Racial stereotypes have been affecting people of colour for generations and continue to have an impact to this day. With many headlines in the news of BLM (Black lives matter) protests as well as instances of police brutality, it’s quite clear to see that the topic of race is still very controversial even in today’s society. Throughout history there has always been some degree of racism, whether it be as obvious as segregation to as passive as not hiring someone due to the colour of their skin, it still exists. Though it is quite clearly much less prevalent in modern day society it still exists and has detrimental effects on people of colour in the long run.
The film Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, eloquently lays out the racial biases and experiences of a black man in the form of a horror film. The film centers around a young man named Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who is meeting his girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (played by Allison Williams) family for the first time. Chris quickly finds out that Rose had ulterior motives for bringing him to her house as her family attempts to capture him to harvest his body. The remainder of the film focuses on Chris’ attempt to “get out” of the Armitage home. Small microaggressions to more obvious acts of blatant racism are spun to look like more outlandishly racist and horrific acts of violence. Jordan Peele aimed to make a film which could enlighten people of all racial backgrounds to the hardships a person of colour would experience in everyday life in as entertaining of a way as possible.
One of the most prevalent themes exhibited during the film was challenging the dominant ethnicity representations in mainstream films. Minorities for the most part are not nearly as represented on the big screen as Caucasian people, they feel very misrepresented and marginalized in comparison. According to Loretta Goff (2017) “The writer-director (Jordan Peele) expressed that he wanted to create ‘a movie that served the black audience, which has never had this type of representation’ ” (p. 7). The goal of Get Out was to entertain but also to educate viewers on the subtle intricacies of racism. The setting of the film takes place at the Armitage household but the clearest example of Jordan Peele hinting to racist undertones takes place during the “Garden Party” scene. The entire Armitage extended family have an annual gathering in which they secretly bid on Rose’s current lover, which in this case was Chris. The director purposefully setup the auction scene to look like a cross between an art auction as well as a slave auction. Since Chris was first picked out to be Rose’s lover for his artistic abilities (specifically his “artistic eye”) it makes perfect sense that the auction would be setup to look like an art action, even going as far as bidding on a portrait of Chris to represent him. Taking a step back and analyzing the situation, you can see that you have a sea of Caucasian people bidding on an African American man for the sole purpose of using his body for their own personal gain against his will. One can quite clearly see that this was also done on purpose to serve as a representation of a slave auction.
The mise en scène further drives home the point of subtle racism being prevalent thought the film. In many scenes you can see the Armitage’s two “helpers” (Walter and Georgina) doing chores around the house and they are evidently both African American. Strangely, both helpers are seen acting abnormally and are visibly uncomfortable, not to mention they speak quite anachronistically to what you would expect. This is because their bodies are both being used as vessels and are being internally orchestrated by Rose’s grandparents (whose brains have been fused to theirs). All black members at the Armitage household act in this same chilling way, so it can be inferred that they underwent the same brain fusing surgery as well. The overall colour temperature is very cool in an attempt to match the chilling feeling the movie gives off, lighting is also quite dark which adds to the ominous tone. There are many close up shots of Chris’s face especially directly after visibly racist acts to try and capture his emotion. The director also purposefully dressed Chris differently than the other party goers (in bright blue) to further show that he is the odd one out, and that he feels alienated.
3. Deconstruction of Racism
The film Get Out revolves around the concept of racism and how it plays a very major role in the everyday lives of African Americans. The film invites the viewers to empathize with black characters to an unprecedented level. Loretta Goff (2017) says that Jordan Peele is “creating a horror film where it is the black character who is the celebrated survivor at the end rather than the white family” (p. 7).
