How “Get Out” Exposes Racial Dynamics Through Horror | Review

Get Out successfully uses horror to expose dominant white narratives and societal decay. Peele’s sharp and straightforward style effectively highlights the complexities of racial dynamics and rebellion.
Get Out (2017)


Get Out (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele

di Pier Maria Bocchi

There’s no escaping it. As history and cinema repeatedly show, despite the skeptics, horror continues to articulate reality, its urgencies, priorities, and sensitivities more effectively than any primetime spectacle.

The unexpected success of Get Out speaks volumes: a $5 million budget turned into over $33 million in its opening weekend in the US in late February, and by the end of March, over $137 million. What’s remarkable is that the film speaks a language different from that of Moonlight. It’s a flavorful, unadorned, direct, and unindulgent language—”second-hand” but not out-of-date, completely “in focus,” precise, resistant to flattery, and free from self-indulgence. It’s a language that speaks from the ground up and resonates even in the well-insulated corridors of power. The usual challenge remains, as not everyone is Melvin Van Peebles or Spike Lee: like any counterculture or discordant phenomenon, black cinema, whether in its more ambiguous forms (blaxploitation) or its more refined ones (think of Sidney Poitier and his role in Hollywood as “the avatar of white American glamour fantasies” [Marco Tassinari]), generally ends up conforming—more or less skillfully—to the dominant white imagination it was supposed to critique. Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film is a testament to this (with a double conformation: black and queer).

If the so-called whitewashing now seems like a critical distraction, and despite any potential co-opting of black director Jordan Peele by the whiteness of the establishment, Get Out is significant precisely because of its grammar and targets. Both its grammar and targets are consciously white, like the skin of the oppressors, as white as the heritage that the system upholds.

Peele uses the genre as if he were Stuart Gordon reworking Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, with lacerations that open up a universe akin to a late Kevin Smith dark comedy: the result is even more effective precisely because it’s “white,” clear, and pristine. There are no contrasts, few shadows, and thus few symbols, as straightforward horror requires. Get Out employs a white idiom to expose a world of equally white idioms, revealing the framework of a dominant narrative. It’s black bashing, but with the weapons of the oppressors.

And so, what gets whipped and mocked are bourgeois clichés and trends (“So, is it true? Is it better?”), the desires of the well-meaning, and contemporary populism. Get Out examines the white that occupies the black, literally entering the subconscious and taking over the mind. With an ironic and unexpected twist: the black individual often goes along with it, or pretends to, for convenience or advantage.

Horror thus arises from uniformity. Ask queer cinema, which knows a thing or two about this. The whitening grasp for power is an irresistible aspiration embedded in the genes, making it inextirpable. Like the seminal Ganja & Hess in 1973 (remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, and brilliantly so), Get Out still believes in rebellion because “I am not your negro,” a rebellion that must come from within, directly, without subterfuge. Blood must be shed for the color to be seen and the scent to be smelled. It’s a minstrel show where both the white oppressors and the flattered—and bland—blacks are fooled, in the form of a B-movie where cinephilia exposes the coarser, hidden rot (remember Yuzna’s Society – The Horror?).

In this regard, the use of the genre is smarter and more incisive than the chaos of Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness. Peele knows what to employ, where to strike, and which nerve to expose. Steering clear of exploitation, whether blaxploitation or not, Get Out presents the purest image of conflict waged from the sidelines, the stench of sterile cleanliness, and the smoothness of the most insidious decay. It showcases the performance of the most alluring demagogy, the rhetoric of society. The true Horror, indeed.

Cineforum, May 10, 2017


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