“Get Out” plays with the horror of race relations

“Get Out” opens with a terror no black person wants to see: a car leisurely rolling up behind you on darkened street, in a predominantly white suburb. From the get-go, “Get Out” viewers know just what they’re in for. Being black in America? That’s a real American horror story.  

Earning a juicy 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Jordan Peele’s foray into horror balances suspense, humor and social commentary in a nuanced way.

Meeting the parents is nerve-wracking. It’s even more so for Chris Washington, a young black man in an interracial relationship. He’s not entirely convinced that the family of his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, will be accepting. But it’s all good, Rose assures him. Her dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he had the chance!

The more menacing parts of “Get Out” are kept at bay by gentle, NYC hipster exposition. To the tune of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” we see Chris and Rose’s sprawling minimalist loft. The decor is straight out of a Pottery Barn catalogue. The sunlight streams in at Instagram-worthy angles. And the Armitages turn out not to be so scary after all.

Against an idyllic upstate New York backdrop, we meet Mr. Armitage is a little forward and Mrs. Armitage is a little quirky. Rose’s brother, Jeremy, is a coked up lax bro who crashes onto our screens in a more visibly displeasurable way. But what’s a family reunion without a little conflict, a little tension, a little dysfunction?

As Chris picks up breadcrumbs about the dirty, dark secrets of the Armitage estate, viewers get a lesson in race as a performed identity. Peele sows seeds of comedy and conflict when Chris comes in contact with Georgina, the black housekeeper and Walter, the black groundskeeper. They’re stilted, awkward, plastic.

image5
Jordan Peele commissioned visual artists to contribute to a gallery of Get Out fan art. This post’s feature illustration is by Jermaine Rogers.

One of the most painfully awkward and delightful moments comes when Georgina struggles to translate modern AAVE into 1950s-flavored English — “Snitch? Oh, you mean tattletale.” We also see a kiss of death when a brother named Logan, who seems to be under the same spell as Georgina and Walter, grabs Chris’ fist when the protagonist goes in for a fist bump. 

The inability of these black folks to code-switch lets Chris know that for sure something’s just not quite right about the whole situation.

Even more terrifying than the black automatons keeping house are the ugly microaggressions from the folks at the Armitages’ party: dehumanizing inquiries about whether sex is really better with black men and insinuations that being black is now advantage in a widely progressive America.

Of course, when things really hit the fan and we see the phrase “Get out of my Caucasian house!” taken to a new level.

I recommend this film for cinephiles who like their comedies with a pinch of satire and who are looking for a horror flick where the black character doesn’t die first.

Advertisements

‘Hidden Figures’ radiates light for Black History Month

At first glance, it’s obvious that “Hidden Figures” is a fitting watch for Black History Month: the principal characters are black and the film is set in the early 1960s. But that assessment sells it short. “Hidden Figures” is an excellent film to watch in February because it plucks black women’s history from the depths of erasure, and celebrates black joys and sorrows in a nuanced way.

hf-gallery-03-gallery-image

On Saturday, I met up with the crew and headed to the theatre to finally watch “Hidden Figures.” Before the Golden Globes, the NAACP Image, Oscar and Screen Actors Guild noms, I wanted to see this movie. Black women? And space? And they’re killing it at math and science? Sign me up. The fact that Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and reigning space princess Janelle Monáe carry the film was an added bonus.

And carry the film they did. Similar to Viola Davis’ performance in “Fences,” Spencer shows us that silence shouldn’t be taken for weakness. Dorothy Vaughan remains resolute in demanding equal pay and equal opportunities for advancement — both for herself and the rest of the black women in NASA’s West Area Computing Group.

hf-gallery-04-gallery-image

As Mary Jackson, Monáe shows us new ways to be radically black. Instead of subscribing to the radicalism of her husband, played by Aldis Hodge, Jackson is radical just by daring to exist. She is determined to become an engineer for NASA. She is determined to enroll in the necessary courses at the all-white high school. She is determined to reach her full potential, despite the double layer of social and legal barriers for black women.

df-3-gallery-image

Henson absolutely shines as Katherine Goble Johnson. She strikes a balance between Vaughan’s endurance and Jackson’s tenacity. From rage to indignation to tenderness, the audience feels the full depth of Johnson’s emotions. Through her struggles with the Space Task Group and her struggles to rebuild her home life, too, we see the plight of working women and black professionals.

df-2-gallery-image

As women, working black women take on “the second shift” — also known as “the double burden” — of keeping the home together. As black professionals, working black women are constantly berated, second-guessed and sabotaged by their white or male peers.

It’s here that the film does very important work: illustrating intersectionality. Especially at a time like Black History Month, where the focus is race, one’s intersecting identities are often thrown out of the window. In “Hidden Figures,” audiences watch white men disguise racism as sexism to the tune of, “We can’t have a woman in the Pentagon meeting.” There is the issue of the coffee pot and the early current of Johnson sacrificing 40 minutes each day to travel across NASA’s campus for the nearest colored ladies’ restroom.

hf-gallery-05-gallery-image

And finally, Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell is a lesson in how gender can sometimes fail to unite women and give way to other oppressions. As a supervisor, Mitchell maintains the power structure put in place by the white men at NASA by refusing to advocate for the West Area Computing Group.

As “Hidden Figures” runs its course at the box office, hopefully the positive response will continue not just in the awards it wins, but how it touches audiences. While a pleasure to watch, the film presents a difficult story: one of the many unnecessary and taxing obstacles black Americans must overcome before they triumph. Still, it’s in this difficult story that girls and women of color can find strength and pride.

hf-gallery-02-gallery-image

The fact that people are taking notice of movie like “Hidden Figures” is meaningful for the same reason that the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson are meaningful. Whether it’s 1957 or 2017, being celebrated despite and for your blackness and your womanness are radical concepts. While released in time for awards season and Black History Month, “Hidden Figures” is a film that sticks with you long after the credits roll.