Get Out

The issue of racism in the United States has been played out in many movies. Usually, the black person in the movie is given a stereotypical role that depicts the character in an unflattering manner. The thriller, Get Out, is centred around an interracial couple that goes to meet the parents of the caucasian girlfriend. All seems well as the family is friendly and accommodating. But they are hiding a shocking secret about their identity. 5 out of 10 stars

There is not a country in the world that is as much haunted by the question of racism as the United States is. Even South Africa, with its fairly recent past of apartheid atrocities, has relatively overcome differences. America’s well-documented slavery of the 19th century, well documented because the Confederate States were proud to brag about it, then the ensuing years of Jim Crow laws, and the very fact that even after the termination of discriminatory laws from the American constitution, the lowest economic rung of society are still African-Americans, which has been cause for decades and centuries of headaches.

This was never more evident than the episode in the days and weeks leading to the 88th Academy Awards. Charges of racism were levelled at the awards ceremony, for no other reason than there were no black people in any of the four acting categories. Now, I had seen most of the acclaimed movies of 2015, and the most noteworthy performance from an actor of colour, as far as I was concerned, came from Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. It was really strange that he did not get nominated; there is always an inexplicable Oscar snub, year after year, for at least one performer. This past year it was Colin Farrell in The Lobster.

It should also be noted that Hollywood has been a hub for liberals. Most actors and filmmakers are staunch Democrats. Of course, there have been certain slights against certain groups. There were stereotypical depictions of African-Americans in a number of earlier Disney animated movies. And westerns have for a long time treated native Americans as natural enemies to respectable white-hatted movie protagonists. But Hollywood has also tried its best to make up for these indignations. They have been apologetic for being an unwitty product of their times. As far back as 1969, a rather mainstream movie called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner entertained the touchy idea of interracial marriage.

For all of this, though, every time there is an even remotely high-profile awards ceremony, let alone the Oscars, the nominations are put under the microscope, not to see if they are good enough, but to make sure if there is diversity. If by coincidence, there is no noteworthy performance by any African-American actor in a given year, the academy would probably be forced to nominate Kevin Hart. I guess this is the price to pay for centuries of racial discrimination.

This very long rant, about race in America, is important to discuss the movie Get Out. In order to do this more comprehensively, I would have to divulge certain plot details. Be warned.

Indeed race is a very hot issue, but Get Out is actually a far more lighthearted one. In fact, it is a thriller, and could accurately be described as Meet the Parents meets Psycho. Chris (newcomer Daniel Kaluuya) is a well-educated African-American who is about to meets the parents of his girlfriend Rose (another newcomer Allison Williams) over the weekend. There is a catch. She is Caucasian.

Do I need to say more?

The couple makes the trip to the parent’s house. Rose’s parents are fairly nice, fairly accommodating – the father a doctor, the mother a psychiatrist and the brother a student of medicine. All is well, except for the house help, a maid and the groundskeeper, both of whom are black with very weird personalities.

Everything comes to a boil when Chris gets to meet the friends of the family. All of them white, they act as if they have never met black people. Whenever Chris is around them they mention how great African-Americans are, that they would have voted for Obama a third term, that black is the new cool. All of this makes the protagonist understandably queasy, but nowhere as much as the true identity of his girlfriend’s family.

If there is one great thing, and there are many, the great Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, thought all cinephiles, it is that a thriller seldom needs to be just a thriller. It could have great undercurrents, some great mystery about the human condition, hidden comfortably beneath a deceptively straightforward plot. This is especially important because mainstream movies cannot afford to be too outwardly brainy for the largely unsophisticated mainstream audience.

Get Out sets its audience for a stereotypical way of thinking. Anyone who pays attention to the characters’ skin colour, and the plot setup, is led into thinking that Rose’s family are actually bigots who, given that this is a thriller, would probably end up trying to kill the black guy. As the movie progresses, though, it becomes evident, very surprisingly, that they are not prejudiced, not in any intentional manner. What they actually really want is to look like a young healthy African-American.

It could be said that Jordan Peele, who penned and directed the movie, is probably daydreaming when he made Get Out the way it is. White people stealing black people’s body, to make it their own, is an unrealistic phenomenon even in today’s America (and not just because the technology does not exist yet). But Peele, a man with an admirable sense of humour, I think, understands this.

There are a number of plot holes in the movie, which has led me to believe that Get Out is a little overrated. But overlooking this narrative obstacle, the theme is slickly courageous. This is a movie that says, I fooled you, I showed you how easily opinionated we could all be. And to Americans, this is another proof, a very facetious one at that, that the shadow of racism will cloud their way of thinking for a long time to come.


By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Apr 08,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 883]



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