"I'm not Racist but...", "the sunken place", A Mind of It's Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, Allison Williams, Armitage Family, Betty Gabriel, Between the World and Me, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Catherine Keener, Chris, Coagula, comedy, Daniel Kaluuya, David M. Friedman, Film, film review, Get Out, horror, Humor, Jordan Peele, Key & Peele, LilRel Howery, Mandingo myth, Marcus Henderson, race, Race relations, Sex Slavery, slavery, Social Justice Warriors, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the black male body, Woke
It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this.
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
The Fruit Loops are colored and therefore they have to be in a separate container from the milk. I’m really, really disappointed in myself for not getting that even after my second viewing of Get Out.
It’s important in this life to understand what your strengths are, where your passions are most likely to shine, and how you can use these gifts and talents to help you in this life. It’s just as important to understand what your weaknesses are. While I wouldn’t consider my familiarity with cinema to be one of my weaknesses, and I’m hardly a neophyte to the field given how much I’ve written and studied in the subject, I’m real enough to know when I’m speaking with someone who has a far more nuanced perspective. Such a person is my friend TJ. I’ve known TJ for about four years, we were originally introduced when a mutual friend recommended that I join a graphic novel bookclub TJ had started up, and he’s quickly become one of the closest friends I have. I love having a friend and co-worker who has an educated opinion about comics, but it’s in film that the pair of us tend to have the most extended conversations.
These conversations are always revealing to me, largely because TJ’s comprehension of cinema tends to be more that of a cultured aficionado. He knows the language, economics, and soul of cinema, and so when he proposed starting up a movie group for the Library it was no surprise that the list of films we started off with included movies such as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Seventh Seal, The Godfather, and of course Get Out. This last film was probably the one he was the most passionate about, and that passion was so infecting I went out and watched the film, watching it a second time recently for the group.
This experience was illuminating. There’s a wordless quality to Get Out, because even though I had already watched the film once, I was physically trembling as Chris walked back to the house while the family and “the help” smile at him as he slowly made his way inside. And it must needs be said that I was yelling at the television, “Motherfucker getout of the GODDAMN HOUSE!” Much to the chagrin of my wife who has had to become used to me talking at movies rather than just silently enjoying them like a normal, sane human being.
Get Out is a film that has no real counter-part largely because there’s never been a film like it. Jordan Peele of the comedy duo Key & Peele is the director of the movie and often refers to it as a horror-comedy-documentary-thriller, though even this title is somewhat misleading because there’s nothing terribly funny about Get Out. There are parts that are funny, and scenes that left me literally rolling on the floor desperately trying to breathe, but as a whole the film tackles through hyperbole, and some science fiction, the reality of being black in the United States, and thus before I even begin I really need to address something.
If it hasn’t become apparent, I’m white.
But not only am I white, I am an upper-middle class white man who’s parents bought him a house when he went to graduate school and who sent him to a private Christian school when he was growing up. I’ve watched literally every episode of Frasier, and I have an educated opinion about the music of Frank Sinatra, the writing of Vladimir Nabakov, and the film career of Gene Kelly. I am whiter than a Polar Bear fighting Wes Anderson with ice spears during a goddamn blizzard. I also write essays for a blog entitled “White” Tower Musings, which has, on a few occasions, been mistaken for White Power Musings.
I am white as fucking white, and therefore trying to communicate the complexities inherent of the African American Male experience should be called into question. The good intentions of those trying to appear and sound “woke” can be a bit of a problem, to the point that people who are white and refer to themselves as social justice warriors can be part of the larger problem of racism that they are supposedly trying to fix.
For myself, I am not trying to be anything other than what I am, some asshole with a shitty blog. But, before my mother slaps me upside the head and before my wife can get to me, I’m also a writer, and someone who tries to understand a wide variety of people by actually listening to people’s grievances and perspectives. Let that define my ethos in this larger conversation in its own way.
Even if I cannot understand having my body fetishized, when I was compiling notes for TJ’s meeting on Get Out I couldn’t shake off this idea of “the body” and how Chris’s entirestruggle through the film was entirely centered in this problem. The very opening scenes of the film involves a black man walking through a neighborhood before he is abducted. His body is captured before the film opens and one of the first scenes the reader gets of Chris is his body while he’s shaving and he cuts himself. Chris, as the reader observes in the film, is a young photographer who’s dating a white woman and the film follows the pair of them as they drive up to the country (the region is never specified but it really shouldn’t matter because white people are crazy wherever you go) to see Rose’s parents. On the way to the house, while Rose is driving and the pair of them are discussing Chris’s friend Rod and Chris’s habit of smoking, a deer collides with the front of their car.
