In Justin Simien's indie satire "Dear White People", from 2015, one black character, Coco Conners, says to another, Samantha White, about the white people in blackface at a Halloween party: "They spend millions of dollars on their lips, their tans, their asses, Jay-Z tickets, because they want to be like us. And they got to be for a night." Jordan Peele's far superior satire, released earlier this year to surprisingly overwhelming success (grossing over US$250 million worldwide), takes the concept much further, where white people take far more drastic measures (I'll avoid spoilers) to benefit from the perceived cultural and physical advantages of black citizens and black bodies.
Those drastic measures bring the film to its particular genre, a skillful fusion of comedy and horror, which succeeded in drawing that broad and intersected market of consumers to the box office. And the significant artistic and cultural triumph of Peele, aided by a brilliant cast and crew, has succeeded in establishing him as a critical denizen of the industry and the art form.
David Kaluuya plays Chris Washington, a young black photographer who accompanies his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), on a trip to her parents' house, whom he will meet for the first time. It's not necessary for me to reveal any more of the plot to say that "Get Out" is a beacon of social and political commentary that succeeds simultaneously as art, which reveals the insights of its creator while providing undiluted pleasure to viewers.
Peele displays a perceptive attention to gestures, turns of phrase, and nuances in interactions, amplifying them to satirise attempts at racial contact -- when Rose's father (Bradley Whitford) and brother (Caleb Landry Jones) address Chris as "my man" or "fam," the term resounds with grating clarity, and there's a jarring disconnect between Chris and another young black man he meets, introduced as Logan (LaKeith Stanfield), regarding the distinction between "snitch" and "tattletale".
Peele presents two different kinds of white racist in his film, each overrun with distasteful impulses and repellent behaviours. There are the friends of the Armitage, who visit in droves for the weekend, all well-to-do and ingratiatingly polite, who address Chris explicitly on the grounds of a broad, fully-formed set of presumptions based on his race, which they take as the licence for their specific and disgraceful behaviour while interacting with him. They have no perception of Chris beyond that of his race, and, however flattering they believe their acknowledgements of it to be, there is no personal or individual basis on which they can communicate with him.
The other kind is the more subtle and progressive sect of the Armitage family themselves, ostensible liberals who apparently hold all races in equal regard -- indeed, who barely acknowledge someone's race, and claim to barely notice it or concern themselves with it at all. In this, Peele asserts, they deny any of the underlying unique features of black experience and black identity. He further suggests that these people most certainly do harbour discriminating perceptions and prejudices, and the deceptions they employ in hiding this are particularly damaging, on a personal basis as well as a wider social one.
Peele even suggests a psychological and moral danger in assimilating.
The horror of "Get Out" lies more in moral horror at its characters' actions and their implications than in conventional scares and gore. This revulsion arises from the intentions of a particular group of white racists in the film (again, avoiding spoilers) who seek to empty black bodies of their blackness and black minds of their black consciousness; a black person like Chris who had sought merely to assimilate is forced by them to fully conform and imitate to their oppressively white culture.
Peele even suggests a psychological and moral danger in assimilating -- Chris, himself a typical mainstream liberal, argues with his friend Rod (played spiritedly by Lil Rel Howery) about his relationship with his white girlfriend and her white family, and the views that are ultimately more accurate are held by Rod, who bases his reasoning not in any political theory or Chris's cultivated sense of well-behaved propriety but in historical experience, particularly that of black people in American society.
Chris comes to discover the sharply racialized reality of the world through his own horrific experiences. "Why do you always have to make it about race?" is a question heard often enough when attention is drawn to this reality; the answer Peele has is equally direct: We didn't make it about race. We found it this way.