Thursday, March 30, 2017

When Will They Get Out?: A Squeamish White Girl’s Experience With the Film

The film Get Out is a horror-thriller created by comedian Jordan Peele about a white family who continue a sinister family legacy of kidnapping black people, performing a lobotomy, and inserting the person of an aging or ailing white person. Chris is the black boyfriend of Rose, the daughter of aforementioned family. He accompanies Rose to her family’s secluded home, unaware that he’s their next victim.

My interest in horror movies has always stemmed from the human experience that can be explored in the context of terrifying events. The horrible event of a white family kidnapping black people for their stereotypical qualities such as sexual prowess or athletic ability is just an example of the boundaries that can be pushed and the aspects of humanity that can be revealed through the genre of horror. But I can still be a little squeamish while watching and typically need a friend who will hold my hand in the dark movie theater and encourage me to watch when I’d rather cover my eyes.

I was particularly interested in Get Out because of the racial themes. From the trailer, it looked like all the white people were the bad guys and all the black people were the victims and I really wanted to see how it played out. It seemed like a bold move. I was curious to see how the filmmakers handled it. Gratefully my out of town visitors were interested in seeing the movie with me so I didn’t have to experience it alone.

The minute the film began, the racial themes hit me in the face. When the white girlfriend tells her black boyfriend that she did not tell her family he was black, my ears tingled. When she said her reasoning was, “They’re not racist” I felt the training from my church’s  cultural intelligence ministry kick into gear. I thought, but what does she mean by ‘not racist’?

Later in the film, I was inwardly cheering when the white girlfriend defended—rather boldly—her boyfriend against the discrimination of the white police officer. But her bold defense in this one moment did not continue once they arrived at her family’s home. I watched helplessly as her family and extended family poked and prodded the boyfriend and made horribly uncomfortable comments about his physical agility or sexual aptitude, all in an attempt to display how “not racist” they were. I was watching the white girlfriend the entire time, wondering when she was going to speak up or defend him. When was she going to say, “Okay, this is embarrassing and inappropriate. We are going home”? When were they going to Get Out?

There is a short moment of fresh air when the boyfriend has a conversation with a blind uncle. This uncle takes an interest in the boyfriend as a person and admires his skill as an artist, even though he can no longer see beautiful things with his own eyes.

Near the end, my heart did more than thud with the intensity induced by scary scenes. It sank in despair when both the girlfriend and the blind uncle turned out to have a hand in the system of kidnapping black people and using them for whatever abilities they needed. The girlfriend was an active participant, willingly seducing the boyfriend for her family’s financial and scientific benefit. The blind uncle was a more passive participant, benefiting from and promoting the system while not actually doing any of the dirty work.

After the final rush of nail-biting scenes and wondering if the boyfriend was going to get out, the story ends with a scene of comic relief and I heaved a sigh along with the rest of the audience. There was collective laughter as we moved as a crowd towards the elevators—we’d somehow bonded by experiencing mutual terror, laughter, and triumph. Once in the light of the hallways, I noticed that the majority of my fellow moviegoers were African American. I was instantly curious how they experienced the film. I had noticed during some of the scenes, particularly the ones where the white family members were being invasive with their prodding and questioning of the black boyfriend, that while I sank in my chair and muttered, “this is so uncomfortable” to my friend, a large part of the audience seemed to be laughing and murmuring in understanding.

But most prominent was the feeling at the conclusion that we’d all had a human experience together. We were kidnapped together, rooted for the same characters, hoped for the demise of the same villains, and cheered at the conclusion.  I’ve always enjoyed horror for the aspects of humanity it is able to explore. But I’d never seen it as a communal experience--a way of bringing people together. That, in itself, is a human experience.

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