En route to meet the family. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), in Jordan Peele's “Get Out.”
Early in Jordan Peele’s satirical horror film, Get Out, we were reminded of the early days of our twenty-one-year-long relationship. Whenever we were going to meet someone for the first time, we would brace ourselves. The fact that we are an interracial couple is obvious. But that’s not the physical attribute we would focus on. Lisa is the taller one, by almost four inches.
“Do they know I’m . . . shorter?” Fred would inquire.
“Do you think they might have a problem with my . . . height?” Lisa would query.
We did it to lighten the mood. We were having an easier time in the 1990s than, say, the Lovings had in Virginia in the 1960s, but it wasn’t quite a post-racial paradise. Our joking was a way of dealing with our jitters about how we might be welcomed by soon-to-be-known third parties. Would they see one of us as a racial stereotype and one of us as a person? Would we feel safe?
In Get Out, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have a moment of racial reckoning as they prepare to meet Rose’s parents at her family’s country estate. Chris cautiously asks if Roses’ parents know he’s black. No, she says, adding that her parents are so liberal that they would have voted for Obama a third time.
How gloriously post-racial!
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker the story might become a trite tale of Rose’s racist family and friends. But in Get Out, white privilege, particularly the privilege expressed by liberals in the film, treats black bodies and the black experience as something to be controlled—a control that black individuals experience as social death.
Peele has a dystopian take on race in America. Chris hardly conforms to media stereotypes of the black male, but at a Saturday afternoon garden party he meets a barrage of stereotypes about blackness. He is seen as strong, virile, an athlete. One older gentleman, a former pro golfer, tells Chris that he’s met and played with Tiger Woods, as if to say that knowing and liking a famous black athlete indemnifies him from racism. Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) talk at Chris; Rose’s pseudo-Southern loutish brother converses with Chris like a calculating fight promoter smitten with a new body he can peddle.
The few black characters Chris encounters in this eerie setting confound him. Black bodies have been rendered socially mute, dead to anything other than the white gaze cast upon them.
For Chris, a gentle artist who dotes on his cuddly dog and makes a phone call every day to his best friend, TSA agent Rod (Lil Rel Howery), this is a stark awakening to the world of the 1 percent.
Rod seems to be the only person who actually listens to Chris, the only person who truly knows him. Ultimately the somewhat hapless TSA agent heads out into the sticks to save his best friend.
Liberal Rose, we learn, is a succubus. She feigns understanding, but doesn’t really know, or want to know, Chris as a person. He is a commodity. Ironically, it is her use of white privilege during an interaction with a police officer that clouds Chris’s vision of Rose. Her feistiness is a turn on. Chris’s oversight is particularly ironic since he is a photographer celebrated for his keen eye.
Black is “in” and the wealthy want it.
The real horror of Get Out is the vulnerability of black individuals to forces that constantly aim to ensnare their bodies and talent, and to cultivate them for white consumption.
Get Out is not an anti-white film. It’s anti-white-privilege, and it takes aim at white liberal complicity in protecting the power structure. Chris and Rod have each other, but clearly, other black people in the film did not have such a friend. They have become soulless, if smiling bodies.
As we know too well, the disruption of privilege will not come from merely trying to protect one another, but only from destroying the hierarchy. And that will happen only when we truly want to know each other.