I recently watched Jordan Peele’s Get Out with Jacob and I have a lot I want to say. First things first though, so much respect to Jordan Peele for making a movie that delivers a quality scare as effectively as it makes a statement about race in our current time. Plus it looked and sounded amazing. There will be spoilers in what I write so if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to and don’t want to ruin your experience of it, read no further. For everyone else – here goes.
I can do my best to learn about and understand the struggles that black people face, but straight up, I will never know what it is like to be a black person in America. There are parts in this movie I can relate to, though. As a non-white person who is currently in a committed relationship with a white person, I can confirm that meeting a white person’s family for the first time does induce a special kind of anxiety. I’ve dated people of various races, and while it’s true that the “what if they don’t like me” feeling is always there no matter what race one’s partner is, that feeling is amplified by the race factor when the family is white. I assume I’ll be met with suspicion until the moment I show that I am friendly, non-threatening, and approachable… Even if I’d probably be more comfortable hanging back a little and gauging the room before deciding it is safe to be myself, the pressure to be disarming in order to be palatable is REAL. I think Chris’s character felt that way too in the beginning of the movie – not exactly turning up his charm factor in order to gain approval, but rather responding just enough to convey polite acquiescence to Rose’s dad’s awkward and somewhat charged commentary during their tour of the Armitage estate grounds.
Talking and acting and being a certain type of way that makes white people feel safe and unthreatened brings me to the word, “assimilate.” I am the daughter of Filipino immigrants who came to the U.S. in the late 80’s to escape from the political strife of the Marcos regime. I guess my parents learned that in order to ensure their children’s success in this country, they had to teach us to aspire to whiteness. Never mind that in our elementary school, there were no white kids (it was mainly Hispanic and Korean) and some of my friends’ older siblings were gang members. They never let us play with neighborhood kids, except for the two white girls down the street, who went to private school and didn’t go to our elementary school. High school was the first time I had white classmates. I remember my mom taking an entire morning off from work to go to the school administrator’s office and fight tooth and nail to put my siblings and me in the honors program, which would get us into those nicer classrooms with the better teachers. She pointed to our good grades as evidence that the opportunity wouldn’t be wasted on us. She made the case for why we deserved a seat at that table (and a better shot at success) even if we were brown kids with the last name Hernandez and lived in the wrong zip code. Because the reality is, we would have been written off until someone yelled at them otherwise.
So my mom made these people open the doors to us, but it was our responsibility to assimilate. What does this have to do with Get Out? I think one of the main takeaway themes from this movie is that it can be dangerous to assimilate. Webster’s dictionary definition of the term can be found here. My own personal experiences have made me realize that assimilation entails muting or hiding or withhold aspects of one’s identity, or acting differently in order to gain acceptance from, or try to be on the same level as, those in positions of power. On the one hand, a non-white person dating a white person doesn’t and shouldn’t automatically mean the non-white person is trying to assimilate into white culture. On the other hand, in this movie, dating a white person gets a black person literally lobotomized, which I think is symbolic of the toll assimilation takes on one’s mental health and personal identity.
I also wanted to talk more about the symbolism in this movie. By now we’ve probably all heard about how Rose’s character eating the fruit loops separate from the milk is symbolic of segregation – whites separate from colors. I personally find that one a little tenuous, but the deer is a good example of the symbolism in this movie. In the beginning of the movie, a deer runs across the road and Rose’s car hits it thereby fatally wounding it, Chris goes to inspect it. At this point, as audience members, we do not yet know that Chris’s mom died when he was 11 or how she died, but through the camera focusing on his eyes and the deer’s eyes, we do see him relating in some tender and pained way to the deer. Later on, Rose’s dad mentions that he’s happy Rose’s car hit a deer, that deer have overpopulated and are everywhere, and that if he could kill them all, he would. This, after we just saw that Chris relates in some yet-unknown-to-us but very palpable way to the deer… It came across as some veiled KKK-type shit to me. And yet we see that dead antlered deer are displayed in the Armitage home. If deer are supposed to symbolize black people in this movie, it makes sense that the Armitages would display deer as trophies, too – they are leaders of the cult that prizes the genetic physical advantages of black people and collects them as trophies in which to stuff their sick and/or dying relative’s brains. Later, when Chris uses the mounted deer head’s antlers to kill Rose’s dad and begin his escape, if effect he un-trophies the deer and un-trophies himself. He does what he needs to do to assert his existence.
