In this video essay, Joe talks Jordan Peele’s first directorial outing, Get Out. A masterclass in filmmaking that threads the needle between horror, mystery, and comedy. Enjoy! Or don’t.
I’m talking about racism on the internet!
<Get out clip>
Before I begin, I wanted to thank you fine few Patrons who supported the show over at Patreon.com/SofaJusticeWarriors for helping me reach my first Milestone: Forty bucks! That’s exactly enough money, plus one penny, for a comically huge bottle of bourbon! Which is exactly what I’ll need to consume to convince myself that I have any place whatsoever to talk about tonight’s movie.
<Get Out Trailer>
Today’s episode of Sofa Justice Warriors is entitled: We get everything. And don’t point that out. It’s rude.
Get Out is the story of a young black man who’s more than a little nervous about meeting his white girlfriend’s family. As the two clumsily negotiate their way through this cultural pitfall, a sinister mystery unfolds.
And if you don’t want to know any more than that, or haven’t seen this film yet, this is your chance to jump off the train, because from here on out, spoilers abound.
Comedy superstar Jordan Peele wrote and directed himself a real masterpiece here, seamlessly blending elements of horror, mystery, comedy, and this show’s very favorite thing: cultural commentary.
Contrary to popular opinion, Hollywood LOOOOOVES to talk about racism. Unfortunately, Hollywood only loves to talk about what I’m gonna’ call Comfort Racism. The obviously bad, easily pointed-out, long-time-ago-and-certainly-not-in-any-way-my-fault racism. <Clip>
The racism of the past that we’ve oh-so-totally-solved, and oh, also, there was a good white person in charge of solving it. <Kevin Costner clip>
So it was extremely cool to see a story tackle this topic in a way that doesn’t pat the baby boomers on the back for doing away with that whole racism thing and solving it forever. And it was even cooler to see that story come from the pen and director’s chair of a black creator. <Clip>
There was a very gross genre of movie in the 80s and 90s whose premise could very easily be described as Affluent White People in Black Neighborhoods: Oh no, run. I’m looking at you, Adventures in Babysitting and Judgement Night!
Get Out begins with the reverse… A black man afraid to be in a white suburb. He’s pursued by a vehicle, and IMMEDIATELY, this film establishes that doing the exact thing that the audience thinks you should do, isn’t going to make you safe.
Next, we introduce Chris Washington and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage. It should be noted that the first time we see Rose, she is shopping. For things. Remember this.
As mentioned, Chris is nervous about meeting his white girlfriend’s parents. <Shotgun clip> <Later…>
They get in their car and head to white suburbia, and this happens: <deer clip>
Chris is compelled to check on the deer. Remember this, too.
And then… strap in. White cop, black boyfriend.
Already, this film is talking about racism in a way movies and, screw it, I’m saying it, white people, just usually don’t. It isn’t a comfortable portrayal. It isn’t Comfort Racism. It’s current. It exists in the now, and it exists in a way that, stay with me here, huge swaths of white people never want to talk about.
Let’s stop for a moment for a potential portion of our audience. Are you feeling defensive because I mentioned white people? Are you feeling like you’re being challenged as a person? Are you feeling judged? Are you expecting me, or this movie, to attack you?
I promise you that this episode, and this show, are not about how white people, or men, or straight people, or the able bodied, or any other group that’s regularly accused of holding others down, are all terrible.
Take a step back, if you’re feeling this way. Take a breath. And ask yourself: why am I feeling this? We’ll come back to this too.
So a white cop asked a victim for his identification, and it was a little uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, that even the man himself just wanted it to be over with as quickly as possible. It’s not his job to be constantly advocating for himself. He just wants to go on with his life.
Chris Washington, the character, is a passive guy.
Next? Meet the white family! And again, this film is engaging with racism in a way that films just usually don’t.
But it’s in this moment, as Rose’s father gives Chris a tour of their house, wherein it’s revealed that the family’s former patriarch took third place in a race against black track and field star Jesse Owens. <Clip>
And it’s here, that the film begins to make its thesis statement:
Both this film’s plot, and this film’s themes, are right here. And every. Single. Thing. In this movie, is foreshadowed ahead of time, and done so in such a way that everything hides in plain sight, and takes on one meaning on your first viewing, and another on your second.
