Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Do The White Thing

ALLY Get Your Gun: Allison Williams as Rose in  Jordan Peele’s debut film "Get Out".

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, March 7, 2017

GET OUT fires into racists and their racist fears around a Black man having an intimate relationship with a white woman, among many other things, while sighting primal territorial behavior, colonialism via optical symbols

SPOILERS AHEAD.  Please see “Get Out” if you haven’t!

I am not a fan of horror films.  There have been some excellent ones.  “Rosemary’s Baby”. “Night Of The Living Dead”.  “Alien”.  “Repulsion”.  “Psycho”.  “The Shining”.  "The Exorcist".  Many others.  But there’s a new horror film I’ve now seen three times in a movie theater.  I’ve seen it thrice because it is a real, live horror I live - and a well-constructed, thought-provoking entertainment.

It is 2017.  Where white society and its power structure is concerned it is always hunting season on Black people.  The hunt is on.  And the prey is ensnared in so many ways symbolically, satirically and seriously in Jordan Peele’s top-class “Get Out”, the best film so far in early 2017.

Black people, race, imagery and animals in "Get Out" - and historical context

“Get Out” isn’t just timely, it is timeless.  Mr. Peele’s film encapsulates American history as Black people have experienced it vis-a-vis interactions with white people - whether Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the Emanuel AME Nine and many more.  Each minded their own business and lost their lives to racists - whites, or people who identified as white (George Zimmerman).  Few if any of the victims' murderers received justice.

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris in  Jordan Peele’s debut film "Get Out".  Universal 

Animals have often if not always been placed in the pecking order above Black people in America.  The United States Constitution once classified Blacks as three-fifths of a human being.  There are people who have received longer prison sentences for harming animals than for killing Black people.  This history is inescapable.  White society has demonized Black people via laws and through films, entertainment and media - as animals.  That language has been overt and coded, and "Get Out" leans to the latter and mixes some of the former into its lexicon. 

Some of the more recent language of racist coding: In 2008 LeBron James was on the cover of Vogue magazine with Gisele Bunchen, in an image that was a racist stereotype of Black man as animal - evoking imagery of a neo-“King Kong” basketballer, snaring a white “supermodel”.  Countless white male and female celebrities, white students and have appeared in Blackface either on screen or at Halloween parties or on college campuses across America.  Blackface remains something of an epidemic.

“Get Out” uses animal imagery (references to rabbits, cheetahs, birds, deer, dogs and more) as endangered species and more than mere suggestion that Black people are the prey of covetous, predatory white aristocrats and discreet neo-slavery champions, all under the guise of white "limousine liberalism", the kind that permeates places like Marin County,  just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco - and other so-called liberal and Progressive white communities throughout the United States. 

Artwork for "Get Out", commissioned by Jordan Peele.  Corey Barksdale

In “Get Out” Black people are seen as racist metaphors for animals - and so often in white society and culture - the overwhelmingly white mainstream U.S. media for example, branded the Black and Latino teenagers known as The Central Park Five as a “wolfpack” in 1989.  Michael Brown was described as a "demon", “Hulk Hogan” with superhuman strength by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who killed the unarmed teenager as he held his hands up.  As Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is shuttled from the comfortable confines of his city surroundings by white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to white ruralism, animal metaphors become more intense and inescapable.  The atmosphere is primal and feral.  Chris’s identification with animals becomes more acute as the scenery and environment around him changes. 

The relationship between Chris and Rose, and a deeper truth beyond the screen

Mr. Peele’s intelligent and deeply-layered film indicts casual racist comments by white people in America while reaching a truth lying deep beneath about stereotyped psychosexual dynamics in the relationship between historically-oppressed classes: for some Black men when it comes to white women every Rose has its thorn.

The most telling line of "Get Out" is spoken by Rose.  It’s a line undergirding that many but not all white women, when push comes to shove, will defend white patriarchy as leverage to assimilate into that tragically flawed model - a model which has treated white women with profound disrespect to say the least.  When white police officer Betty Shelby murdered African-American Terence Crutcher as he had his hands up last September in Tulsa she may well have done so to show her white male officer colleagues that she was worthy of her place in Blue - in something akin to gang initiation rites.  But what was Shelby viewed as by her male colleagues before she killed? 

