Update: Get Out has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Best Director (Jordan Peele), and Best Original Screenplay. Spoilers for the film ahead.
When Jordan Peele was on Key & Peele, he and co-host Keegan-Michael Key took advantage of the same recipe for comedic success that Dave Chappelle did with Chappelle’s Show. They were able to use a mixture of sketch comedy and stand-up to talk frankly about race. They did it in a way that made white people feel comfortable, even when they were the butt of the joke. Now, making his directorial debut with Get Out, Peele still hasn’t shied away from the controversial topic.
In what Peele told ING was a “social thriller,” a Black photographer, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), travels with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents. Chris is apprehensive about the trip and the fact that Rose’s parents don’t know he’s Black. When they arrive at the secluded and expansive property, Chris notices some oddities about the other Black people around, who all work in service positions and don’t appear to be functioning at normal capacity. His suspicions come to pass when he realizes he has been auctioned off to have his body inhabited by the highest white bidder. Apparently, it’s Rose’s family’s business and Chris is just one of their many victims.
With his over-the-top plot, Peele takes several racial themes to the extreme in Get Out. But what stood out to me the most was his take on white women’s role in racism. As I watched the film I found myself dreading the moment when Rose would either be Chris’s white savior or worse, another victim of her parents’ sick intentions who needs saving by her Black boyfriend. Luckily that moment never came.
By revealing Rose to be a just as, if not a more culpable villain, Peele managed to avoid the mistake that even some liberal feminists still fall into. He didn’t assume that white women who befriend or date Black people are inherently exempt from participation in racism. They can be complicit or catalysts in everything from microaggressions to overt discrimination and disenfranchisement. Obviously, it’s a stretch to assume that all, or any white women are directly facilitating the murder of Black men, but when 54% of the ones who voted cast a ballad for Donald J. Trump in November, they certainly have a different take on whether or not Black lives matter.
Ultimately Chappelle walked away from his hit sketch show because he hated "being right" all the time. What I gathered from this comment is that Chappelle had hoped for laughter to be the vehicle to transition people from complacency to accountability. But it never happened. His liberal audience, which included a good number of white people, never stopped to think critically about the role they played in other people’s oppression. Perhaps then the show wouldn’t have been as funny.
Maybe it was this predicament that Peele hoped to avoid by exploring the horror genre. Essentially, the new director managed to hit white audiences with an epic “I’m kidding. Kind of…”