(Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for Get Out. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading.)
Art Meets Life in Get Out
Unless you’ve been asleep like Rip Van Winkle the last few years, you are very much aware that it’s been a rough season. For immigrants, Native Americans, and for Black people. With The New Jim Crow and 13th both highlighting the realities of racial profiling, mass incarceration, and wrongful convictions predominantly of African-Americans and Latinos all while seeing another unarmed Black person’s name become a hashtag that doesn’t result in a conviction much less an arrest…yeah, it’s a difficult season. To cope, I have returned to reading the prophets in the OT, watching A Different World and practicing Tai Chi. I have avoided movies like 12 Years a Slave or Free State of Jones as I don’t need to be reminded of the ingredients that have led to this present reality of subvert racism in America.
Enter Get Out. After declaring I would not see the film, I was told by friends across the country how good it was and I would feel better walking out.
I did not.
Andre is Trayvon Martin
Get Out, while a good film, too closely resembled the realities of being Black in America as it navigates frequent micro-aggressions Black people experience without a resolution. This film is truly art meeting life. The film begins with, Andre, a Black man, walking in a suburban neighborhood talking to his girlfriend, attempting to locate her house. A white car passes, turns around and proceeds to follow him. Andre starts talking to himself in order to remain calm but eventually gives up looking for the house because–well, he’s being followed. The driver chokes him, kidnaps him, and we don’t see him again until later on in the film.
This scene is a compelling introduction to any film, but for me, seeing a Black man walk down the street and suddenly begin to be followed didn’t just remind me of my own life experiences with police, but I saw Trayvon Martin. Armed with a phone, a sweet tea, and skittles, and now he is gone, just like Andre.
Heard But Not Believed
The film continues and we are introduced to our stars, a Black photographer named Chris Washington and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage. They’re going to meet Rose’s family and the micro-aggressions escalate from their apartment literally to the credits. First, Chris inquires if Rose has told her parents he is Black which she dismisses as unnecessary, affirms the cultural maturity of her family, and her commitment to their relationship no matter what. Second, on the way to the house, after accidentally hitting a deer on a country road, the police arrive. Rose quickly defends Chris when the police officer asks for Chris’ license even though he wasn’t driving. (Side Note: 93% of Black people at this point would turn around and go back home. If the parents don’t know I am black and I have gotten racially profiled on the road leading to your house, there is no scenario where this ends well.) Third through tenth is Rose’s family. The dad’s greeting, his affirmation of them killing a deer because “they are destroying society,” the hiring of the Black cleaning staff and so on all affirm a perspective of being Black in America.
Because white people make up the dominant culture in the United States, Black people live in perpetual displacement. We live and operate in a white world, with white values and white customs as the definition of what is acceptable. Trayvon Martin (walking), Eric Garner (selling cigarette singles), and Tamir Rice (12 years old, playing with a toy gun) were killed after being deemed a danger to society while Brock Turner served 3 months in jail for sexual assault because there is a stigma that assumes the guilt of Black people until proven innocent while assuming the innocence of white people even with eyewitness testimony confirming guilt. While these instances are overlooked or forgotten in the dominant culture, like Cain, the blood of these and others cries out from the ground in the Black community. We wear their names to remember them, to listen to them, to learn from them. This is why Chris is consistently sharing with Rose his experiences, yet he isn’t believed. His concerns about the cross-cultural competency of her family, the insensitivity of the neighbors, and the fear in the eyes of the other Black people isn’t accepted. Chris has experience of living at the margins in America, while Rose does not. Throughout the movie, Chris continues to experience painful displacement but his concerns are dismissed. Ultimately, we find out Rose is just as crazy as her family. She literally holds the keys to his freedom, his very life, but deliberately withholds them. The trauma of these moments is significant because they are not far removed from reality as is traditionally depicted in entertainment.
There is one Japanese-American character in the film. He has one question. He asks Chris his thoughts on the issues plaguing Black America. While the Asian-American community will rightly be upset about their solo sentence cultural depiction in the film, it highlights the “model minority” weapon, where concerns raised by Black people are dismissed because of the academic and economic success within the Asian community. The stereotype that Asian Americans are the model minority is a concept the Asian community is increasingly becoming uncomfortable with and that is too often used regularly as a defense against Black people and addressing social justice issues.
These experiences happen every day for Black people.