Rose, on the surface is far less sinister yet more insidious in “Get Out”, at least when on the phone with Rod (Lil Rel Howrey), as she exhibits the fear and fantasy she projects about white womanhood and her pedestaled desirability to Black men with choice words.  Rose then glances at her overly-ingratiating parents (Bradley Whitford as Dean; Catherine Keener as Missy) shrouded in darkness, her words lingering in the air.  Rose’s parents and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) approve of her language.  Any masks of politeness or pretension have now well and truly come off - for good.  The lingering fears are resplendently voiced and celebrated with sly smiles.  Rose, by the way, has been on the phone before in the film early on, presumably to Jeremy.

Bungle Fever And The Eyes Have It: Daniel Kaluuya as Chris; Allison Williams as Rose in  "Get Out".  Universal 

Throughout Rose casually posits sexual innuendo about and toward Black men, whether to Chris directly as they drive to her parents’ mansion, to him when at her parents house, or to the aptly(?)-named Rod.  In other words sexual innuendo is the order of the day in "Get Out", like a wobbly anthem.  The only thing I was surprised at is that Rose didn’t mention how “tall, dark and handsome” Chris is (another white woman at the mansion all but does so during a party.)

This psychosexual code plays throughout “Get Out”.  The film’s principal white women (Rose and Missy) relentlessly mind fuck Chris while its principal white men (Dean and Jeremy) do the physical and literal heavy lifting.  Missy looks at Chris suggestively while Dean asks in an insulting, derisory and racist sarcastic way, "how long has this thang been going on?"
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner: Catherine Keener as Missy and Bradley Whiford as Dean in "Get Out".  Universal 

What “Get Out” posits is that the history between Black people and white people in America has not only not been truly and openly explored but has been done so if at all through awkward physical, sexual and coded channels in American history.  Any discussion of white self-anxiety or general, intrinsically-rooted white anxiety about Blackness or Black people is vocalized via sexual innuendo or comments about athleticism.  (Dean, for example, with a bitter politeness refers to Jesse Owens and his own father’s losing to Owens in the 1930s.  There’s envy, not ecstasy in Dean as he exults about Owens sticking it to Hitler.)

There’s never a conversation a white person has with a Black person in “Get Out” that doesn’t revolve around variables of physical dimension.  White guests approach Chris about his physicality, about racist sexual stereotypes - but never talk to him or treat him as a human being or a person.  They objectify him at every turn.  They compare him to athletes like Tiger Woods, himself a Black man who has often dated white women.  (I’m not sure if Chris has dated a white woman prior to Rose.)

No one talks to Chris about his photography even though his camera (a third eye, if you will) is forever present.  Even during a dinner table conversation Chris’s camera is situated right in front of Dean, who ignores it completely.  Also telling: we never see the images Chris shoots with his Canon 7D camera when in suburbia.  There are images on his cellphone however that are a key part of the film.  Betty Gabriel, who plays Georgina the maid, interferes with Chris's phone.  Ms. Gabriel, who is truly creepy in "Get Out", is indispensible to it.

The film also satirizes Chris early on.  The very first image the movie audience sees of Chris is as a topless man, his dark, blue-black skin glistening, in a mirror.  He is applying white shaving cream to what already looks like a clean shaven face.  Is this Chris’s metaphorical white face mask?  The director’s signaling of one?  Is it Chris’s performance mask before his white girlfriend arrives?  A mask for survival in white suburbia?  (Several characters ask Chris why he is so calm during clearly alarming episodes.  This shaving cream could be a cinematic device for Chris’s - and by extension other Black persons’ - coping mechanism for enduring and handling racist comments and environments.) 

More Than Just The Help: Betty Gabriel as Georgina in  Jordan Peele’s debut film "Get Out".  Universal 

Chris nicks his face through the shaving cream as if he has cut it with the razor.  This appears to be an early clue of what is to come.  To borrow a line from “Bamboozled”: “Everyone wants to be Black but nobody wants to be Black.”  This line is operative in “Get Out” both literally and figuratively: the white people who want to live forever want to live within the body of a Black person.  But those characters would rather colonize and bodysnatch than have a conversation with a Black person as a human being the way they would a white person.  That is a psychopathic, psychotic way to be. Illness personified.  Terror.

