years of slavery were followed by the Jim Crow era, itself followed by contemporary types of institutional racism. Top this all off with a hateful President and a vicious regime. This very dangerous, very heavy reality can turn what seems like a small insult or a well-meaning asinine remark into something that feels perilous and threatening.
Try to stick with me as I attempt to explain. The same day as I saw GET OUT, I happened to be watching a TV show called House Hunters while I was washing the dishes. It’s just one of those low-budget cable series about people looking for houses and realtors trying to meet the conflicting desires and needs of the couple/family/etc.
This episode featured a husband who, because of years of sports, had several knee operations and hated climbing stairs, so he was insisting on a ranch house. His wife said over and over to both the realtor and the husband that she had to have a two-story house because she would feel unsafe for herself and any future children sleeping on the ground floor. She repeated that she needed a staircase between herself and any potential intruder. The husband never heard what she was saying. As a big beefy white man he saw her desire for a two-story as frivolous.
But I could relate to what she was saying. I have been raped. It happened in the 60s. Not a day goes by, hardly an hour goes by, since then, that the fear of being raped again isn’t hovering close to consciousness. I relate to the house hunter’s fear of living on the ground floor. When I’ve stayed in the rural cabins of friends to write, I am afraid of the noises at night – not because it might be a bear or a wolf – but because no neighbors are close enough to hear me if I scream when some man breaks in.
The house-hunting husband didn’t get it. He hasn’t experienced that kind of threat and has insufficient empathy. And too often white people don’t get the reactions of Black people to what the whites see as “compliments” or innocent “mistakes.” And not just because of slavery – which formally ended only in 1865 (just 50 years before my dad was born – not so long ago). Books have helped me understand the continuum of racism until today. When I read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson, I understood for the first time how profoundly murderous the Jim Crow south was after slavery. She told of the man who was fatally tarred and feathered because he pointed out to a white shop-keeper that he had given him wrong change. How one man was mangled viciously, never to really recover, because of a false accusation that he had stolen a chicken. How surreally severe segregation became.
But although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ostensibly ended Jim Crow, in fact other kinds of institutionalized racism were developed, as I read in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. This includes almost every arm of the criminal justice system, from the massive funding of the prison-industrial sector, to draconian sentencing regulations, to the use of profiling tools like “stop & frisk”.
Now we are facing an openly racist, fascist agenda by a regime unlike any we’ve seen. The unrelenting, tenacious, pernicious racism of the United States is the true horror. I’ve rarely seen a film that has made me think so hard and so long about the experience of racism, and how, within my own life as a woman, I can find connective paths to insight about the oppression of others. I am grateful to GET OUT.