Apologies for the title. I’m sure there is a special place in hell for white writers who use white people references when talking about Black culture, but I’m pretty sure I’m going there anyway, so what the heck. I’m still very much a newbie in my quest to be an agent of social justice and learn about Black culture , so I’ll use what I know until I can use Black culture references appropriately.
Are ya still with me? Mary Poppins! Mary Poppins! OK, that’s better.
I had seen the ads for the movie “Get Out,” but I am a big weenie when it comes to horror movies. Between the violent bloody parts and the unbearable tension created by slasher music and white teenagers always going into the creepy house to have sex or drink, I find the whole thing disturbing and annoying. That is until the crazy person/spirit/monster comes out of nowhere with an ax, and then I’m cowering in my seat, yelling, “Is it over?”
I’m kidding, I’ve never actually sat through a horror movie; I can scare myself in the dark for free in a fraction of the time. But I made an exception when my friend Sonia said I had to see “Get Out.” The movie is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, who, if you don’t live under a media rock like I do, you may know him from his acting work: 5 seasons as a cast member on Mad TV, starring with Keegan-Michael Key in the Comedy Central ketch series Key & Peele, and a recurring role in the first season of the FX anthology series Fargo.
Halfway through the making of “Get Out.” Jordan Peele realized the story he wanted to tell: A horror-thriller for Black audiences that delivered a searing satirical critique of systemic racism. It is definitely a cleverly written social commentary on being black in America, and he tucks in some humor along the way while he plays with the genre. If you’re white and love horror movies, and even if you aren’t really looking for any deep meaning in your movies, I’d still encourage you to see it. It’s a quality addition to the genre; you will be entertained and surprised and terrified.
But it’s even better if you take a few minutes to see it from a Black perspective.
I put it on my viewing list, but I rarely stay awake long enough to watch movies, so I didn’t actually get to watch it until I visited Sonia a few months ago. It was 100 times better than me watching it by myself for several reasons:
- I would’ve missed most, if not all of the social commentary and symbolism that is embedded in the movie.
- I would’ve have had anyone to tell me when it was OK to unplug my ears and untuck my head from the pillow to deal with the bloody horror junk at the end.
If you’re sensitive like I am, invite a horror movie loving buddy to watch it with you, preferably one who doesn’t think it’s funny to say, “It’s safe to watch now!” just when the ax is in mid-swing.
The premise of the movie is that the main character Chris is a Black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time, of course at their house, which in typical horror movie fashion is in the middle of nowhere. He soon realizes there is something strange and creepy about their obsession with Blackness; their maid and gardener are Black, and at a party later, there is young Black man who is married to an older white woman. He tried to connect with the Black people, but they are all placid and vacant, but showing brief moments of desperation that he doesn’t understand.
This is a condensed version from “We Need to Talk About All of the Symbolism in Get Out” from VH1 News.
- On the way to the girlfriend’s parents’ house the couples’ car hits a deer. When the cop arrives, the scene re-enacts what happens commonly across country. The cop demands Chris’s ID, even though he wasn’t the one driving. Indignant, the girlfriend argues with the cop about why that is necessary, while Chris tries to calm her down and comply. The scene emphasizes that white privilege gets to argue with a cop without serious consequences. Chris can’t take that chance.
- Once at the parents’ house, Chris’s girlfriend’s mother offers to hypnotize him to help cure him of his nicotine addiction him. Of course nastier things are afoot. She actually taps into a traumatic experience from his past to put him into a psychological “Sunken Place” where he’s falling in a hole and can’t move. From the VH-1 website: “This out-of-body experience represents the greater narrative of Black America. It’s a theme we’ve seen play out again and again in American history – from slavery to the Tuskegee experiments all the way to mass incarceration…the idea that terrifying and denigrating things come from white ownership of Black bodies.”
- The mother uses the clinking of a silver spoon against a teacup to control when Chris goes to the sunken place. In addition to the symbolism of the being born with a “silver spoon” equating with wealth, is also calls to mind Black servants serving tea to wealthy white people.
- The movie is not without its funny moments. Chris’s friend Rod had misgivings for Chris’s girlfriend from the start. When Chris’s calls from the parents’ house get stranger and more worrisome, and then finally stop, he takes action. He’s a goofy TSA agent and plays his seriousness about his job and his melodramatic take on what’s happened to Chris for laughs — his theory is that some white people are kidnapping Black people and making them slaves. Which all the people in authority that he tells laugh at, so he uses his TSA training to max to launch a rescue.
- Chris finds himself tied to a comfy chair in the basement. The sound of the tinkling spoon puts him in and out of the sunken place, and there is seemingly no escape. However, in his anxiety, he starts picking at the arm of the chair, freeing, what else, tufts of cotton. He uses it to plug his ears so he can’t hear the hypnosis signal, and is able to free himself when they bring him food thinking he is incapacitated. As the VH-1 website perfectly said, “This might be the only time where a Black man picking cotton has been a lifesaving task.”
There are more references, so check them out. Think of it like Schoolhouse Rock — you get to be entertained and learn something at the same time. If you can’t deal with the horror, I get it. I’m working on finding other options. Stay tuned and meanwhile hum, “Conjunction, junction, what’s your function?