Get Out Stay Woke

Artwork by Astrid Ana Jansen

Spoiler Alert! You should probably have a read only after you’ve seen the film.

I have to admit – the first time I heard about Get Out being a psychological thriller about racism, I laughed, half-expecting a snuff film of the Hostel or Scream variety, half-disbelieving that a film that would require so much nuance would actually deliver. Perhaps I’d gotten too used to Jordan Peele’s sharp-but-still-funny sketches for Key & Peele to want to take this film too seriously 1. And sure, the trailer made it clear it was no trashy spoof and the premise — a multi-racial couple meeting the parents in a white suburb — seemed refreshingly relatable and compellingly simple. But I’d watched and read enough about horror film tropes like “Black dude dies first”, or the token “Black Best Friend” to hold on to my reservations. Then, Jordan Peele’s writing/directorial debut then went on to receive an elusive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, accompanied by raving reviews. As ashamed as I am to admit that, above everything else, it took an asinine score to pique my interest, I was swayed and now I can never look back.

Human beings are highly complex creatures. Some of us watch horror because we were dared to, others for pure masochistic pleasure but along with the sigh of relief at the end, we all get some form of catharsis, one way or another. Successful horror films have long served to highlight unconscious fears, desires and urges within their audience and having to face truths we’ve pushed into our deepest, darkest vaults is where the real horror lies. Due to this, horror films have long been a cauldron of reactionary sentiments, massaging our repressed inhibitions so we don’t have to deal with those thought when we’re alone at night. With Get Out, Jordan Peele’s done a complete Missy Elliot – he’s flipped and reversed the genre inside-out.

But stay woke/ Niggas creepin’/They gon’ find you/ Gon’ catch you sleepin

One of the cleverest things about Get Out is its keen sense of self-awareness, particularly, Peele’s knack at locating the film within the genre. Minority groups have traditionally been sidelined throughout the history of horror 2, so it is a rarity that someone would incorporate the Black Man’s experience within the genre of horror.

Childish Gambino’s Redbone blares right after the opening scene, which is also the first time we’re introduced to Chris, staring at his reflection while applying white shaving cream all over his face. His literal application of a white mask on black skin is an uncanny allusion to ‘blackface’; a controversial practice that exacerbated racial stereotypes in the past. More significantly, the scene is reminiscent of post-colonial writer Frantz Fanon’s psychological study of racism in his book ‘Black Skin, White Masks’. In one brilliantly conceived cut, Peele manages to set the tone straight; while race relations have come a long way since the era of ‘blackface’, Chris, who’s not your typical horror-flick mainstay, is savvy enough to navigate the murky waters of modern-day race politics.

There is a fine line between being ‘aware’ and ‘awake’ – so to speak. Just like how Gambino’s soulful vocals remind us not to close our eyes in the beginning, Get Out’s enactment of subtle instances of aggression towards blacks creep up slowly, building into a film that astutely tackles what it means to be a minority living under white supremacy – What defines a person, or sets a black man apart from his white counterpart? And just how far can white privilege go to shield itself from its own hypocrisy?

One of Get Out’s greatest accomplishments was to hold up a mirror to address white privilege and the hypocrisy that surrounds widely-accepted liberalist rhetoric — how Rose’s dad thinks his unwavering support for Obama would cancel out the fact that he’s only hired black servants, or the wider community who treat Chris’ blackness like a fashion statement. But what hit home the hardest, for me at least, wasn’t the fact that Allison Williams’ pinterest-chic character turned out to be the deadlier than T-Swift with a guitar (c’mon are we really forgetting how hatefully WASP-y Marnie from GIRLS was?) but how her innocuous attitudes toward colour made her the most malicious villain of all.

While I may not be white, I do fall in the majority bracket in my multi-cultural nation – I’d never had my identity questioned until I went overseas and got called a “chink”. In most cases, being yellow in Singapore entitles one to economic, systemic, and institutional privileges in ways that function similarly to white privilege in America, or Malay privilege in Malaysia.

With that in mind, Rose’s twist was terrifying — arguing with the police about racial profiling or apologising for your other’s micro-aggressions is just as useless a statement as the blind art-dealer who tells Chris he only wants his eyes, but couldn’t care less about his skin colour. In either case, well-intentioned meanings do nothing but enable Get Out’s parade of horrors. When Chris finds out about the brain transplant programme and asks ‘why black people?’, all he gets from his perpetrator is a shrug. Why not? After all, racism is irrational, and I suppose horror films really are the repository for all that ugliness.

Submit a comment