Black Outside, White Inside
The turning point in the film comes when Chris takes a photo of a Black man named Logan, who looks familiar to him. Up to this point, Chris has had strange interactions with every other Black person at the house. From the maid and groundskeeper to the dinner guests, something just seems off. When Chris snaps the photo, Logan turns back into Andre and yells at Chris, “Get out!” That is all Chris needs. He is ready to bounce. We discover the whole family is secretly locating Black people to operate on in a series of steps. They lower the consciousness of Black people through hypnosis so you arrive at the “Sunken place,” where you are aware of what’s happening but unable to act. Then the Black people are lobotomized and part of their brain is replaced with brains from older white people. The driving force behind all of this Grandpa Armitage, who lost to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. He wants both to live and to have athletic advantages, which he and the neighbors conclude, are found in Black people. The result of the procedure is that it creates someone who outwardly is Black but doesn’t think or act that way.
There is a difference between adapting and adopting. We adapt in order to change or survive. We adopt to assimilate. There are too many examples in mainstream society and in the evangelical world of people of color who haven’t merely adapted but adopted the dominant culture. Don’t mishear me, be who God has created you to be. However, the problem occurs when the adopted are asked to lead and speak for the adapted. (Ben Carson’s comments this week about African slaves being “immigrants” sent Twitter into a frenzy, concluding he was in the “Sunken Place.”)
No Mention of Evangelical Jesus
There are a lot of white people, evangelical Christian and not, who are aware of issues of race and injustice and who are working to address them. They don’t descend into panic mode or shutdown when terms like white supremacy or white privilege are used. They are NOT the white people depicted in this movie. The white people depicted in this film “would have voted for Obama a third time,” believe firmly they are not racists, but are completely blind to their commodification, consumption, and fetishization of Blackness. Why is this important? At its worst, it is what we see in Get Out. At its worst, it creates missionaries and adoptive parents that are more like colonialists than kinsman redeemers.
Not to sound blasphemous, but one thing I appreciated about the film was that there was no mention of God, Jesus, or any religion for that matter. This is a perfect depiction of reality as much of Western evangelicalism remains impotent to address all of the issues of race and ethnicity the film raises. The statistics, experiences, and data that reflect injustices and marginalization of people of color is either never theologically addressed or it is labeled a political issue and therefore avoided.
Evangelical Jesus doesn’t have a lot to say about immigration or mass incarceration but the Jesus of Scripture very much does. Matthew 25:40 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus speaks clearly about the injustices that are reported every hour in our nation, but much of our theology and history is rooted in racism and genocide. Because it was written in a time blind to social realities, the church remains largely blind to it as well. The absence of the church is a reflection of the anemia of our witness, and it should call us to awareness of the issues, action steps that change personal behavior and systemic structures, and advocacy for the unheard.
The Conclusion is The Reality
The film concludes with a rare and epic death battle where every white character is killed and Chris survives–something that has never happened in the history of Hollywood films. A police car approaches as Rose, who has been shot, is laying in the street and the audience knows Chris is about to be arrested or killed. Luckily, it is Rod, Chris’ ride or die friend and a TSA Agent. Chris gets in the car and they leave.
Think about that. His girlfriend lied and manipulated him. He was racially profiled, endured overt and covert racism, was auctioned, drugged, and almost killed, and he simply goes home. Trauma after trauma. He simply goes home. That was his weekend.
Too often the question is asked, “What is wrong with…black people, the black church, the black family?” What is never discussed is the trauma that the Black community has endured for almost 400 years. Kidnapping, rape, murder, our race made into a social stigma, the intentional legal destruction of the Black family, and after every incident from the emancipation of the slaves to the deaths of Civil Rights leaders to non-indictment verdicts, the only option Black people have…is to go home. (The movie illustrates why immigrant and people of color communities are thriving: Rod, his friend from his neighborhood, is the only person who understands and believes in Chris. We see again, there is nothing like being understood.)
Not Get Out, But Get Up
Remember Rip Van Winkle from my opening sentence? Dr. King said it best. What is so interesting about Rip Van Winkle is not that he slept for 20 years but what he slept through. When he went to sleep King George III was his leader. When he awoke, it was President George Washington. Rip Van Winkle didn’t just sleep for 20 years. He slept through a revolution. Get Out is a wake-up call to white America to not sleep through this current revolution of increasing injustice.
It is a glaring call to not get out, but get up.
Sean M. Watkins