Living under racism as a black person makes one constantly ask themselves questions, chief amongst them “what are non-black people seeing when they look at me?” and its corollary “how much should I care about that shit, anyway?” Get Out dredges up the answers you already know in the goriest possible form.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele—best known as one half of the eponymous duo from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele series—Get Out is a movie that transmutes subtext into text. At its core is the months-old relationship between black man Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and white woman Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). The film opens as the interracial couple are getting ready to travel up to her family home in a lily-white, upper-middle-class enclave. The Armitages welcome Chris with a full suite of well-meaning liberal elite awkwardness, complete with changed-up speech patterns and heartfelt declarations of fealty to Barack Obama.
When the family’s annual gala brings moneyed guests from all over, the elites hover around Chris and subject him to all sorts of bizarre appraisals. They squeeze his bicep and ask him whether he thinks he has any advantages as a black person in America. It’s all foreshadowing for the movie’s big twist: the Armitages have been kidnapping and hypnotizing black people for years so that old rich white folks can live inside their darker bodies.
The first significant bit of foreshadowing in Get Out happens when Allison hits a deer on the way to her parents’ tucked-away estate. Chris is shaken at the sight of the dead animal. Later, Rose’s dad goes on a rant about hating deer, saying he wishes he could just kill all of them.
The nature of the “specialness” imparted to black people in America is wildly dysfunctional. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve been in relationships where I’ve been told “my parents can’t know about you… ever.” One time, after meeting me, a girlfriend’s boss wondered aloud “he’s a biiig guy, huh?” to her face.
Peele opens up that bleak vein of the American body to let comedy that’s dark like venous blood drip all over Get Out. He sardonically invokes hoary old horror-flick genre conventions—the weird groundskeeper, false innocence, “it’s all in your head” mind games—and re-purposes them for cutting commentary. In the middle of the movie, Chris gets hypnotized, knocked out, and tied up so a rich white man’s brain can get transplanted into his young, talented body. In the creepy rec room where he’s held captive, a mounted buck head stares lifelessly back at him. When he gets free, that buck head becomes an antlered weapon that helps Chris stab a bloody path to freedom. Chris is a “buck” using a buck killed by a rich white man to kill the rich white man that was going to steal his life.
Similar moments all over the film skewer America’s centuries-long fetishization and commodification of black creativity and black bodies, as critic Greg Tate wrote about in Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture. The victims that we see are black creatives; Chris is a photographer and Dre (played by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield) is a jazz musician. Rose is shown looking up NCAA prospects as a pool for future targets.
Jordan Peele’s film is a master-class trickster work, a cultural production that brings knowledge and experience to light by mocking and subverting the power structure it occurs in. Get Out turns the idea of what a “bad neighborhood” is on its ear and drives home the chilling fact that, if you’re a black person, the mere words of a white person can become the ultimate violence that nullifies your self.