Horror-satire on race in USA storms box office

Acting the part: ‘Do your parents know you have a black boyfriend?’

A low-budget horror with no stars has become the US movie sensation of the year. The much-praised Get Out has touched a nerve in the USA. But does its portrait of race relations ring true?

When Jordan Peele came up with the idea for Get Out, he doubted it would get made at all. He believed the movie’s controversial take on race relations in the USA would scare people off.

He was wrong. The subject matter became the movie’s selling point: it triggered a national debate and made the film a record-breaker at the box office. Critics praised its blend of comedy and horror. Over a month after its release, it continues to play to sold-out cinemas in America.

Get Out tells the story of a young interracial couple. Chris is about to meet Rose’s family, but he is wary. “Do they know I’m black?” he asks. “They’re not racists,” Rose reassures him. Indeed, her parents initially go out of their way to prove that they are tolerant liberals. “I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could,” the father tells Chris.

But their constant references to Chris’s race soon acquire a sinister edge. They mention his “frame” and “genetic makeup”; at a garden party, the white guests obsess over his body and make inappropriate comments. Things take a violent turn when Chris realizes that Rose and her family are not all they appear to be.

There have been countless films about race in America, but they tend to deal with overt acts of racism such as segregation and killings. By contrast, Get Out looks at the more subtle bigotry that lurks beneath respectable society. It is about the discomfort that liberals can cause by trying too hard to accommodate diversity — and about the prejudices they can hold without realizing.

The movie comes at a sensitive time. Some took Barack Obama’s presidency to mean that America has become “post-racial” — an idea that Peele calls a “lie”. His message is echoed by several recent novels, including Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which suggest that some of the stereotypes that were once used to justify slavery persist today.

Just how much has changed since slavery’s abolition?

Race to the top

A lot, say some. Get Out makes some very important points. But the white characters’ unsettling comments — which some would call microaggressions — are a world away from the state-sponsored racism that allowed slavery to happen. Race relations are constantly improving. The very fact that an African-American could make this movie speaks volumes.

That is just the sort of argument which allows racism to thrive, reply others. Slavery may be dead, but the ideas behind it are not. Every day, blacks are made to feel different from — and often inferior to — whites. Many African-American viewers said they identified with Chris. As long as the liberal elite ignores their grievances, this will continue.

You Decide

  1. Do you witness racism on a regular basis?
  2. Is entertainment the best medium for making a political point?

Activities

  1. Watch the scene from Get Out in Become An Expert. As a class, discuss what it tells you about the movie.
  2. Watch a movie or read a novel that you think says something interesting about race. Write a 500-word review.

Some People Say...

“We should stop celebrating our differences.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That Get Out is a success. The movie has grossed far more than expected. It also received rave reviews, which is unusual for any horror flick, let alone one with such a sensitive subject.
What do we not know?
What Peele will do next (he’s suggested he wants to focus on thrillers). Also, to what extent the movie will change the industry or society in general.
What do people believe?
Some believe Get Out is part of a wider trend of growing acceptance of “black cinema”. Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars, while Hidden Figures and Straight Outta Compton have been box office hits. Others argue that race relations are deteriorating, what with police killings and last year’s rancorous election campaign, and that movies only have a small impact on people’s mindsets.

Word Watch

Jordan Peele
A comedian who attracted a cult following with the show Key & Peele, which he co-created. Get Out is his first feature film.
Record-breaker
Peele is the first African-American writer-director whose debut feature grossed more than $100m.
Release
During Black History Month, no coincidence according to Peele.
Post-racial
Used to describe an America free from racial discrimination, but also applied to Obama himself, who is mixed-race and seen by many to transcend racial stereotypes.
The Sellout
Beatty’s novel (Oneworld Publications 2016) follows an African-American as he attempts to resurrect slavery and segregation. It won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2016. (Whitehead’s The Underground Railway Doubleday 2016)
Microaggressions
Refers to cases of subtle — and often unintentional — hostility toward a member of a marginalized group. Coined in the USA in the 1970s, it gained currency in the last few years, particularly on campuses. A commonly cited example: asking an American from a racial minority, “Where are you really from?” (thus implying they are not truly American).

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