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In recent years there have been many instances in the news of unwarranted police brutality against African American individuals for seemingly minor infractions. Headlines of use of excessive force leading to injury or even death are all too common in this day and age leading to a slow desensitization to the misconducts. People were so absorbed by the common stereotype that people of colour are less intelligent or more violent than Caucasian people that the stereotype still lives on today. This has translated into racists thinking all black people are constantly up to no good and need to be eradicated. Denzin (2003) states that “The police kept White America safe from the crazed violence that was operating in the ghetto.” (p. 24). This mentality of doing whatever it takes to keep white America safe has transformed into a racist undertone which exists in law enforcement all over America to this day. The same undertone was seen in the film when Rose hits a deer while driving. When law enforcement arrives the officer demands Chris’s ID instead of Rose’s. Though she insists the officer take her ID instead, a futile attempt of seeming progressive, in reality she was merely trying to cover up her tracks so that Chris’s location couldn’t easily be traced when his body is inevitably enslaved.
The most racially significant scene in the film has to be the garden party scene. More importantly, the interactions Chris has with each of the guests at the garden party. There are several scenes where he is having a conversation with one of the guests and the guest will say something indirectly racist simply because he is black. For example, one of the guests taking about his golf form and then commenting “Can’t quite swing the hips like I used to though, but I do know Tiger!” (Peele, 2017) thinking that since Chris was also black this would be of interest to him. A more direct instance of this happens when Chris and Rose meet another guest and he opens with “Fairer skin has been in fashion for the past couple of hundreds of years, but it appears the pendulum has swung back. Black is in fashion.” (Peele, 2017), the quote itself almost sounds progressive but the reasoning for bringing it up simply because Chris is black almost gives it an antagonising tone. These subtle jabs at dehumanizing Chris can be called microaggressions where innocuous comments are made in an attempt to degrade marginalized people. These microaggressions are seen in this film as the guests at the party seeking Chris approval of their approval of black people.
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During the same sequence of interactions Chris has with party goers we also notice a change in in his mannerisms when talking to each guest. Based off of who he is taking to throughout the film, whether it be Rod, Rose, or a party guest, he changes the way he speaks almost unconsciously. This technique is called code switching and it is the act of changing your speech behaviours to match different social contexts. For example, when Chris is talking with Rod he is very relaxed and this vernacular consists of more slang terms as well as emotion. Meanwhile, while talking to the members of the Armitage household he switches to a much more calculated and professional method of speech. Code switching is done all the time in reality whether you notice it or not, based off of any social cues we adjust our speech to match the atmosphere. Code switching is not done to make it seem as if you are appropriately conversing but rather to make the other person feel more comfortable talking to you. Many black people feel burdened that they have to code switch while talking to white people or else they are looked down upon as “ghetto” or “unprofessional”. Chris feels alienated at the party and once he sees a fellow person of colour eagerly attempts to go up to him and start a conversation. Denzin (2003) talks about how “This ideology emphasized identity politics and the values of home and community.” (p. 30) referring to how Chris is longing for someone he can relate too during this uncomfortable situation. Strangely, it becomes instantly apparent that something is off as Dre is speaking in the same anachronistic way that the “helpers” were speaking. Chris then code switches for the remainder of the conversation and he later realizes that Dre was also being used as a vessel by an Armitage relative.
In conclusion, racial stereotypes have been affecting people of colour for generations and continue to have a lasting impact to this day. The film Get out attempts to portray subtly racist gestures, which people of colour experience every day, as horrific actions in an entertaining way. Goff (2017) sums it up best saying “Through this reconfiguration of certain genre tropes and his depiction of racism in a purportedly post racial society, Peele created a well-received social horror that resonated with audiences—once again demonstrating the power of representation and importance of perspective and reconstruction.” (p. 7). If Jordan Peele’s mission was accomplished than at the end of the film the viewer should feel thoroughly regaled as well as more racially aware.
- Peele, J. (Director). (2017). Get out [Motion picture]. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
- Goff, L., Schroeter, C. (2017). Screening Race: Constructions and Reconstructions in Twenty-first Century Media – Editorial. Retrieved from https://courses.ryerson.ca/content/enforced/192110-pol128_f18_01/Editorial_ Screening.Race.pdf
- Denzin, N. (2003, February). Screening Race. Retrieved from https://courses.ryerson.ca/content/enforced/192110-pol128_f18_01/Screening. Race_2003.pdf
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