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movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson

Get Out movie review: yes all white people

Get Out green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Shattering and deep-down bone-chilling. A viciously unsettling nightmare of race and privilege that carves out a much-needed paradigm shift for genre film.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for more diverse storytelling
I’m “biast” (con): not generally impressed by horror movies
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I am shattered by this movie. I am horrified by it… and not in the way that horror movies are typically intended to horrify us: this one is deliberately carving out whole new realms of horror onscreen, realms that have always existed for some people in the real world while others of us have been blind to them, but realms that none of us have ever seen onscreen like this before. Get Out is paradigm-shifting stuff,tweet not just for movies, for “mere” entertainment, but maybe even for our culture. Get Out could provide a new framework for talking about race, racism, and privilege, one that is very much needed.

This is what happens when new voices — here, African-American comedian and actor Jordan Peele, making his directorial debut — are given room to tell stories from perspectives that have been ignored before: we get exciting movies that are freshly compelling because they’re so different.

“Guess I should have told you, honey, that even the interior of my car is super-white.”

“Guess I should have told you, honey, that even the interior of my car is super-white.”tweet

Moonlight may have been a groundbreaking in that it served as an extraordinary empathy machine that put the viewer into the life and mindset of one specific poor gay black man, and made his experiences feel universally human. Get Out does something that is perhaps even more important: it immerses us in a story told from a black man’s perspective in such a way so that it is not universal, so that it is all about what it means to be a black man in America that is different from what it means to be white. (I mean, I am presuming this. I’m white, so I cannot possibly know what it would feel like to be black. But I try to listen and understand, and it seems to me that Get Out at least gives me a flavor of it. I’m sure it only hints at the full reality of even just the narrow angle it takes.) Get Out makes you feel, in a deep-down bone-chillingtweet way, that being black in America can be fucking terrifying.

As with Moonlight, it’s one thing to try to be a generally empathetic person and do your best to appreciate that other people’s experiences are different from your own… but it is quite another, and an infinitely powerful thing, to be inescapably plunged into another person’s life through well-told fiction. So while you can know that even well-meaning white people can do and say stupid thoughtless bigoted things to nonwhite people (and if you’re white, you’ve probably done this yourself, and cringed, and hated yourself immediately afterward), it’s quite another thing to be on the receiving end as Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya: Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is when he goes to visit, for the first time, the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), in their remote, exclusive, all-white enclave. Like how her dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford: Saving Mr. Banks, The Cabin in the Woods), keeps calling Chris “my man” in a dorky attempt to be cool. Maybe her mom Missy’s (Catherine Keener: Begin Again, The Croods) harping on how she can help Chris quit cigarettes with her hypnotherapy is more out of concern that he is exposing her baby to secondhand smoke than anything else, and maybe she’d be the same with a white boyfriend, but there’s definitely something a tad too patronizing and paternalistic and smugly superior about her.

Get Out plays with tropes of paranoid science fiction, body horror, and social satire, finding a blend that is brand new.
tweet

But that’s only the beginning of the weirdness for Chris, which gets intensely weirder in a disquieting Twilight Zone-ish way very quickly. The Armitages have two servants, cook and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel: The Purge: Election Year, Experimenter) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson: Pete’s Dragon, Woodlawn), both of whom are black, and Dean’s white-person-cringe, trying-to-be-woke, half-apologetic explanation to Chris that he knows how it looks, the black help to the wealthy white family, is not even the worst of it. No, there’s something very wrong with Georgina and Walter, in a brainwashed, Stepford Wives sort of way.

What comes after this, what happens to Chris in this place, is full of crimes and terrors that are half familiar, because Peele is playing with tropes of paranoid science fiction, body horror, and social satire that we all know. But the crossover blend he finds between them is brand new. The absolute most sickening aspect of Get Out — and I mean this in the best way; it’s meant to be sickening and it should be sickening — is the larger metaphor under which it is all operating: this is a movie about how black people are denied their humanity by white people. Chris is, as Georgina and Walter are, seen as fit only to serve white people’s needs. This is a nightmare — a viciously unsettling nightmare — about the appropriation of black bodies and black lives by white people that started with the American slave trade and endures today with the mass incarceration of black men (who often then become cheap, near-slave labor for big corporations). There’s a scene here in which the guests, wealthy white people all, at a garden party the Armitages are hosting “welcome” Chris by invoking really revolting racial stereotypes, praising Chris for his apparent physical strength and winkingly asking Rose about his sexual prowess. They seem to believe this is simply charming banter with a newcomer, which is awful enough, but these encounters take on insidious new meaning in retrospect, after we learn what is going on here.

And you thought your in-laws were weird...

