Haunted By ‘Get Out’ -- But Not Because It’s A Horror Film

It highlighted for me how we can all make buffoons of ourselves in the face of diversity.
03/25/2017 06:31 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2017
Daniel Kaluuya in <em>Get Out </em>
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Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

After watching the movie “Get Out” (only once unlike several friends who’ve already seen it 3 times), my eyes have been wide open. I am highly attuned and alert...and also confused. Have I, like the characters in the film, ever said incredibly offensive things to people of color in an effort to demonstrate just how “cool” and “liberated” I am? I certainly hope not, but the feeling I have now is that you can never be entirely too sure.

The current box office hit has been labeled a “suspense” and “horror” film and is very reminiscent of The Stepford Wives in its depiction of mysterious characters who remind us of people we’ve actually known. Get Out highlights a nationwide problem: how White people regard and treat African Americans. Sometimes Caucasians go overboard in their attempts at flattery, just as the parents (played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) of Rose (Alison Williams) do while welcoming her dark-skinned black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to the family home. In stereotypical horror film fashion, there is frightening foreshadowing leading up to the family visit. When Chris reaches the estate grounds with Rose, the feel is old fashioned & the help also just happens to be black. They are Georgina and Walter (played by Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) who seem robotic, eerily soulless and painstakingly devoted to their tasks. Rose’s dad makes a concerted effort to show just how open-minded he is and overdoes it in the most cringe-worthy way imaginable. Oh, the shit white people say...now sink into your movie chair.

As a woman whose skin is pale, I came away pensive. In the resulting week, I’m more perplexed.

Without spoiling Get Out, I will say that as a Jewish woman (White Nationalists don’t consider Jews to be “white”) whose skin is pale in appearance, I came away pensive. In the resulting week, I’m more perplexed. The movie was incredibly powerful, but it highlighted for me how we can all make buffoons of ourselves in the face of diversity. In an ultra-PC environment ― that Donald Trump notoriously seems to shun ― there are several types of Americans. Among them are the blatant racists and of the other extreme, those who want to prove how un-racist they are that they end up overdoing it.

The film may also have another message for its audience about Caucasians adopting black culture, glorifying it and even including parts of it as its own without acknowledging origins. Because I love pop culture, I’ll look there for examples: While Eminem frequently credits his predecessors and professional influences, do other white rappers pay homage to those who paved the way? When Tom Hanks youngest son talks like an African American in a video - despite the fact that we know he’s Rita and Tom’s son - is it fine to just chalk it up to immaturity? I also think of Rachel Dolezal who made the news and was so controversial. Was she disrespectful of African Americans or do we try to see her through an empathetic lens, a woman whose heart and mind were overly consumed with black culture and history?

With interracial relationships, it is impossible to ignore that it’s not about cleaving to one culture but thoroughly examining both, not rushing in, and deciding how to honor respective roots.

Furthermore, with interracial relationships, it is impossible to ignore that it’s not about cleaving to one culture but thoroughly examining both, not rushing in, and deciding how to honor respective roots. Do Caucasians take and take from black culture (frequently) and make it a white thing? This undoubtedly happens. I’m sure it’s a sensitive subject in the world of athletes and endorsement deals combined with public appearances.

The Stepford Wives inspiration for Jordan Peele’s Get Out (yes, this is was the brainchild of the comedian who is part of the duo Key & Peele) is not only what makes it comedy, but what makes it completely tragic. Are white people depleting the richness of black culture – say, by taking an African American theme and watering it down in a film so it meets box office standards? Other films may spring to mind such as Steve Harvey’s Think Like A Man. Is that white male friend there to bring in white viewers and “normalize” things in Hollywood’s eyes? Can white people not relate to and be comfortable with an all-black group of guys?

Get Out is almost like Scary Movie in the way it points out not only societal but horror film tropes. In the 1980s, when movies from Gremlins to Nightmare on Elm Street brought in viewers, black characters were often relegated to the sidelines, barely even minor supporting characters. Now, Get Out’s central figure is a black man paired with the extremely fair Rose - and the irony is not lost on viewers that the actress, Brian Williams’ daughter, is oh so white (exemplified further by her character Marnie on HBO’s Girls).

There is even the hilarious black sidekick so often seen in movies, Chris’s friend played by comedian Lil Rey Howery ―The twist here is that the sidekick becomes a more prolific character as the film moves along.

Coming out of Get Out, I was filled with questions. Have I been guilty of uttering any words that would be considered “micro-aggressions”...ever?

Coming out of Get Out, I was filled with questions. Have I been guilty of uttering any words that would be considered “micro-aggressions”...ever? As a Jew who grew up orthodox, I certainly have heard my fair share of comments about my own identity and culture. I can relate to being in the presence of those who are unaware that what they are saying is incredibly insulting. Have I ever made the same mistake? One particular story comes to mind: I told a woman of color that I could relate to her hair struggles because of my own naturally curly, coarse and stubborn locks. I question how wrong (or OK) that was to say? A Trump supporter told me recently “I’m just sick of political correctness. You may not like Trump but I like that he’s finally saying exactly what’s on people’s minds!” Uh..no. I personally hate it, but there has to be a middle ground. I felt that the movie conveyed that we need to find that middle ground. We should behave naturally around people of color and respect people as people rather than pointing out the tone of their skin.

We should not be isolating the only black person in the room, asking them about the “African American experience” (you’ll get it when you see Get Out). However, it’s all complicated because while we aren’t to make a big deal, we also need to be aware of things that come a friend’s way from other directions - ranging from awkward remarks that heighten awareness of race to slightly discriminating behavior to blatant profiling, bigotry, racism and hatred. We also need to be aware of a friend’s history.

If you look at message boards and Facebook comments today, you’ll cringe while noting how some people don’t care or double-check their words. A few months back, a Facebook acquaintance made a comment in my feed about Obama being undignified. “He dropped the mic. He was Ghetto” she wrote. Ghetto?! I asked in horror as more people flew to my feed to point out how racist this woman sounded. “Of course you’re saying it’s racist,” she replied “because you don’t like what you hear.” She must have had a change of heart because moments later she deleted her comments and unfriended me. While her words were completely foreign and anathema to me, Get Out had me questioning my own. Have I ever bent over backwards so much to prove I wasn’t racist that it actually backfired to the point of seeming racist? I certainly hope not, but unlike our president, I don’t see anything wrong with checking my political correctness and reevaluating the way I speak.

The movie leaves you with two sentiments: You can never be too observant and also, you totally can be...

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