Being Black For 103 Minutes: 'Get Out' From A White Millennial's Perspective
"If a powerful motion picture could ruffle the feathers of just a portion of white America, it has done its job."
On February 24, a 24-year-old kid from the suburbs ended his decade long horror movie drought (Texas Chainsaw Massacre did me dirty) by going to see Get Out, and without the push from three friends of my closest friends growing up, I don’t think I would have gone. My friends, all the same age as me, had a history of good taste in cinema, so I figured to trust their instincts. All four of us have lived in the mostly white suburban bubble of Westchester County, NY our entire lives, and they did not inform me of the racial aspect of the film going in. The trailer piqued my interest, but I really had no clue what I was getting myself into and just didn’t want to leave with a week’s worth of nightmares. I guess you could say I was numb to how poignantly the film would prey on racism within genious but subtle language, imagery and symbolism. What really put me all in was the Jordan Peele effect, the promise of comedic relief to be intertwined throughout the 103-minute social thriller.
My friends and I rolled up to the AMC Loews theater in Portchester, NY on a very cold Friday night for a prime time 8 p.m. showing. The crowd was diverse in age and ethnicity. I remember scoping out the scene, seeing black couples, white people and Latinos varied throughout, co-mingling in the spacious theater. Viewers looked to range from their early twenties to 50-plus, echoing the mixed-bag demographic of the town. More than anything, I was curious about the clientele because I had never been to the theater, and it wasn’t until after the film that I surveyed the crowd from our overhanging corner balcony seats more closely with race in mind.
I’ve never been in a theater where its viewers were so collectively engaged in the film. I remember hearing one black guy sitting behind me utter under his breathe, “this f**king b***h,” as Rose Armitage continued to bamboozle Chris Washington, her unsuspecting black boyfriend. The atmosphere almost felt as if we were right there with Chris sinking into his own nightmare, trying to help him will his way out of the Armitage insane asylum. The “social horror” kept my stomach churning and my brain knotted in anxiety as I awaited the film’s next on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment, eyes wide open just like Chris’ much-memed expression. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams star as an interracial couple who visit her parents in the suburbs for the weekend, and any and everyone can identify with this kind of potential disaster of a situation. However, while wrapped up in the couple’s obviously complicated scenario, there are some key things that I walked away from the theater with.
The Jordan Peele Effect: Comedic Relief Keeps Us Sane
The funny moments in Get Out take you out of the thriller mentality at various points throughout its gasp-worthy turns. I think that’s what made me appreciate the film even more. Just when you’re ready to let your guard down, the thrilling factor comes back into play. Whether it was the awkward punchlines featuring racial undertones from Dean, Rose’s father (“If Obama could've run for a third term I would've voted for him”) or hilarious, borderline inappropriate friend advice from Rod, who began joking with Chris about how they would turn him into a sex slave, Peele’s genius shined through as someone who perfected the satire comedy lane.
“It's horrifying watching poor Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) paralyzed in that chair while his will and body are being stolen, because growing up, I felt as paralyzed as him,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for The Hollywood Reporter.
Peele is of a bi-racial background, raised by his white mother, and channelled racist experiences with the older white generation growing up through painfully oblivious jokes and stereotypes of how the younger generation perceives our white elders within Get Out. Take, for example, when one of the party guests Gordon tells Chris, “I do know Tiger [Woods].” He believes that since Chris is black, that’s the only thing he would know about golf, which is a scary reality that some have that slightly condescending mentality. All I could do was laugh it off along with a few others in the theater.
Separate But Equal: Hidden Imagery & Subtle Foreshadowing
Peele’s clever use of imagery and foreshadowing could not go unnoticed and is layered to the point that you’ll need a second watch to figure out the parts that went over your head. The deer Rose hit dead at the start of the film went on to be symbolic of future parts of the film’s complex plot, and way more important than just a ploy to make you pop out of your seat. Notice how Chris was way more empathetic to the dead animal than Rose was. When Chris walks into the bushes to assess the damage, she stays planted by the car, incurious. The couple then arrives at the Armitage house, where Dean ashes the deer’s very existence. “One down, a couple hundred thousand to go,” he says dismissively. “They’re like rats. I see a dead deer on the side of the road, I say that’s a start.” It seemed rude but harmless at the time, but we later see that his true feelings about the deer reflect how he feels about black people.
While Mr. Armitage is giving Chris a tour of the house, he foreshadows many future integral parts of the plot, but his statements flowed within the conversation and didn’t make you question his words. “It’s a privilege to experience another person’s culture,” Dean says while showing off his collection of travel trinkets to Chris, another harmless statement until you realize his envy for black traits. It took me two viewings to catch the meaning behind what Dean told Chris when giving a tour of the house: “That’s the basement. We had to seal it up, got some black mold down there.” Pure genius screenwriting by Peele once again. There are multiple layers contained within the script that keep you focused throughout.
