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Black Stories Film Series #22:
“Get Out” (2017) is directorial debut of famed comedian, Jordan Peele, known primarily for his Comedy Central series with Keegan Michael Key, “Key & Peele.” Peele surprised us all with his keen eye for filmmaking with this masterpiece in horror/comedy. Drawing off of the psycho suburbia of “Stepford Wives” and the unnerving closeness of friendly neighbors a la “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Get Out” brings us another warped story, but this time with a racist, satirical twist.
Playing off the sad realities of people of color feeling at best uncomfortable and at worst fully unwelcome in white neighborhoods, the film re-imagines that version of the worst. In the introductory clip, Lakeith Stanfield is seen walking down an empty street in a residential neighborhood joking with someone on the phone about how creepy it is that everything looks the same. Suddenly, a car driving by slows to a halt, turns around and starts to follow him. Cue Childish Gambino’s brilliantly funky “Redbone” – a song that ominously warns the audience, “But stay woke… N*ggas creepin’… They gon’ find you… Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (oh)… Now stay woke… Niggas creepin’… Now don’t you close your eyes.”
The screen goes black, and we meet our leads: Daniel Kaluuya is Chris, our protagonist, and his girlfriend, Rose, Allison Williams (from HBO’s “Girls”). They are preparing to go to her family home and meet her parents, and Chris hesitantly warns her that she should have told her parents that he is black. She blows it off, confidently reassuring him that her parents are open-minded and will love him no matter what. No big deal. Peppering the entire film with hysterical comic relief, Chris’s best friend who is a TSA Agent (LilRel Howery), cautions him not to go as well. However, all of this is met with jest and silliness, despite there being an underlying seriousness. The uncomfortable racism that Chris and his friends are worried about is nothing compared to the horrors that he will actually face, but no one knows that yet.
When arriving at her parents house, it already feels reminiscent of a Southern plantation home with a wraparound porch, an enormous yard and overly docile black housekeeper and groundskeeper (Georgina played by Betty Gabriel & Walter by Marcus Henderson, respectively). Peele immediately capitalizes on the audiences understandable discomfort with this, using Chris as the vehicle for our emotions as well. Like we all often do in racially disconcerting situations, we excuse the behaviors in an attempt to be amicable. Georgina is cold towards Chris, in a way that brings back the dynamic between Tillie and John Prentice in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (1967). Her parents are played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, which feels incredibly intentional. We know them as actors to be exceptionally liberal and open-minded. It will take some convincing to see that despite these characters quickness to say things like “I would have voted for Obama for a third term,” or comment on how Jesse Owens won the qualifying round at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. “Hitler was up there with all those perfect Aryan race bullshit. This black dude comes along and proves him wrong in front of the entire world. Amazing!” Peele is calling out white people here, but it might take white people a moment to realize it. These awkward attempts to connect with Chris are innocent enough, but this is only the start. At a garden party, Chris is met with multitudes of older white people who poke and prod him, complimenting him using tropes about black men, touching him without asking, objectifying and dehumanizing him in the process. The first half of “Get Out” meticulously paints a picture of racial gaslighting and microaggressions that layer on each other until they start to suffocate.
The second half of the film dips into a more hyperbolized look at racism, using full-fledged horror – mind control, frightening science experiments, stalking, trapping, you name it. It’s a terrorizing expedition as unpredictable as 2011’s hit “Cabin in the Woods.” It is genuinely frightening, but with a razor sharp commentary, Peele is doing more than just keeping us on the edge of our seats. He is speaking loudly about the underbelly of America that is highly racist and prevails more than most want to acknowledge. Howery spoke about the allegorical symbolism in the film being strongly entrenched in the fear historically experienced by African Americans. “It goes back to the way I grew up; I’m just being honest,” Howery explained. “Segregation created this. Stories about people like Emmett Till. It’s history; crazy things have happened, so people are going to embellish and pass that onto their kids as a warning. Jordan [Peele] was so smart to hit on all these stories that could be considered myths, but a lot of it is rooted in truth.” It is really intricately constructed and exceptionally creative.
“Get Out” was an immediate hit upon it’s release. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017, and grossed $255 million on a $4.5 million budget (a net profit of $124 million) and quickly became the tenth-most profitable film of 2017. It was chosen as one of the top 10 films of the year by the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute and Time. It earned four nominations at the 90th Academy Awards, and won for Best Original Screenplay, an award that is rarely given to this genre. It was loved by audiences just the same, scoring a notable “100% Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes for weeks on end. and still holds a 98% years later. “Get Out” is a timeless film that speaks about a specific time. It is addressing the “white moderate” that Dr. King spoke about. It is about white liberal progressives who fail to learn about their own racism. It’s a plea for change and acknowledgement of the deeper issues of racism that go far beyond waving confederate flags. It’s a darkly humorous, entertaining and continually startling. A must see.