The scene itself is a jump scare, but it passes quickly. What is important however is that, once the pair of them are out of the car Chris hears the deer and walks into the woods tosee it still breathing with a large hole in it’s chest. The scene is powerful as the reader watches the deer, wondering if it’s supposed to be an omen of what’s to come, whether the deer mirrors Chris, or if the entire scene is just used to create an early scare and build up the tension in the audience. The sensation of watching Get Out is more or less summarized in this small scene because, as I noted to my friend, virtually every element and component of Get Out is connected to something else.
Looking at Rose’s Father’s reaction to the story of the dead deer this becomes apparent.
Dean Armitage: You know what I say? I say one down, a couple hundred thousand to go. I don’t mean to get on my high horse, but I’m telling you, I do not like the deer. I’m sick of it; they’re taking over. They’re like rats. They’re destroying the ecosystem. I see a dead deer on the side of the road and I think, “That’s a start.”
The phrase “they’re taking over,” is one that is often equated with the sentiment of“there goes the neighborhood,” which itself is connected to actual expressions by white racists when black families would move in. What’s taking place in this scene however is a double play because while Dean Armitage is saying this about deer, and mimicking racists, he’s trying to present himself as a man who is open minded but clumsily being racist. Throughout Get Out Peele has the family portrayed as Northern Progressive Liberals, the kind of people who enjoy their white privilege but who also profess dedication to helping African Americans who are “disadvantaged.” This is probably best exemplified when Dean is talking to Chris one on one:
Dean Armitage: If I could, I would have voted for Obama for a third term.
This is a difficult issue because racism is something most people assume manifests in the form of hoods, burning crosses, and, of course, southern dialects. But the problem with this perception that racism is only racism when it is obvious and violent distracts from the more subtler racism that actually manifests in day-to-day reality. Racism is often a chameleon that changes it’s shape shifting into little things like microagressions. When Dean tells Chris that he would have voted for Obama for a third term it’s implying that he thinks that Chris thinks that Obama was a great President when he knows absolutely nothing of Chris’s political opinions or persuasions. Peele isn’t just using this to make an empty statement about racism, he’s trying to demonstrate that this simple act of subtle racism distracts Chris from the real reality. Dean Armitage, like the rest of his family, are trapping Black People and taking their bodies from them, but because Chris is always shown the smaller little acts of racism he eventually falls for the trap.
Get Out does an incredible job of showing then how Social Justice Warriors, or people who claim to be woke, can cause just as much problems as the actual racists themselves.
But the dying deer and it’s destroyed body is what keeps me centered in Get Out because I’ve written about this mess before. My most popular essay to date is the one I wrote about the Mandingo Myth, the bullshit racist philosophy that states that black men are inherently more physically powerful and sexually salacious as white men. This is an idea which is partly the key to the success of my essay, as everyday reveals someone typing in “Gay Black Cock” or “Monster Black Dick Worship” and thus finding an essay about Imperialism and racism. As is always the case, the success only proves the point.
Looking at the book A Mind of it’s Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, David M. Friedman laid out to me the real racism of this idea.
Whether the black penis really is larger than the white one is an unanswered, and maybe unanswerable, question. (It is highly unlikely any reputable scientific organization will fund a definitive study anytime soon.) What is a fact that manypeople, white and black, believe is larger. What is also true, and probably more important, is that many of those white people believe that “larger” black penis has a major—read: “dangerous”—cultural meaning. (125).
This is best put just a couple of pages later when Friedman says it simply:
To really kill a black man, you had to kill his penis. (128).
This isn’t an entirely unfounded idea. The idea of slavery, specifically sex slavery is a element that keeps returning throughout the entire film. Rod, Chris’s friend, regularly references this idea as Chris describes Rose’s family and their behavior, and as the plot unfolds Rod eventually discovers the Armitage family out vicariously through Chris. When his suspicions are confirmed he tries to report his conclusions to the police providing one of the funniest scenes in the film:
Rod Williams: [to Detective Latoya and two other detectives] Then he sent me some weird pictures. I’m like, “Ah man, that’s Andre Hayworth.” This dude’s been missing for 6 months, right? So I do all my research, you know, ’cause as a TSA agent. You know, you guys are detectives. You know, I got the same training. We might know more than y’all sometimes, you know, ’cause we are dealing with some terrorist shit, so… but that’s a totally different story. So look, I-I go do my… my detective work, right? And I start putting pieces together. And see, this is what I came up with. They’re probably abducting black people, brainwashing them and making them slaves… or sex slaves. Not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and shit. See? I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making ’em slaves or what not, but all I know is they already got two brothas we know and there could be a whole bunch of brothas they got already. What’s the next move?
[after a few seconds, the three detectives look at each other and burst out hysterically in laughter]
Detective Latoya: Don’t ever, ever say that I don’t do nothing anymore.
Detective Latoya: Oh, white girls. They get you every time.