Also I love that if the movie Get Out existed in the world of Get Out, the parents would have told Chris how much they loved Get Out
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) March 18, 2017
The last half hour of the film, in which Chris looks to make his escape out of the Armitage lockdown, felt like an eternity. After he discovers the photos of Rose and prior black suitors, including Walter the groundskeeper and even Georgina the maid, my heart immediately began beating abnormally as I tried to figure out his next move, praying for a positive outcome. As everyone in the theater knew by this time, Rose is in on the psychotic plan and won’t give Chris the car keys, while her brother Jeremy guards the front door with a lacrosse stick, a symbolism of a predominantly white sport. Peele later revealed he went with lacrosse over a golf club since that was already done before in a previous film.
Sparking An Uncomfortable Conversation From “The Sunken Place”
Many scenes throughout the film did make me feel uncomfortable, though, almost to the point where I had to get up and leave for a 30 second timeout. A prime example is when Chris is subjected to many awkward encounters and subtle racist comments at the family “party,” beginning with everyone’s black car arrival up to the painful conversations with the white guests where Chris is looked at as a puppet there for entertainment. I cringed when guests said things to Chris like, “black is in fashion,” or ask “how has the African-American experience been” for him. That was only the start. His interactions with Georgina and Logan, both robotic, were mind-boggling. The most unsettling of all was the bingo scene. I was in disgust of what was going on, as it drew eerily similar comparisons to the slave trade from America’s past.
When Chris is shackled down to an armchair in the “mold infested” basement awaiting the coagula procedure, it’s after he’s disappeared into the ground to The Sunken Place as Rose says, “You were one of my favorites.” The Sunken Place symbolizes the marginalization of black America, no matter the injustice, the systems in place whether the prison or education system to name a couple, are tactically designed to silence the people. Phase one of the procedure is the hypnotism where Chris is being broken down mentally, phase two follows with prepping his “new” psyche and finally the transmutation is performed. The scene invoked uneasy feelings reminiscent of slavery, as he’s chained against his will, freedom stripped. It wasn’t until after the film, strolling through the theater’s parking lot, that one of my childhood friends I saw the film with intelligently drew the comparison of Chris picking the cotton out of the chair to use as ear plugs to deny the hypnosis, another subdued use of symbolism.
The Sunken Place means we're marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.
— Jordan Peele (@JordanPeele) March 17, 2017
When Chris ended up clubbing Jeremy in the head with a bloodied yellow bocce ball, another typically white sport instrument, the crowd let out a collective cheer and fist pumped, as I gasped the words, “Let’s go!” Chris ironically driving the deer head antlers through Mr. Armitage as he was prepping for the lobotomy is poetic justice at its finest. Meanwhile, Rose is upstairs minding her own business like nothing happened, too busy Googling her next victim (preferably a “Top NCAA prospect”) with framed photos of her previous boos—all of whom are now in the sunken place—hanging above her bed. Notice the snack choice: colorful Fruit Loops in one cup, with a white glass of milk kept separately, symbolizing the severed racial relations in society today and in their family.
As Chris successfully made his escape from the Armitage experiment, Rod, who had been trying to call attention to his missing friend the whole time, pulled up to save the day, a symbolism of loyalty in friendship. Admittedly, my stomach sank as I pictured the sirens being a cop rolling up to the scene to arrest Chris, but once I saw that TSA car, I let out a huge sigh of relief. The thriller ended on a positive and funny note, and the theater collectively gave a standing ovation with the credits rolling. It was a sight of beauty; I’ve never been in a theater where that was the case.
Get Out has raked in over $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, so clearly Peele and his team are onto something and striking a nerve within the American people. The cinematic experience is a must-see in the theater, definitely worth the expensive $13 admission, which is a rarity these days. A film of this magnitude will help push the conversation about systematic racial oppression forward, but ultimately the burden falls on the shoulders of the millennial generation to invoke change.
“I wanted to make something that has a perspective that you don’t often see, but I also wanted it to be an inclusive movie,” Peele told the New York Times. “That’s the power of story and genre. You can ask a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and a half.”
The thought-provoking film still has my mind racing back to the strong symbolism and understated messaging from Get Out, easily the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. When I left the theater, I begin to take note of the audience standing up as the lights went on, listening into the chatter and it was unanimous approval, with biracial post-movie chatter higher than usual, debates of the film ensued immediately. I felt as if I went through a traumatic outer-body experience myself, trying to get my brain acclimated to reality once again. Peele has set the standard in the horror-satire lane with an original piece that entertained, but also left an impression on its viewers from a political, as well as racial perspective in American society. The response lead me to believe that if a powerful motion picture could ruffle the feathers of just a portion of white America, it has done its job.