When Rose tells Chris to put on a smile as a cadre of upper-crust white socialites invades suburbia it’s a “show those pearly whites” moment akin to a minstrel show: be as non-threatening and as docile and polite so as not to scare the white people you meet.  It’s a mechanism that exists in everyday life for Black people, who have to put on masks in the vastly white corporate world.  The truth is that the Rose-Chris relationship (it’s five months, not four, Rose reminds him) is on extremely shaky terrain.  The truth is, Rose is delivering Chris up for auction - a slave auction, which the winning bidder gets to literally live inside him - to fuck him for life and beyond. It’s horrific - but given the actual history of white America’s violence against Blacks (Tuskegee experiments, lynchings, castrations, genocide, enslavement, etc), all too real.

More art inspired by Jordan Peele's horror film "Get Out".  Jermaine Rogers

The first interaction between Chris and Rose is amorous.  Rose positions herself on Chris’s white-linen bed suggestively as Chris asks her about if she’s told her parents about him being Black.  She mocks Chris’s question with an insult that operates as barely veiled racist sentiment.  Rose has already lied about her dating history with Black men.  It will not, as already discussed here, be the first lie she tells Chris.  Even the way Rose comforts Chris as twilight descends - in what looks more like a headlock than an embrace - yields clues to Rose’s true nature.

What “Get Out” does is probe the masks that white people and Black people wear.  There’s a duality in the film’s very title that goes to mind and matter - the psychological and the physical.  “Get Out” means get out of that crazy, violent, dangerous white suburban atmosphere but it also means “Get Out” of Black people’s heads, a metaphor for the brainwashing, conditioning and “mental slavery” Bob Marley once sang about for people to emancipate themselves from. 

Multiple masks, multiple mammals, multiple movies

There are references in the film’s artwork, particularly in Rose’s bedroom, to animals.  There’s what looks like a half-woman, half-wolf on the wall, as well as artwork of the face of a feral-looking white woman in close-up who looks a bit like Rose, entitled Madison Lecarte (the name of a photographer and production director on “Get Out”).  There’s artwork entitled “Death Cheetah vs. Matter” - a definition and depiction of the ongoing physical vs. psychological (brain matter) battle in “Get Out”.  The Black man seen as endangered species.  “Those old white women will get you every time,” laughs one Black woman detective (Erika Alexander) in “Get Out”.  When she is told that Chris’s girlfriend is white the camera captures the detective in close-up - perhaps there's a flicker of objection on her face at the news.  There’s a poster that says Chris Craine Disco Is Death.  Does this mean that Chris is dead?  He’s certainly in danger.

The Sunken Place: Daniel Kaluuya as Chris in  Jordan Peele’s debut film "Get Out".  Universal 

“Get Out” is really four movies in one.  There’s the objective-subjective horror movie we are watching.  There’s the surrogate audience reaction movie excellently marshaled by Lil Rel Howrey as Rod the TSA officer and Chris’s best friend.  And there’s the internal movie of Chris silently observing and taking photos of what he is experiencing.  This is a quiet, personal movie that could be Chris’s own private photo journal essay.  The fourth is our own individual experiences of Mr. Peele’s stunning film.

Because of this layering of movie even before story itself “Get Out” has different perspectives of entry and existence for its major characters.  Since Rod is removed from the first film (Chris’s experience) he can look with fresh eyes at the terrifying predicament his friend is in.  He can reflect and provide comic relief to it. Chris cannot see the trouble he is in until late on because he is in too deep.  The third experience, Chris’s personal inner monologue remains just that, while our “fourth” experience of the collective “Get Out” depends on who we are and what we bring to it.

The eyes have it

Eyes, mirrors, pictures, screens and seeing are important variables in “Get Out”.  Eyes are perspective and possessory in this film, a stamp of the beholder.  Eyes hypnotize.  Eyes warn.  A blind art dealer speaks of seeing.  Chris uses his cellphone camera and professional camera as additional eyes, extra ways of seeing.  Walter the groundskeeper has penetrating eyes.  His eyes are fixed directly at us as he runs towards Chris in the middle of the night.  Walter is seen observing Chris’s arrival into this strange white family’s mansion.  Chris’s eyes connect with those of a dying deer, which literally become a deer in headlights moments before.  Chris will become that same deer in headlights later on in close ups of his eyes widened in frozen, panic-stricken terror at his unholy predicament. 

