The Racial Lies of “Get Out”
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is proof that we do not know how to appraise movies.
We know only how to uncritically hype and celebrate the next perceived culture moment that we’re always fishing for with a bottomless thirst. We know only how to signal virtue with partisan snark and revel in the comforts of the lies we tell ourselves of our ostensible enlightened and progressive ways.
I’ve not spared Get Out my lexicon of uncharitable descriptors, but I also never reviewed it. The simple fact is, Get Out is not a really a film to “review” in the conventional sense. It is a political tantrum. It’s an airing of racial grievances that insults the dignity and intelligence of black audiences and mollifies the guilty white self-flagellators who want in on that cool kids’ party. That’s not a subject for review. That’s a subject that cannot ever be criticized. Criticism cannot be distinguished from rage. Like last year’s nu-Ghostbusters, once the hype was established in anticipation of a stupid backlash, there was nothing anyone could say without risking tribal association with said stupid backlash.
Face it, kids. There are things to criticize. Get Out is disgraceful art that commits violence to the cultural fabric. Criticism is only more vital as the bubble around it grows ever larger and more protective of it. Spoilers to follow:
Midway through the film comes a scene in which a character finally reappears for the first time since the opening. In the opening he is seen walking through a rich suburban town, clearly unfamiliar with it, twitchy, and mumbling in palpable fear. He is stalked by a car, and then kidnapped. When he shows up again, he is suspiciously docile as the lobotomized husband of an elderly white woman. The main character Chris has already relayed to his TSA buddy his suspicion of the black people he has encountered in the town and mansion thus far, and this man seems no different. They all seem too chipper, content, and comfortable with their livelihoods. Seeing an opportunity to take a photo of one of such anomalous blacks, Chris sneaks one from his phone, but the flash goes off. The flash suddenly snaps our reappeared friend out of his reprogramming, and he goes into frenzy. “Get out!” he cries repeatedly, assaulting Chris and getting in his face. The rest of the party quickly subdues him and everything returns to “normal.” Chris then calls his friend, tells him about the outburst, and says that during that moment, the man looked incredibly familiar. He sends over the picture, and TSA buddy identifies him immediately as Andre the missing man.
Step back and think about this sequence for a moment.
What you just witnessed was a person finding a fellow black man, with whom he’s at least somewhat acquainted, utterly unrecognizable except when he is conforming to the worst, most degrading black stereotypes. The film deliberately features Andre “chimp out,” “go ape shit,” or “act his color,” as the racist memes go. And only after seeing that does Chris realize that he knows the guy. This is the most despicable characterization of black people I’ve ever seen in a modern film.
I make a note of that moment, and suddenly the other problems of the film spill out like fish guts. Get Out doesn’t just care to demonstrate the untrustworthy nature of the white leftist try-hard. It literally uses its horror setup and interior plot mechanics to explain that every single black person in that neighborhood is there against his/her will. They’re there because they have been body snatched, whitewashed, and repressed into shells of their true selves. Their identity has been chipped or sanded away by proximity to the overly-friendly, opportunistic and culturally deficient rich white families. Audiences and inferior critics caught wind of this victimhood aspect and assumed it was the central thrust of the film, mistaking the condescension for revelation.
But the real message of Get Out (perhaps not fully intended but unmistakable all the same) was that “real” black people would never willingly live in that neighborhood or any place like it. Stick to the cities, ghettos, bubbles, and community groups, and just look out for one another like a wolf pack. The stray lone wolf winds up like Andre – toothless and pampered like a poodle dog. “Real” blacks would never be happy in assimilated affluence. To be around white people is to suffocate – to be manipulated and abused for the naiveté of embracing their company. The integrated dream Dr. King so thundered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is a lie because blacks would never and should never join hands with whites at any table of togetherness or romance.
This is the Klan’s view of blackness, black identity, black worth, and miscegenation. This is how David Duke, Dylan Roof, and every juvenile edge-lord internet dweeb sees race relations in America. Their desires can be encapsulated by the film’s title.
I’ve seen a lot of movies and TV shows that featured racist whites calling black people animals, inhuman, subservient simpletons without capacity for the classy life, and all manner of unpleasant things. This is the first time a black storyteller – a man with undeniable creative and comedic talents – has ever made that case before me without a single shred of irony. On Get Out’s terms, the irony eludes poor Chris the whole time. TSA friend was right. He never should’ve dated a white girl. He never should’ve ventured out to the whitey-vania suburbs. And he sure never should’ve stayed as long as he did.
Are these really the lessons we want movies to impress upon us?
But most ironic of all, Jordan Peele cements my reading as the inescapable conclusion by shoehorning an absurd comedic happy ending in place of bleak systemic realism that would’ve made the world intriguingly bigger than just that neighborhood. As many of you know, in the original ending, the cop car that shows up after the bloodbath at the mansion is a real cop (perhaps the same one who pulled him over earlier) who arrests and jails Chris. Instead, the ending we see is TSA buddy stepping out of that police vehicle and giving Chris an “I told you so” before they escape.
Changing an ending for what’s initially planned in your story is always dangerous because you risk undoing your audience’s basic understanding of what it was watching. Peele’s stated reason for doing so here was because Black Lives Matter had already hit it big enough that there was no need to dwell on their issues too. This is the worst reason I have ever heard for changing an ending.
To be sure, Peele is the author, and it is his artistic right to make the ending he wants. And to be extra sure, Get Out is still morally dubious no matter which ending it chose. But to destroy the last opportunity for a powerful impression upon the audience and replace it with banal, throwaway quipping is to prove that this story has not one single shred of integrity. If the intention really was to blow open a racial gripe, Get Out should strive to make audiences as uncomfortable as possible, not settled and assured in the limits of all things. Instead of the “getting out” only to find himself trapped within new walls of another white institution that will destroy Chris’s blackness, you leave comforted by the fact that Chris will be fine. A nice long shower, a therapy session or two, and life will go on. Get Out is a comedy in certain respects but it is not a parody. It is an absurdist scenario with comedic bits, mostly coming from TSA buddy. But those bits are straight laced, and the film rings tone deaf for it. Racism under the smile, to the extent that blacks at large feel it, is too serious for that. Get Out fails the very subject it seeks to bring to light.
In the past, defenders of the film have given me that Trump cult line that Get Out is to be taken seriously but not literally. Yet it is the ending itself that limits the extent to which we can do that. The final sequence of a film can be powerful enough to make the difference between it being great or merely passable. And film as art doesn’t just exist for the moment it releases, but for all time. If all it takes to change the conclusion of the story is the fact that a political group or movement has become sufficiently popular and newsworthy for the time being, then that story is lacking a genuine meaning. Get Out would not have been saved by the original ending, but it is all the more gutted as a work of “serious” art because of Peele’s last-minute fake happy one that doesn’t remotely fit with anything else.
All that’s left is a hack piece of lies stoking the flames of paranoia and social immaturity. A movie that seeks to vindicate and uphold as virtuous the worst, most racist societal impressions and stereotypes of black people and interracial families, and keep them clinging to their underdog status like their entire identity depends on it. It is one thing for a film to pick a position, or make an argument with which you or I choose to disagree. Compartmentalizing subjectivity is a vital piece of the essence of criticism, and we should always be open to an experience that challenges us and reveals to us something in life that helps make sense of it. Get Out does neither. It just fakes a tribal fear. And its painting a cultural picture like this, while simultaneously chickening out of its complete supposed truth, makes it the last thing we should be celebrating with our hype, our genuflection, and our awards.
Criticism is necessary because it’s hard. Get Out deserved more of it.