Despite the humor of the film Peele has noted numerous times in interviews and face-to-face Q&A sessions that there is nothing remotely funny about the subject matter of Get Out, calling the film a documentary rather than an outright comedy. This is a fair point given the recent events which have taken place in the United States over the last four years. Despite the public face of the Obama Presidency there are still significant race problems in the United States, all stemming from the fact that there is a fear of the Black man’s body. Young black men are being desired, feared, worshiped, fetishized, and often butchered all because the United States cannot seemingly have a real and nuanced conversation about the difficulties of racism. There is this unfortunate notion that because the United States has had a black President that racism is somehow over. Apparently nobody informed the Klan, or that guy on Facebook who always responds to racism comments with “I’m not racist, but…”. Racism is not something that will end, it merely changes. Peele’s film allows the reader to see then how the racism has changed, yet ultimately remained the same.
Get Out is a film about the body of black men and how they are being destroyed and stolen by people who cannot, or will not, recognize them as human beings. The secret society that the Armitage’s are a part of are bent on taking the bodies of black people and “unlocking their potential.” The idea, ultimately, is that black people should not be allowed whatever gifts they possess because they are clearly being wasted pushing and advancing the lives of black, rather than white, bodies. And while I was doing all this thinking and mental pontificating I couldn’t help but think back to another landmark book which has garnered recent accolades for discussing the very same issue.
Ta-Nehisi Coates in his landmark book, Between the World and Me, reflects on the death of a friend who was shot by a policeman and the entire book is written as a series of letters to his son. Coates addresses his son directly noting the position of his body in the culture:
Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor—it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random mangling, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no pride anthems, nor old Negro Spirituals. The spirit and soul are the body and the brain, which are destructible—that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul and body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And the fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stove wood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.
It had to be blood. (103-4).
The body and the brain are what makes a man, and the most horrific idea of Get Out is not that the body can be stolen, but that the body is stolen while the brain is maintained. Ultimately the Black men, and women, who are captured by Rose and her family are not just destroyed, they are stolen. Coates is able to show his son that the black body is one that has been consistently abused and turned often into some kind of industrial product,and while the Marxists would latch onto this in order to explain deeper notions of hegemony and economic domination, what is at heart in all of this is the idea that people are not allowed the agency of their own bodies.
The Coagula, the organization or the secret society that the Armitage’s are a part of, are built on the idea that blacks do not have the right to make their own destiny. Their bodies are, ultimately, just tools for white people to advance their own interests, and by the end of the film Chris is lucky to escape with his life. It should be noted that the original ending of the film ended with Chris being arrested and locked up for the murder of Rose’s family, and, while this ending would be accurate to the life of many black men in the United States, Peele was far more effective in giving the audience a catharsis.
Get Out is a film about how the black body is caught in a system in which it often cannotwin. While there is some Victory in Chris escaping, and killing the entire Armitage family as he fights his way out, there is still the deeper implication that even if he escapes there the lingering question of the victims. Upon finishing Get Out again recently I asked my friend this question: what happens to the people who were stolen? There was no answer to this question and in fact I don’t have one.
Being a white man I cannot process the reality of having my body fetishized, feared, desired, or appropriated by others. My flesh and bones are just that, meat and hard foundation. They are not wrapped up in discourses of alienation and power-imbalance, which is all a fancy-pants way of saying, as I did before, I’m white as fucking white. And so processing a film like Get Out is difficult because I can understand the fear only from the perspective of an observer. But if I can make the case for Peele’s film, Get Out is vital and important because of the constant attention to the body. A Black man can’t seem to win in this society, and even if he does it comes at a great cost. Chris will never be the same after this experience, the reader is able to see that as the car drives away and he stares detached out into the forrest.
Rather than just accept the ending as a victory, it’s important to remember that it’s also a defeat. The systems of racism that divide people continue in spite of the apparent surface where white people can praise the first black President and suggest that they are woke and accepting and understanding of the complexities inherent of the African American experience in America. Black bodies are still being commodified and worshipped and fetishized and feeding a system that profits from their exploitation. Yet in the face of this Get Out succeeds in actually addressing the problem in a way that doesn’t feel patronizing or self-righteous, and it offers it’s audience some catharsis in the face of the history and tragedy.
The deer may lie on the side of the rode, it’s body burst by the unfeeling car, dying with no one to seemingly care, but if Get Out offers anything to the reader it promises that someone is seeing the violence and is willing to say something about it.
All quotes from Get Out were cited from IMDb.com. All quotes from Between the World and Me were cited from the Hardback Spiegel & Grau edition. All quotes from A Mind of it’s Own: A Cultural History of the Penis were cited from the hardback The Free Press edition.
Get Out is a film that, I might be biased about, but I legitimately think is incredible, and fortunately I’m not the only one. As always I like giving my reader extra reading to build up the experience and so here are several reviews of the film for them to enjoy:
And here is an article published in The Atlantic focusing on the use of eyes and cameras in the film, something I’m ashamed of myself for not writing more about. Enjoy:
Because I’m a Key and Peele Fan so I just had to share this one.