Getting Racial Issues Out in the Open
Since its inception, the Horror film genre has allowed filmmakers to hide themes that deal with social issues within the film’s narrative. This tradition of exploring social issues in horror films carries on with Jordan Peele’s newest film, Get out. The psychological thriller follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black man, as he visits his white girlfriend’s family estate for the first time and finds that it may not be a safe place for black people. In his directorial debut, Peele masterfully crafts a narrative that grips the audience with fear, tickles them with laughter, and provides them with a new perspective on prominent racial issues with patronizing them.
In order for Peele to inject so many racial issues into his film and have the audience accept his viewpoint, he first had to craft a narrative that, at face value, regardless of the social implications, could entertain the audience. This concept is not entirely new to Peele, as he has experimented with this technique on his sketch show Key and Peele. However, making Get Out a comedy would limit the film to only being a social satire instead of a critique. As a result, the film strives to be a perfect hybrid of both comedy and horror, which helps keep viewers on the edges of their seats as they toggle between laughing and screaming. By littering the film’s plot with setups that allow Peele’s comedic writing to shine, and suspenseful moments that truly let the film’s jump-scares prey on the audience, the film’s narrative becomes impressively captivating and keeps the viewers engaged regardless of their social standing. Since Peele insured his narrative would be foremost entertaining, he was now left with a choice of whether or not to allow Get out to remain as an entertaining film that would eventually be forgotten, or to take it to the next level and let the audience leave with something that would stick with them. As evidenced by the box office returns since this film’s release, Peele chose the latter, as Get Out’s returns have dropped significantly less than the industry average week by week, showing audiences are still buzzing over the film.
Get Out uses a contemporary approach to comment on the relations between white people and black people in America. Peele highlights that even though racial violence towards blacks has lowered since the civil rights movement, white America is still inherently racist and marginalizes black people for their own use. Throughout the film, violence towards black people from white people exists in the form of whites abducting blacks, however the cause of the abductions is not rooted in the hatred of black people, but rather in white people wanting to take over their bodies and become black to gain advantages. By playing with the idea that white people believe certain ideas to be true about being black, Peele is able to highlight the idea that white people exploit black people for the traits they deem desirable. These traits include athleticism and the idea that the civil rights movement has given black people in America a better way of life than white people. These ideas are clearly observed in the scenes where Dean (Bradley Whitford), Chris’s girlfriend’s father, discusses how Jesse Owens beat his father in the 1936 Olympic Trials, and when the hypnotized Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) describes “the black experience” as advantageous. By exploring racism in a contemporary sense, the audience is able to gain the feeling that they are not experiencing just another film about racism, and instead are given new ideas to mull over.
Like the Horror genre has done for decades, Get Out is able to entertain audiences with its plot while also commenting on ideas that are larger than the film. For a directorial debut, Jordan Peele has shown that he is able to still indulge in the comedy that he has made a career in, while also layering complex ideas into his narrative. Recently, after the success of Get Out, Peele has announced that he has several more socially conscious ideas for films similar to Get Out; if that is the case it will be interesting to see if Peele is able to replicate his formula for success yet again.
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