Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” Racial representation

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Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a historical commentary on race relations in America. The film focuses on the African-American man as he meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Although the parents claim to be liberalists with no racial tendencies, Chris believes that something is off, since most black people on the property seem to have adopted white mannerisms. His subsequent encounter highlights the realities of the African-American people in America, exposing the various aspects of the problem. Racial problems still persist in society today in more discernible representations, but they are as frightening as they are caused by an aware but still passive elitist privilege and the atrocities of slavery. “Get Out” shows how a conscious yet inactive society may mitigate the evidence of racial issues although it brings a new subtle and inconspicuous form of the racial divide. From the start, Jordan Peele highlights how black people often feel uncomfortable in white neighborhoods due to pre-existing racial tensions. Understandably, Chris is nervous and highly conscious of the prospect of meeting Rose’s family though he tries to keep his wariness under control until it is too late. While Chris is worried that her parents might not agree to their interracial union, she assures him that her liberal parents do not have such viewpoints and would have voted for Obama a third time if they could. Chris’s fears also stem from police profiling and brutality against minorities. When traveling to the suburban home of Rose’s parents, traffic police stop them and demand to see Chris’ driving license although was not the driver. The encounter is reminiscent of the contemporary African-American experience characterized by the excessive police brutality even in unnecessary instances. Moreover, while Rose tries to mitigate his rough handling, the police ignore her objections.

Jordan Peele’s racial divide is evident in how Chris behaves differently around black and white people including the ones he encounters regarding language, movements, and gestures than he does among white people like his girlfriend. When interacting with Rose and her parents, Chris tries to maintain formal language highlighting common tropes among blacks that associate wealthy white families with sophistication. Moreover, his use of gestures to express his ideas is limited among white people as compared to his fellow African Americans. Upon entering the estate, Chris and Rose meet the black groundskeeper Walter and his wife Georgina though Dean, Rose’s father apologizes about the optics for having black people working as servants in menial jobs. However, when he tries to engage with them on a cultural basis, they show weird reactions as to what Chris expects. He remarks to Missy that he is uncomfortable when surrounded by white people expecting her to relate to his situation. However, she replies with a drawn-out ‘no, no, no” which looks out of place for an African American. In a subsequent party, he meets another black person, Logan who is married to an old white woman that must have been twice his age. Recognizing him as a musician from Boston who disappeared a few months’ prior, Chris makes another attempt to engage that fails as Logan does not recognize the cultural tropes with which Chris assumes he must be familiar. His attempts to evoke a cultural bond show Chris’ desire for a reprieve from feeling like a curiosity to be admired. When talking to his friend Rod, Chris displays a less conservative side to his personality as they can engage by shared cultural experiences.

The racial divide is also highlighted by the attitude of the Police in the film. After meeting Logan, Chris covertly takes a photo of him and sends it to his friend Rod. Rod suspects that Logan, a prominent musician in the Boston area before he disappeared, has been kidnapped and brainwashed. However, when he takes his fears to the local police, they laugh off his suggestions of racially-motivated terror in the Armitage’s estate although Chris is a victim. The police’s apathy towards Rod’s claims refer to the social perception of racism as having been abolished and no longer a concern. However, integrated racial discrimination is also evident in Chris’s police encounter when traveling to meet his in-laws as they display hostile behavior despite his non-aggressiveness. When Rose tries to interfere, the officer demands she retract yet she was the actual driver. Coming in the wake of the Ferguson riots, this incident shows the tendency for police officers to conduct racial profiling based on a person’s skin color. The police reactions are different depending on the skin color of the victim or perpetrator in a particular instance. When a victim is black, then the police are often slow to react and deliver justice stemming from America’s history of slavery where white society considered black people as inferior. The sentiment is evident in Logan’s case as the prominent musician goes missing and yet the police are unwilling to respond. However, in instances where the victim is white with a black perpetrator, the police respond quickly seeking the harshest punishments. Therefore, while the police may claim to be impartial with no prejudicial tendencies, systemic racism affects their responses to various situations usually biased against blacks.

Elitist Privilege

In the movie, the subtle notion of elitist privilege allows for a certain group of people with a set self-centered and egotistical mindset to act upon their racist motives. Throughout the movie, Peele depicts white people in the household dominating black people regarding power and feelings; appear as workers who serve their white counterparts as is the case with Logan and his wife or dominated sexually as in Chris’s case (Peele, 2017). The first person they meet upon entering the estate is Walter, the black groundskeeper who seems to have an apparent devotion to Rose though it is not clear at first. They later meet his wife, Georgina who works as a house cleaner in the family’s mansion under the supervision of Dean and his wife. Maintaining the facade of being liberals, the Deans apologize for the optics as it might seem to perpetuate racial stereotypes of black people as inferior and only suited to manual labor. Moreover, the notion of elitist privilege is revealed in Rose’s actions as she uses her sexuality to dominate and lure black people to her family’s home after which they are kidnapped. As Chris’ suspicions rise, he assumes that Rose as his girlfriend will support his desire to return to familiar environments. However, towards the end of the movie, he discovers photos showing her past relationships with other black people with some of them including Walter and Georgina thus revealing Rose as a villain and part of the plot rather than an innocent bystander. The twist of a white person as the villain comes from contemporary representations of black people in horror films where they always die first.

