Watching Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, my mind couldn’t help but reflect back to one of his (and Keegan Michael-Key’s) most controversial skits from Key and Peele. For two minutes, Key impersonates a racist, trigger-happy white cop who shoots down every single unarmed black man in the street. The satirical sketch uncomfortably exposed and commented on the epidemic in America of cops profiling and gunning down seemingly innocent people of colour.
I remembered laughing nervously, because I found no other way to respond. These two had made a resounding point.
For five seasons, the dynamic duo of Key and Peele proved their worth as brilliant social commentators and expert craftsmen in the art of topical parody and comedic timing.
Their show did what all great comedy ought to do; it told the truth. No matter how hard it was to swallow and accept that truth.
With Get Out, we see Peele branching out on his own as a filmmaker (and possibly as a budding auteur) and extending his range outside of the sketch comedy format he helped reinvigorate.
Thankfully, his switch to the horror genre didn’t force him to forget about or undermine one of his greatest skills. He is a masterful, awkward truth teller. Conceived in a #BlackLivesMatter era, Get Out does everything in its power to burrow deep underneath society’s skin with the clear intention to provoke everyone’s ‘race’ button. Peele wants to not only expose and lacerate our never-ending struggle with race relations, but he wants anyone who has ever said, “I’m not racist because…” to take a good hard look in the mirror.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black man, dating a white girl, Rose (Allison Williams). After a five month courtship, we meet these two as they are about to embark on a trip to her folks’ estate outside the city. The problem is: Rose hasn’t let on to her parents that her boyfriend is black. “Don’t worry,” she says. “They’re staunch liberals.”
Think Meet the Parents meets Who’s Coming to Dinner that plays a lot like a spiritual sequel to one of last year’s best films, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation.
Upon their arrival, we’re quickly introduced to Rose’s wannabe-progressive parents played by the always-superb Bradley Whitford and Catherine Kenner. They hug, they’re super-accommodating and they present themselves as culturally hip, but their behaviour and words feel at odds with something that is brewing behind their eyes.
As he meets more white, well-to-do family and friends, Chris begins to notice that the limited black people he comes into contact with seem to be removed from reality; almost zombified. Kaluuya plays Chris with warmth, affability and charm and we quickly side with his growing mistrust of these strange people and the odd fascination with the colour of his skin.
Get Out is a collection of mounting microaggressions (casual degradation/negative racial slights of a marginalised group) and excruciating racial paranoia that cleverly subverts and deconstructs the tropes of the horror genre to make scathing social observations about the appropriation of black culture into white culture.
Typically if you were a black male in a horror film, you’d be hugely underdeveloped and the first to die. But here our horror protagonist is a fully realised and constructed black character. But what’s important here is that Chris is just an ordinary guy. An everyman. He’s a somewhat gifted photographer, but there’s nothing of great significance that can explain why the wealthy elites fawn over him so. Other than the fact that he’s black.
The villains of this picture aren’t supernatural monsters or serial killers with William Shatner masks and large knives. They’re not even neo-Nazi’s or southern rednecks. They’re middle-class white liberals who are sickeningly obsessed with the black experience; the exotic other. They do wear masks, just not in a way we’ve ever seen before.
With Donald Trump now in the White House, Get Out’s cinematic release could not come at a more appropriate and relevant time. To many, Barack Obama’s presidency symbolised America’s move into a post-racial era. Peele couldn’t have known how the election would turn out, but his satirical masterpiece marks the launch of a new era of filmmaking reactions to a Trumped-up America and the knowledge that a post-racial US was an absurd fantasy.
Peele understands this sad realisation and visualises it as a powerful recurring image throughout the film, of Chris sinking deeply into a surreal black abyss. He’s voiceless, powerless and restrained, while all the white characters peer down at him from above.
It’s an African American Horror Story.