Every other filmmaker, myself included, should shut up for five metaphorical minutes, because Jordan fucking Peele is talking. <Clip>
And there it is. Hiding in plain sight. Everything this film is about. Mr. Peele, if I ever become half the filmmaker you are, I’ll call my life a great success.
Washington smokes. And Rose’s parents, a neurosurgeon and a psychiatrist, disapprove. They offer to cure him of his smoking habit via hypnosis. He says no. And as Chris nervously steps out for a late-night cigarette, well…
The man said no. It happened anyway. Before we even know what’s really going on, we’re seeing black characters acting very strangely, and there’s also a theme of entitlement building, here.
If you’re white, ask any person of color you know if anybody’s ever touched their hair without permission, and you’ll start to understand this entitlement.
The next day, there’s a party. And a montage so uncomfortable I literally had to leave the theater for a minute the first time I saw this.
And this wasn’t just uncomfortable for me because I was in Chris’ shoes. He’s our protagonist, in this movie. He’s our guy. I’m with how awkward this is for him.
But it was also uncomfortable because I grew up in a world of white people. I was raised Irish Catholic. And I can and have, said things as dumb as this:
Growth is a process. I didn’t start out, nor will I end, perfect. And here’s where I’d like to talk about that question from before: Why would anybody, if not you, feel defensive about this movie, or me, saying that white people don’t want to talk about racism?
And I can’t speak for you, those who did feel defensive. Nor can I speak for white people as a whole. But I can speak for me. I can speak for myself. Of that, I’m the sole expert and a legitimate authority.
In my experience, there’s a tendency, among white folks, to view racism as something that you are, rather than something you do. I talked about it like some disease other people had. I knew that racists were bad people, and I wasn’t a bad person, therefore, I wasn’t racist.
And for years, that’s as much behavior math as I cared to do. I was tired of being made to feel guilty about things my ancestors did, as if the moment slavery ended, or the civil rights movement changed some laws, we could fist bump and be like, “we coo.”
But racism isn’t a battle we won with the emancipation proclamation, nor was it a battle we won with noted “one-of-the-good-ones” Martin Luther King’s help fifty years ago.
You can’t pass a few laws and call it a day.
Racism isn’t some disease that those other people have, usually people in the past, in this narrative, that I get to divest myself from. And engaging with it only as the worst name I can possibly be called is irresponsible at best.
In short, I tended to treat being called racist like I was black, and I was being been called the N-word. And that righteous indignation is just one more thing I felt I was entitled to that just way doesn’t belong to me.
And I don’t get to say I’m not racist just because I’m trying not to be. That’s not how this works. I learned behaviors in this society that I will spend a lifetime deprogramming, and I will never, ever be done.
In short, the right thing for me to do, for the rest of my life, when somebody tells me I’m racist, is to not say, “No I’m not.” It’s to say, “Oh, shit. I’m sorry. How?”
And furthermore, if that person doesn’t feel like explaining it to me? I don’t get to be mad about that either.
Back to the movie. Chris is a photographer. He tries to ride out the party being invisible by taking pictures. Like I said. Passive guy. But he talks to a black man, and as he takes his picture, with a flash, this happens: <Get out>
Ok. Something’s definitely going on. These people are hypnotized, or something, and camera flashes wake them up momentarily. And viewers more astute than myself will have noticed: this is the guy from the start of the flick.
Chris tries to call his friend, the comic relief in this flick, who works for the TSA. This character says everything the audience is thinking.
That night, it comes out that as a kid, Chris’s mother died in a car wreck. Also, he sat watching television as it happened, doing nothing. Furthermore, if he had gotten up and told somebody, he might’ve saved his mother’s life. And in this moment, as he sat doing nothing, he clawed at the arms of his chair.
This, previously, is the angle at which Rose’s mother came at his hypnotism. His guilt about his mother’s death. And using this, she sends him into himself.