One last thing I wanted to comment about was the idea of the pure, unassuming, innocent white girl. Allison Williams as Rose could not have been more fitting – she was excellent in this role. My thoughts on what her character represents is hard for me to explain… I think the heart of it is, the idea that this type of woman could never do anything wrong proves fatal in this horror movie and toxic in real life. In real life, the idea of white girls incapable of doing anything wrong or offensive is the perfect disguise for executing conniving and manipulative actions without anyone suspecting otherwise. Though Rose sticks up for Chris when the cop asked to see his ID even though he wasn’t driving, by the end of the movie we see this is just her building a relationship of trust with her next victim. She is also dismissive of his concerns when he tells her the black housekeeper is messing with his phone, the reason he gives is because its a “thing” for black women to be upset if black men date white women (see paragraph below). How many of us non-white people have had our concerns dismissed by white people when it comes to anything about race? It is a common experience many of us share. In the movie, we later on learn that Rose’s dismissiveness is actually just a way to keep the ruse going on a little longer. We learn that it’s her grandma’s brain inside of the housekeeper’s skull, and that Rose is in on the whole thing. Specifically, her role is to be bait to get black people onto the estate for hypnosis and lobotomies. But it doesn’t change the fact that in that scene, many non-white people can relate to Chris’s frustration when his concerns are dismissed.
Side note (see above) – Chris mentions that “it’s a thing” for black women to be jealous when black men date non-black women. I’ve heard about it in music, TV shows and movies, but I can’t speak from personal knowledge on whether it’s a thing. If it is, though, I think it’s something that goes the other way too: Some white women dislike when white guys date non-white women. In fact, the movie trailer for Unforgettable that we saw prior to Get Out shows Katherine Heigl’s character as jealous and conniving once she finds out that her ex-husband is in a committed relationship with Rosario Dawson’s character. The movie is all about what Katherine Heigl’s evil character will do to sabotage that relationship and endanger Rosario Dawson’s character to get her picture perfect white family back together again. Even outside of the movie context, I remember another example of white women being salty about white guys dating non-white women. My white roommate in college once bitched and moaned to me about how “all white guys wanna date Asian chicks” and how I was “so lucky” (undeserving?) and how she was “so jealous.” That conversation made me very uncomfortable. I absolutely do NOT appreciate it or feel lucky if I am being reduced to a fetish by men. And this friend? I was insulted that she thought so little of me, that the only value a white guy see in me is nothing more than sexual. As if there’s nothing more to who I am that would make a guy want to date me. I am no longer friends with that girl.
ANYWAY. Back to Get Out. It’s a movie than made me think critically about race relations in America and about my own relationship with my white boyfriend. We are both lawyers, we both went to law school, we both are passionate about social justice issues. We talk about everything under the sun from politics to peanut butter. And we have had many very open and very hard conversations about what it means for him to be an ally, what I can do to support that, and what he can do to support me. It’s important to both of us that we are progressive in our relationship as well as in the broader context of society and politics, too. But we both watched this movie with our own baggage in hand. He’s white and I’m Filipino, and just as we share a lot of similarities, we also are two totally different people who thought different things while watching this movie. The thing I value most about being in a relationship with Jacob is that even if we disagree on something or have a difference in opinion, we can still talk about it in a really honest, open, and respectful way.
OK, to close this shit up: If you wanna see a scary movie that will make you think critically about race in America and in your own lives, watch this movie.