Jordan Peele has successfully branched away from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele sketch series in his recent film Get Out, swapping comedy with horror to expose racist undercurrents in society.
Jordan Peele’s new box-office hit Get Out is a must see for several reasons. A great watch, Peele’s story will have you on the edge of your seat throughout, whether from bangs in the night or the simple sound of a spoon on bone china. The true chills from this modern-day horror film, however, lie in Peele’s portrayal of liberal, suburban America. The racism explored in Get Out is nuanced, hidden, and utterly insidious. From the start, the differences in the treatment of African-American Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya of Star Wars fame) and his Caucasian girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are obvious. Subtle discrimination occurs on all sides. Chris is greeted into Rose’s while, affluent family home with a bravado seemingly blind to the colour of his skin, with the only reference an assertion from Rose’s father that he “would have voted for Obama three times if it was possible”, a statement previously predicted by his daughter. The stark divide between the white residents and black staff is brushed under the carpet. A police officer asks for Chris’ driving license even though he is a passenger in Rose’s car, something that angers Rose but is accepted by Chris as profiling, just another act of racism from the officer.
Perhaps most powerful is the character Chris’ reaction to this continual discrimination. He seems to rise above the microaggressions with a benign smile. He has grown up with this treatment and has reached the point where he is almost able to laugh it off. Actor Daniel Kaluuya plays this perfectly. This is no doubt because he can empathise easily with these scenes. Growing up as the son of Ugandan migrants in London, Kaluuya experienced discrimination as a minority in a country with a racist past.
Even within the black-British community, and the black community in Hollywood, Kaluuya recalls feeling othered. “I’m dark-skinned, bro. When I’m around black people I’m made to feel ‘other’ because I’m dark-skinned.” He continued, “I’ve had to wrestle with that, with people going ‘You’re too black.’ Then I come to America and they say, ‘You’re not black enough.’ I go to Uganda, I can’t speak the language. In India, I’m black. In the black community, I’m dark-skinned. In America, I’m British.” Kaluuya’s casting as Chris was criticised by Samuel L. Jackson, who argued that British-born Kaluuya would not be able to fully relate to the African-American struggle. Jackson told American radio station Hot 97, “What would a brother from America have made of that role? Some things are universal, but not everything.” In response, Kaluuya responded, “I resent that I have to prove that I’m black.”
The biases that we hold are complex and can damage people in multiple ways. Get Out perfectly explores the kind of racism that can be the most damaging because it goes unchecked. Director Jordan Peele talks about the ‘racial paranoia’ the lead character, Chris, experiences when he first arrives at his girlfriend Rose’s suburban estate. Of course, like many small acts of unconscious racism, it soon becomes apparent that it is more than just paranoia.
Even without the film’s focus on race-related issues, the simple act of showing an interracial relationship on screen breaks the overwhelming trend of miscegenation in Hollywood. Couples are almost always the same race – usually Caucasian – and in the instances that interracial couples are portrayed, it is historically a white man and woman of colour. This is symbolic of Hollywood’s tendency to exoticise women of colour. Known as the ‘Madame Butterfly Effect’ for Asian women, this fetishisation of racial minorities only worsens biases presented by the media. The rarity of couples like Chris and Rose shows that gender and race are interlinked in this discrimination and ‘othering’ of racial minorities in film. Latina actress Eva Mendes has a string of movies where she plays the love interest of a black character, including Will Smith in Hitch (2005). However, in Smith’s previous films Men in Black (1997) and I, Robot (2004), his character did not go beyond flirting with his white female co-stars. His recent film Focus was notable for Smith’s onscreen relationship with white actress Margot Robbie, perhaps showing the relaxation of one of Hollywood’s more peculiar rules. However, the remnants of Western cinema’s fascination with the racial ‘other’ are still visible in many contemporary portrayals of race in Hollywood.
Peele’s latest work, therefore, is much more than a 21st century Stepford Wives horror. Although the kooky family, hypnotism and secret surgery set the scene in Get Out, the real terror is the constant, socially accepted racism, and how closely this relates to real life.
Let us know what you thought of Get Out below.
Words: Dido Gompertz
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