PHOTO: UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I knew walking into a long-awaited showing of Get Out that, right away, the symbolism was going to be apparent.
Aside from what the movie’s trailer had already revealed—that Get Out is a thriller about a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time and battling microaggressions left and right—director Jordan Peele is known for tackling race (mostly in a comical light) on the Emmy award-winning series Key and Peele.
— Key & Peele (@KeyAndPeele)
Peele is a biracial man who identifies as black, so I knew talking about race was his thing. When you’re a black creative, talking about race in your work is always going to be your thing.
But I thought this film was going to be Peele essentially sitting the audience down to talk about the spooky side of mainstream racism and interracial relationships.
Instead, it turned into Peele placing a full-length mirror in front of the audience and saying, "This is the reality we live in, and it’s always been this way."
Get Out follows photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kuuluya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage's (Allison Williams) trip to upstate New York to visit Rose’s parents. Chris is unsettled that Rose’s parents aren’t aware of his race, but they quickly welcome him with open arms.
Except things take a turn for the eyebrow-raising when Chris notices the family employs a black maid and groundskeeper. The family’s white friends also take to ogling Chris as if they’ve never seen a black person before. One man even states that, in regards to Chris and Rose’s relationship, that even though pale skin is desirable, "Black is back in fashion."
Get Out’s portrayal of the shift in tone and attitude some white people go through when face to face with a black person is easy to spot. Chris is greeted as "my man" repeatedly by girlfriend Rose’s father, is asked about a potentially violent childhood, and must endure unwarranted comments about Barack Obama.
Okay, here come the spoilers.
Because it’s in the film’s most stomach-churning moment—when it’s revealed that Rose’s family friends are bidding for ownership of Chris, auction style—that I realized the crux of what I was watching was about possession.
I reflected on the movie’s other big reveal upon leaving the theater: the very morbid fact that the Armitages have been kidnapping black men and women and using them as vessels to transplant the consciousnesses of their family friends into. All for the purpose of being "stronger, faster, [and] cooler".
What Get Out gets right is that society has always wanted to reap the benefits of being black without actually being black.
The Armitages literally tear away black men and women from what make them them and implant a white person in their place, much like the slang, fashion, culture, and entrepreneurial ideas of the past and present. White people, in turn, take their "newfound" commodities, attach their identities to them, and scrub any trace of black involvement away.
Black bodies and culture, unattached from an actual black person, have been up for grabs for centuries. While Get Out is an extreme version of that theft, it’s not far from the truth.
Take another example. If a young black girl had uttered, "Cash me outside, how bah dah?" in street-adopted accent on Dr. Phil, instead of Danielle Bergoli, the result would not have earned her verified social media status, song appearances and photoshoots. Bergoli's fame is the latest in a long string of black culture looking better on a non-black person, who then benefits greatly from it.
The extremes Get Out used to portray the free-for-all that is appropriation of black culture are still resonating with me, two days later.
On one hand, the sad reality is that many black people are used to creating, being emulated, and then ultimately pushed to the background.
On the other (weirdly optimistic?) hand, we keep creating and finding ways to add to our rich culture.
And when society decides to push us to the passenger seat again, I'm sure Jordan Peele—and the many others this film is going to inspire—will be waiting in the wings, a new script in hand.