Elsewhere, as he tells Rose, who’s been cool as hell up until this point, but still a little off, about all this, there’s an auction taking place.
Chris decides, as we all would, that he wants to leave. Things are too weird. Title line. Get the fuck out.
But, as established, doing what a normal person would do right now doesn’t keep you safe, in this movie. And as he’s packing to leave, Chris finds a box.
Turns out, despite this having been said earlier in the movie:
Rose has been with several black people.
And here’s the turn. We don’t know exactly what’s up, but we know enough. This are amiss. Rose is in on it. Run. Get out.
And ultimately, the reveal of the movie takes on a very sinister Being John Malkovich bent. This white family and their extended group of friends has been collecting black people for quite some time now to literally steal their bodies.
Chris is a photographer with keen eyes, and a blind, sinister, but seemingly sympathetic Stephen Root, wants his eyes.
And here, as before, we see Rose shopping for things. And those things, are black men.
And here, Peele pays off both Chris’s passiveness as well as his tendency to claw at his chair while being so.
There’s something here about a black man picking cotton that Peele’s trying to say, but it went a little over my head.
But what I did get is that Chris Washington sat on his ass watching TV and let his mom die, and it was his single biggest regret, and so, his hypnotic state was presented the same way. And this time, he wasn’t gonna’ sit around and be passive.
Utilizing the side-effect of his trauma, he breaks his way out of his chair, and becomes, this time, an active participant in fighting against his helplessness. No longer content to watch TV or take pictures, this time, he’s a player in the game.
Oh, and the deer he couldn’t help but go see at the start of the film that we’ve since learned represents his mother?
Yeah, he stabs Bradley Whitford in the fucking chest with his trauma.
Also, male black slaves used to be called bucks. Just sayin’.
After a bit of a stand-off, Chris destroys the tea cup used to hypnotize him. And the knife that stabs him in turn? Now that he’s an expert in using his emotional damage to fight back? He uses this physical damage to do the same.
You fuck with Chris Washington, and he will use the very way he’s fucked up to fight back. I love this character, and I fucking love this character arc.
This is a story not only about overcoming emotional trauma, but of using that same trauma against itself, to carry you forward.
So he leaves, his now-totally-unambiguously-evil-girlfriend who definitely recruits black people to become hosts for her white family chases, and then this happens:
Yeah, we know now that this black woman is actually his girlfriend’s white grandma, but he just can’t. He just can’t.
He tries, but he can’t just leave. He takes her in the car. The film has earned a moment of a character trying to do right, even if it’ll probably go wrong. And it has also earned this character being wrong. And here, the predictable:
And then this:
And then this:
I saw this movie twice before I started this essay, and both times, people cheered this moment. I hear there’s an alternate cut where the cop who showed up was the white officer from earlier, and I’m honestly not sure which ending is more powerful, but, Mr. Peele, I feel like you got to have your cake and eat it too. We all went there. We all thought it was coming. We all got the point. And then, not.
So what is this movie about? What words can I say that will send people running for the hills?
On its surface, this is a movie about the uncomfortable realities black people still deal with on a day-to-day basis. But once it unravels, this is a movie about how entitled a lot of white people feel to not just black bodies, but black culture. Black experience.
A lot of us want everything to be ours.
And if you want to argue, “that’s not me!” great! That’s actually a very good starting point. But it’s also a terrible ending point. So I hope you can take a lesson from my mistakes. My past. Don’t stop there. Keep trying. Keep listening. Don’t make every criticism an indictment of you. Learn. Don’t be satisfied that you’re done. And don’t be annoyed by the fact that people don’t believe you are done.
And, if you watched all this and thought, “well that was all fine, but it wasn’t about me?” You’re either not white, in which case, I hope I got all this right, or you missed the point.
Either way, let’s all keep trying together. I believe in us. All of us, no matter what we look like. And I think that, given enough time and thoughtful discussion, no matter how wrongheaded sometimes, that we can make it through this.
For Sofa Justice Warriors, I’m Joe. Thank you everybody, goodnight.