One of the main events in the film is the auction for Chris’ body signifying a superiority complex that white people hold against black people; a sense that they ought to be controlled and dominated. Soon after Chris arrives at Dean’s family home, they host a party for their white friends all of whom have a superiority complex. At this event, most people who meet Chris comment on his genetic gifts with some feeling his muscles. At this point, the audience’s tension rises as they wonder the effect of this party on Chris as he has expressed his discomfort in being surrounded by the white people. Chris is discomfited by the racially-charged and fetishist comments as some of the white folk proclaim “Black is in fashion” (Peele et al., 2017). However, Chris and other African Americans may disagree about that sentiment considering the racial discrimination they face in society. His fears turn out to be correct as the Armitage family are not only racists but also pathological “negrophiles.” In collaboration with their friends attending the party, the Armitages have developed a system for abducting and brainwashing black people for use as workers and slaves. Rose’s mother, a hypnotherapist, works on Chris making him believe in his entrapment in a deep pit. While Chris ponders how to escape without destroying his relationship with Rose, Dean auctions him off to a blind art critic. As a photographer, Chris has a unique perspective on his takes, which appeals to the blind white man who wants to see through Chris’ eyes. These actions depict an elitist ideology that believes in white masters controlling the lives of their black subordinates.

Near the film’s end, it is mentioned in the video that Chris sees that white people automatically possess better leadership abilities while black people have the physique. The Armitages use this idea to justify their kidnapping and brain-washing operations as they believe in their superiority. According to Dean and his father, the black people should feel honored for the opportunity to host a white person’s mind. However, this only serves to show their elitist ideology as leadership is not an inborn ability but rather develops through experience. The video works well to deconstruct racial innocence by revealing the socialization in a racist society while denying responsibility (Lensmire, 2010). It shows that the superiority perspective has existed for generations in the Armitage family. Coming in the wake of other similarly-themed productions such as Twelve Years a Slave, Underground, and Roots, it hints at a slavery subtext where white masters can and do control the lives of their subjects. Moreover, the video also highlights the black experiences in American society where it is difficult to find black people in positions of power as evidenced by a large number of white CEOs among Fortune 500 companies despite similar educational qualifications. References to Chris’ physique and genetics occur multiple times as most Americans associate black people with athletics and sports leading to a practice of cultural appropriation which one of the guest’s remarks as “black is in fashion.” Ultimately, the brain-swapping operation is evidence of elitist thinking and privilege allowing wealthy white people to kidnap others at will.

Slavery

The film also presents an accurate depiction of the horrors of slavery as experienced by black people and how white people force them to conform to their true “natural abilities” for stereotyped reasons such as labor. Throughout the movie, black people are seen suffering emotionally. In one scene, Georgina is crying with no evident cause while Chris suffers racial slurs from Rose’s brother. Logan is also depicted as emotionally unstable prone to violence in one moment and extreme civility with an undertone of hostility. While Georgina and Walter’s hostility towards Chris is incomprehensible at first, it is later revealed that they were Rose’s previous lovers now hosting her grandparents hence the erosion of black mannerisms. Moreover, Chris tolerates racially charged comments from Rose’s brother and the party guests as he is used to such. The theme of black oppression under white masters is reminiscent of American society that continues practicing racially divisive practices.

Moreover, the theme of slavery is evident during Chris’ unwilling hypnosis. When he comes back from smoking, Rose’s mother hypnotizes him ostensibly to help with his addiction. However, she goes above board by tying him and further programming him to respond to her explicit commands unwillingly. Subsequently, Chris is auctioned off to the highest bidder for body re-purposing without his consent. The unwilling hypnosis may be about the ongoing BlackLivesMatter movement, which has progressed in response to multiple incidences of police brutality (Langford & Speight, 2015). The cases of Michael Brown among others raised awareness about the continued existence of systemic racism and discrimination as evident in police actions in shooting unarmed teenagers. Systemic racism in the United States is also evident in multiple sectors such as politics, education, the job sector, among others while they feature prominently in sports and minimum wage jobs (Feagin, & Elias, 2013). White people may have a superiority complex deriving from the past of slavery in the country, thus, perpetuating discriminatory practices where they had the freedom to own people as property including the associated property rights. Eventually, the black people cannot stand it and rebel as shown by Chris’ actions in killing the entire Armitage family to prevent further kidnappings and the “Black Lives Matter” movement to protest the killing of innocents (Roda & Wells, 2012).

The horror of slavery extends past the physical levels into morally reprehensible dimensions as Chris discovers evidence showing that Rose has taken advantage of multiple black people to advance her family’s cause. Rose is also seen searching for “top NCAA prospects” as she looks for her next victims (Peele et al., 2017). The particular implication of this factor is how people can become enslaved to their emotions and desires and forget to assess the perspectives of others. Chris is suspicious of his environment in a white suburb from the first day yet neglects to mention it to Rose for fear of seeming rude and ungrateful for her family’s hospitality. Moreover, he does not wish to confront Dean and his wife directly as it contravenes the notion of white blindness, which proclaims that black people have no reason for being bitter about racial discrimination. However, he is forced to acknowledge Rose’s role when he finds romantic pictures of her with multiple other black people with Chris recognizing some of them as reported missing. Rose’s family is also enslaved to their desires as they believe in the superiority of their race and think everyone should bow to their whims. They use relationships and liberalism as a disguise to lure unwary victims into their schemes.

References

Feagin, J., & Elias, S. (2013). Rethinking racial formation theory: A systemic racism critique. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(6), 931-960.

Langford, C.L., & Speight, M. (2015). # BlackLivesMatter: Epistemic positioning, challenges, and possibilities. Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, 5(3/4), 78-89.

Lensmire, T.J. (2010). Ambivalent white racial identities: Fear and an elusive innocence. Race Ethnicity and Education, 13(2), 159-172.

Peele, J. (2017). They smile in your face: Uncovering the unpleasant realities and history hidden in black-white racial dynamics. PsycCRITIQUES, 62(25). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0040886

Peele, J. (director) (2017). Get out. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures.

Roda, A., & Wells, A.S. (2012). School choice policies and racial segregation: Where white parents’ good intentions, anxiety, and privilege collide. American Journal of Education, 119(2), 261-293.

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