By Olivia Blackmon
Jordan Peele’s Get Out turns an outdated horror narrative on its head to offer a brilliant critique of the liberal racism that we so often ignore. Get Out’s victim is not a white woman walking solo down a dimly lit city street, but rather a Black man entering a well-to-do white suburb. Moreover, the racism in Get Out is not perpetrated by neo-Nazis. The villains are not the “alt-right.” They are middle class liberals. If you are a CC student, these people might be your neighbors; they could be your family. The film’s villains do not consider themselves racist. If anything, they would label themselves allies – “good” white people. They want you to know that they would vote for Obama a third time if given the chance. But their micro-aggressions add up and it quickly becomes clear that far more harm than good is being done in their suburb.
Peele draws from the 1975 cult film, The Stepford Wives, to demonstrate how racism operates among “good” white people. In The Stepford Wives, suburban women are appreciated only for their physical attributes and their childcare and cleaning abilities. They are reduced to these qualities by their husbands and the independent functioning of their minds is deemed unnecessary. All Stepford husbands eventually replace their wives with “fembots” that enjoy domestic labor, have no control over their bodies, and have no capacity for complex thought. The town’s feminist movement is crushed and the last freethinking woman in Stepford is murdered by her look-alike fembot. This reduction of women to less-than-human objects is paralleled in Get Out, where white characters place value on Black bodies but not on Black minds. The protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), is envied by white characters for his physical abilities, athletic potential, and style, while his artistic ability and professional success are ignored. By appreciating Chris for his physical build and aesthetic alone, white characters erase his individual experience and personhood. Ultimately, Chris’s body is commodified and sold so that a white man might experience new physical potentials by using his body as an avatar. As white people attempt to control Chris’s body, his mind is condemned to a “sunken place,” a reference to the numbing and paralysis felt by Black citizens of “post-racial” America.
All the while, victims in both The Stepford Wives and Get Out wonder if their experiences are real or just products of their own paranoia. Those with power gaslight those who demonstrate dissent and force them to question their sanity. The victims struggle so hard to “get out” because systemic and systematic sexism and racism are so pervasive and overwhelming that it can become unclear how to separate fact from feeling. The Stepford Wives emphasizes this idea in its closing scenes. Fembots stroll through the supermarket having trivial surface-level conversations while the next victim arrives in town, ultimately sending the message that the system is stronger than the individual.
Unlike The Stepford Wives, which has been criticized for it’s less than encouraging ending, Get Out offers the audience a sense of hope and relief. The police lights in the final scene were enough to suggest that in a real life situation, Chris would have been taken to prison if not shot as soon as the cops arrived. If the audience is aware of this reality, why not exchange that ending for a positive one that gives the audience a hero? This is exactly what Peele did (however, it has been rumored that there are multiple alternative endings that have not yet been released) (Whitney). We are left with the question: How can “good” white people, or white people who claim to be allies, be trusted if they do not make efforts to understand the experiences of people of color?