Run Rabbit Run: Marcus Henderson as Walter in  Jordan Peele’s debut film "Get Out".  Universal 

People in “Get Out” are constantly observed or being observed as the observe.  The white people at the party inside the Armitage mansion pause in unison to suddenly look up at Chris in after he has ascended a staircase.  Chris is reflected in a mirror.  Rose is looking through a glass display of donuts early on.  Dean and Rod wear eyeglasses.  Missy hypnotizes some by boring holes through them with her eyes and a curt flick of the head.  Silver spoons are required in special instances.  Georgina is seen looking through a window and we see her reflection as she does in one scene in particular.  Chris’s cellphone captures a picture of Logan aka Andre (Lakeith Stanfield) and the flash blinds him. 

Chris has several visions, perceptions and dreams as seen in his mind’s eye and in our different perspectives of him.  Chris sees himself and sees the Armitages looking down at him in his “sunken place”.  In “Get Out” Chris is a three-dimensional figure, a fully realized human being - a fully-realized and complete Black man - an utter rarity in a Hollywood horror film.  As in war films Black characters are usually knuckleheads looking to be put out of their misery with the quickness.  Not here.  Chris is treated humanely by Mr. Peele, as are all the Black characters in “Get Out” who in most other movies would be cannon-fodder or throwaways.  There is meaning to the Black characters who exist in “Get Out”.  They have a purpose, a power, a pain and history.

There are many angles and perspectives.  Mr. Peele captures sight, vision, perception and depth, particularly where Chris is concerned.  He throws you off at times.  You think something will jump out of the darkness at a character but most often it does not.  Chris is given residual guilt over powerlessness to prevent or intervene in his mother's death.  I couldn't help thinking of the mental anguish in some Black communities that dates back to enslavement when women were being raped by white men while Black men were helpless to stop it.  This deep pain and anger during enslavement led to mistrust and hostility between some Black men and women.  Some of this lingers today.

"Get Out" rings so deep not only because of real-life events and centuries’ long histories - but also its unmistakable look at how power, white privilege and white supremacy intersect to either doom or protect Black people.  Rose saves Chris from having to show his state ID to a white police officer who solicits it on the highway, a road paved with a dead deer that Jeremy probably flung from deep in the bushes.  Later Rose will attempt to ensnare Chris at the hands of another police officer when she cries for help.

Jeremy is hailed for his "wrangling" methods (presumably animal wrangling).  Dean auctions off Chris and we see a large photo of Chris with his camera.  There are multiple photos of Black men throughout "Get Out" projected on screens, walls or phones.

People are framed on television screens - in short there is constant surveillance in “Get Out”, including by TSA agent Rod, who is doing detective work to break a case that the local police aren’t interested in (since, after all, the notion of missing Black men is treated literally as a joke in a society predisposed to fear and distrust them.)  Rod is like a movie fan who literally steps through the screen to join the film he's been watching already in progress and stop it in its tracks with humor and diligence as a fourth-wall breaker.  As a TSA man he's actually investigating a terror that is only getting the kind of attention it should in the media: the terrorist attacks Black men and women face just walking down the street. 

Rod is a man of the people and an excellent bullshit detector.

Common sense working stiff: Lil Rel Howrey as Rod in "Get Out".  Universal 

“Get Out”, now a cultural touchstone in America, gives us multiple angles on race, racists and stereotypes about sexual interaction between Black men and white women - as well as perspectives of Black men both observed and observing.  These abundance of visions reinforces a need to tell narratives from the perspective of Black men and women.  Whether or not those stories get taken seriously is another matter.  One thing is certain: millions of people in America are flocking to see “Get Out” and that is proof the film is being taken seriously.  As of the writing “Get Out” has made $78 million.  Hollywood can’t afford to take films by Black filmmakers for granted any longer.  

"Get Out" is currently playing across the United States and Canada.

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