We’ve made it, America: we finally have a movie discussing racism that has had found major success in the box offices success and has enjoyed both high ratings and stellar reviews all around. With the long line of movies in 2016 that addressed race and its complexities (see Moonlight and Hidden Figures), Get Out not only had big shoes to fill but needed to bring something new to the table. How does one bring to the Hollywood limelight an ever-prevalent and age-long discussion while still creating a film that compels viewers with an innovative plot?
In his directorial debut, Jordan Peele sets out to tackle this conundrum head-on. At first glance Get Out may seem like just another film about prejudice, fighting against an issue that at surface level appears to be just (pun not intended) black and white. However, as the movie progresses, far more is revealed about ugly truths hiding in plain sight.
To establish the sense that something sinister is brewing, in this case stifled racism, subtle foreshadowing of themes later developed are made through the film’s opening music choices. An older song plays as we see the kidnapping of Andrew Logan King (Keith Stanfield). The song, “Run Rabbit Run”, has lyrics telling a rabbit to run to avoid being killed by a farmer and being made into a rabbit pie, a facetious take on Germany bombing Britain during the onset of World War II with two dead rabbits being discovered in the aftermath. Written to show German “incompetence”, the song’s lyrics were eventually changed to “Run Adolf Run” as a performance stint to better direct it. Though the song itself sounds innocent enough, it comes from the 1930’s, a period greatly influenced by segregation and blatant racism, and grows ominously louder as King is stuffed into the trunk of an anonymous driver’s car.
Right after the kidnapping the main narrative is introduced with a song in Swahili, a language predominantly spoken in eastern Africa, though understanding the exact words is not needed to comprehend its meaning. As the viewer is urged to “listen” and “run far,” it is difficult not to experience a sense of personal danger. The movie then presents Childish Gambino’s new classic “Redbone”, representing the modernity of the protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) while panning over beautiful black-and-white shots that the viewer comes to realize are Chris’s work. Here, we’re faced with the black culture of the present, a time with slightly more rights than in the past and as much colorful vibrance as ever. By the end of the first act, a microcosm of three different periods of black history has been presented through the soundtrack, a story that speaks of constant perseverance through a slow and painful journey of oppression. In this story, the three periods are distinctly separated by song, but the lines between are set up to be blurred throughout the rest of the film.
Throughout the movie, something seems undeniably off about the situation that Chris and his white girlfriend, Rose, are in. It is in the way the score is curated, and in the way that the shots are cleverly put together, that the viewer is irked by what would seem normal in other scenarios. A primary example of this is at play when the two protagonists see the domestic staff that work on the maintenance of the Armitage house. Race is far from being at the forefront of anyone’s mind when Rose’s father mentions that the staff happen to be all black; they do happen to be creepy in their very formal manner of speaking, but having to point out and apologize for this fact to Chris is simply unnecessary. In fact, most of what Rose’s father says happens to be aimed to try to relate to Chris and his blackness. He asks Rose and Chris how long their “thang” has been going on, a word that Rose claims he has never used before, one of many stereotypes harbored in the minds of those who try to go out of their way to fit in among black people. It is in the particular way that Rose’s father says it, in a way that is beyond awkward and forced, that is distasteful. Here, Peele calls out the everyday white liberal that is near-ubiquitous today: the way the Armitage parents are characterized makes it so that any given member of audience can easily imagine their own parents in the same shoes.
No matter how much the Armitage’s attempts to relate to Chris seem to be mere ignorance, society’s underlying racism has not just disappeared. After the election of Barack Obama, America was assumed to have entered a “post-racial society,” because there was no possible way that the country could still be considered racist. Yet there are still barefaced racists in every part of the country who live their lives with prejudice that is more common and better-concealed: the kind that is inbred, to which the perpetrators know no alternative.
In the end, the family’s true colors are unveiled and put on full display. Without giving too much away, “black is in” in Get Out. Black people are envied for attributes such as athleticism, and in Chris’ case, talent with a camera. Throughout the family get-together that “coincidentally” takes place on the same weekend of his and Rose’s visit, Chris is sized up by the other guests, quite literally, in scenes that are palpably uncomfortable for both him and the audience. One thing is made clear: though everyone wants the traits that black people possess, no one wants the reality of it—the profiling, the prejudice, and the ugliness that go hand-in-hand with the beauty. Such critical theft is not without repercussions, as the finale reveals.
Racism isn’t easy to spot, and thus Get Out succeeds by having the audience question their own ingrained prejudices. Movies that take place during older times might be forced to make this reminder the only conflict that the protagonist has to face, but Get Out places emphasis on the fact that what was happening then is not too different from today; By expressing the film’s message is his message expressed in a dark plotline where racism is prevalent but discrete. Peele prohibits the audience from separating themselves from the evils on screen, until they retrospectively see the flaws that once seemed so natural.