And you thought your in-laws were weird…tweet

There is no way around this: The villain of Get Out is White People, not just the Armitages and their neighbors but all of us. It is white culture and white privilege and white entitlement, and white obliviousness to it all, and sometimes the white deliberateness of it all. What shattered me about this movie is thinking — knowing — that I am included in this villainy. I’m not a bad person! I don’t like to think that black people are wary or on edge around me because of the color of my skin. That’s not fair! #NotAllWhitePeople! But this is the power of Get Out for white audiences: it doesn’t just put us in Chris’s shoes but in the skin of someone railing at the injustice of being seen through such a narrow lens. And it also says, yes, all white people. We all benefit from the way things are at the expense of others, whether we want to or not, whether we like it or not.

This is the sheer brilliance of the truly terrifying, truly originaltweet Get Out: it is unnerving and alarming in a way that few other horror movies have ever achieved, by implicating much of its audience — and not unfairly — in the horrors it depicts. This ain’t an imaginary acid-drooling alien hurting people we come to care about onscreen, or even a crazed ax murderer. And this certainly ain’t, say, 12 Years a Slave, a movie allowing us white viewers historical distance from some long-ago awfulness of long-ago white people. This is now. This is how black people feel now, and how white people are not helping the situation. Get Out does not allow us any escape. It compels us, because it is so smart and so well-crafted and so just-plain entertaining around its underlying message, to shut up, sit down, and just listen to another side of reality. Get Out will make many white people very uncomfortable, but hell, isn’t that what horror movies are supposed to do?

But don’t worry, my fellow white folks: You get to leave the theater and stop worrying about the color of your skin. You get to leave this all behind in a “it’s just a movie” way that people who look like Chris don’t.


green light 5 stars

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Get Out (2017) | directed by Jordan Peele
US/Can release: Feb 24 2017
UK/Ire release: Mar 17 2017

MPAA: rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, gore, sex references, language)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Aaron Jones

    Thank you for your honest take on this movie. As I watched it with an audience of white and Latino folks, I wondered what was going on within them, through what cultural lens they perceived it. I can tell you that seeing it as a black person, an extra level of terror is present.

  • RogerBW

    I think this may even do a better job than Moonlight, because it can’t be written off as “a film about black people so it must be a film for black people”. This is a film about the interfaces between black and white.

  • Beowulf

    I understand how you’re using terrifying here, but I want to know if it is scary in a blood-n-guts way, an extreme slasher movie way. Is it? My wife won’t see it then and I might have qualms (yes, I am a little baby when it comes to this stuff). A movie can scare the shit out of me, just don’t let it gross me out.

  • James Barker

    Great now even movie reviews are turning into social justice warrior rants I mean for God’s sake black people have equal rights as do all Americans, stop pretending we are living in the 1800’s, and the idea that race relations will be solved if white people acknowledge their “privilege” is just absurd and insulting, people are individuals before their race, some are born with privilege and some without, stop race baiting with this stupid shit, your feeding the alt-right racist narrative of “left wingers hate white people” and you need to stop if you want to actually call out real racism not just racism you guys make up

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You sound pretty triggered there, friend. Can I get you a safe space? (And maybe a period or two, ’cause you’re beating that comma splice like it woes you money.)

  • No, this film is not gory or gruesome.

  • Spoken like someone who is not impacted by racism. Seems like you missed the point of the film entirely.

  • Beowulf

    Thanks.

  • James Barker

    I’m not “triggered” i’m just calling out obvious race baiting. Is that not a good thing?

  • James Barker

    How do you know I haven’t experienced racism? You don’t know anything about me

  • Your emails to me have demonstrated that you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to race. I am not going to engage with you, as I told you in email. If I have to block you here, I will.

  • James Barker

    I have no idea what i’m talking about when it comes to race? Yet you somehow do? You review movies your not a civil rights activist, and I actually do know alot about race because i’m interested in it and why are you threatening to block me? Why can’t we discuss this? And Did you really expect to not get a reaction after writing an article called “yes all white people” did you not expect a blow back from that blatant race baiting title?

  • You’re gone.

  • RicoSuave

    I thought the movie seemed like a Twilight Zone take on “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner”. As to it being an indictment of all White People… not sure if I would accept that extrapolation. Those who want to can take it that way. I didn’t take it as an indictment of all people of Haitian/Creole background after watching a film like “The Serpent And the Rainbow”.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Uh, no, that’s not what you’re doing. But nice try, I suppose.

  • Danielm80
  • Dr. Rocketscience

    ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • When someone makes a movie about Haitian/Creole privilege, then we can talk. This movie is an indictment of white privilege, which all white people have, whether you accept that or not.

  • Beowulf

    MA is so right about white privilege. By the way, was it Richard Pryor on an old SNL who wore white-face onto a bus (full of actors not real people) and saw the drinks and presents come out for the white riders after the only black person got off the bus?

  • Bluejay

    That’s Eddie Murphy in “White Like Me,” and it is a classic.

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/white-like-me/n9308?snl=1

  • RicoSuave

    That’s the opinion of the film maker and those who want to see it that way.

  • Bluejay

    There’s a difference between saying “all white people are the same” and “all white people benefit from a racist system.”

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