Why Jordan Peele’s "Get Out" fails as an exploration of whiteness in America

Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a film that has confounded many in its lionization as the preeminent cinematic depiction of the horror of Black existence. In truth, it’s simply a cathartic wet noodle for the socially mobile Black psyche.

6 months ago

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This is an excerpt from a longer piece analyzing current Black Cinema and drama. I hope to have it released sometime the near future. Quick note, when I talk about the “Fanonian Lens” I am speaking about theories developed by the theorist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Also, I must acknowledge Dr. Lewis Gordon and his work on Fanon as a major influence on my understanding of Fanon’s ideas. — Mtume Gant.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a film that has confounded me in its lionization as the preeminent cinematic depiction of the horror of Black existence. In truth, it’s simply a cathartic wet noodle for the socially mobile Black psyche. Get Out is a film excreted from the bowels of Black paranoia in a white world. It isn’t an analysis of the Black psyche toiling in a world of white supremacy even though it attempts to market to you like it’s so, it’s a rollercoaster shock job and that’s why as a commentary on race, it fails. Borrowing from the familiar melodramatic tropes of powerless victimhood, which for a Black audience in today’s depoliticized identity dominated ideology that rings prominently when it comes to social analysis the film's message resonates as unchallenged gospel. The current popular perception of Black existence is one of a disempowered being who can only find their strength in their exceptional ability to persevere in moments of transgression, thus in turn when one is blessed with the discovery of their Black Excellence it functions not only like an awakened superpower, but also manifests as one’s currency of worth handing us our greatest chance to make ones mark in an anti-Black world.

Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist, and anti-colonial cultural theorist. Author of Black Skin White Masks and Wretched of the Earth.

But if we apply a Fanonian lens to this internalized view of perpetual victimhood we see a state of being that has had part of its humanity virtually erased. One of the key tenets of the Fanonian view of White Supremacy is the infantilization of black existence, that Blackness exists in a society that does not offer the ability for those who have been branded by it to be fully actualized, to become an adult if we were to put it in terms of growth. If you are not an adult, you are a child and children have no responsibility for their actions. They also become unable to revolt and since they (typically unconsciously) see themselves as the same status as children their existence will always be about permission. One of the seductions of White Supremacy is to convince Black people they are not responsible for their own existence. Get Out is developed from this viewpoint. Sculpting its hero from the trope of exceptional Blackness that we have seen in films like Django Unchained, 12 Years A Slave, or Black Panther its lead character Chris is a creation of the confused socially mobile consciousness (or should I say self-consciousness on the part of Peele?). He is presented to us as a photographic talent, which we later learn in the climax of the film is the reason why his particular Black body has been selected by the Armitage’s for hijacking. This plot point, especially pleasing for the socially mobile Black psyche that white hostility towards the Black body is in some form tied to a certain admiration of Blackness, the socially mobile can accept a world of white hostility if it serves to affirm the egoism that has come to dominate their attempts to ascend in America’s ranks.

Still from the film version of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s play Dutchman starring Al Freeman Jr. and Shirley Knight.

It’s early established that despite dating a white woman Chris is incredibly distrustful of white people, yet he never has a distrust for his white partner Rose who eventually is proven to be the grand villain of the film. Rose is a sort of half-assing of LeRoi Jones revelatory character Lula in his play Dutchman, a work which Peele has clearly referenced and in turn depoliticized for his entertainment consumption aims. Yet we could (sort of) accept this blind eye if we discovered Chris is essentially disingenuous about his distrust, that it only exists as posture. But the narrative crumbles into pretense as it refuses to acknowledge the nuances that exist in the seduction of White Supremacy that has sacked the socially mobile Black class. It reduces the attraction to the cheap trope of romantic interest, the tired mythology of Black men having a long-standing desire for white women (we could almost accept this as clever but cheap storytelling device if they made this desire go beyond his loins and romantic haze). Its scope is limited and only used to skirt away from the socially mobile’s real desire for not only a seat at the table but inclusion in the form of honorary membership, this is truly how the seduction plays out.

Daniel Kaluuya as the protagonist Chris Washington in Get Out.

The film further falls on its face when Chris, constantly victimized by his White hosts, never chooses to make an exit, thus shifting his initial distrust as more of an empty posture, but this time on the part of Peele as a filmmaker to give Chris some kind of “Black awareness” cred rather than an actualized behavioral characteristic. We could accept this part as well if we saw the seduction towards whiteness beyond his loins, instead, the film tumbles down a hill of Black paranoia that serves as a cathartic rollercoaster ride where Chis, with the help of his comic relief counterpart triumphs over his would-be body-hijackers and escapes like the “Final Girl” from Slasher films like Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. It gives us a win. (I once argued with a Black film colleague about how they felt it was more important to show us win rather than depict actual truths in our cinema because Blackness so rarely wins in America. I, obviously do not share this opinion.) This narrative device confirms our perpetual victimhood status, further infantilizing our humanity as we are ghettoized towards the existence of perpetual perseverance, it is our cosmic nature to be abused in our uphill battle vs the villain of anti-Blackness. Blackness is a biblical allegory for America’s cathartic enjoyment, not an actual breathing nuanced humanity.

“Every now and then, a drama will really get me, but for my money, I look to cinema, I look to television as an escape. And that means an escape from reality. I think one of the things that we try and do is provide an escape for our audience — but to not let that allow us to shut our eyes to what’s really going on in the world.” — Jordan Peele said to Variety in May of 2018.

If Get Out chose to be truly subversive, a true example of our horror, it could only happen one way. With Chris, who realizes how seduced he has been by White Supremacy his whole life, his whole existence and now, as his journey into whiteness chasing has brought him to the Armitage’s home he becomes aware of this long seduction as they plot to hijack his flesh, his protests are shown merely to be an expression of his childlike nature and he goes along willingly, understanding that his quest for social mobility could only be consummated with his necessary final complicity. The Armitage’s have always been his final destination. And he welcomes their take-over of his flesh, thus making the Fanonian nightmare actualized and we as Black America understand the true cost of that honorary membership the socially mobile seek out. This would be the true radical subversion and a true indictment on White Supremacy, not just an opportunity to use Black paranoia as a method to sell tickets. It’s clear that Peele doesn’t aim to be truly introspective, just opportunistic.

Rezistans Nwa

Published 6 months ago