OkayMuva: The Radical Thing About Remy Ma + Nicki Minaj's Beef
OkayMuva: The Radical Thing About Remy Ma + Nicki Minaj's Beef
Artwork Courtesy: Jayy Dodd for Okayplayer

OkayMuva: Going In On Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Artwork of 'OkayMuva' x Myles Johnson courtesy of Jayy Dodd for Okayplayer.

Allow us to introduce you to our newest series: OkayMuva. This is a fresh, bold and critical look at the week’s hottest topics by Myles E. Johnson aka @HausMuva.

In the height of the movie, the white father in Get Out named Dean (played by Bradley Whitford) poses the question to a now terrified Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) that is the existential question that has haunted humanity since consciousness ever began.

"What is your purpose?"

Said after finishing a well-written monologue comparing human life, divinity, and fire, Dean posed this question to Chris—the black victim of a white family that essentially lobotomized their daughter's lovers and uses them as servants and vehicles for white people's consciousness to live through. As I saw this scene play out, I began to ask the same question for the film: What is Get Out's purpose?

Jordan Peele, who is a well-known comedian and writer, was definitely ambitious in the themes of the movie he decided to introduce to the horror film genre. Horror was once a place where we could explore the complexities of fear, evil, impulse and violence. Now, more often, at least commercially in America, horror is a place of soulless slasher flicks. An intellectually sophisticated horror film happens few and far in-between, and one that is done well is even more seldom to come by.

Instead of a machete or a chainsaw, Peele uses white supremacy as both the deadly weapon and the haunted house. The scenes that are most captivating for me are the scenes where Chris goes into the "sunken place". They're artful, avant-garde interpretations of human consciousness and anxiety. The aesthetically gorgeous scene where he is initially hypnotized and you can see a visual representation of him falling into himself could be hung up in the Louvre in Paris, France. The scenes where they are carrying him and you are viewing it from his sunken perspective is an absolute brilliant use of cinema.

Throughout the movie, there are these moments of genius. These sprints of pure cinematic gold. Another portion of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed was the acting of the black people. The skill it would take to convey someone taken over by another person, but still somewhere deep inside having their true self there observing it all could have been entirely unbelievable and campy, but it was done masterfully and convincingly. This is another part of the brilliance of Get Out. When the film means to haunt you, it does haunt. When it means to be humorous, it is. And the actors tread that line excellently.

The film does have sprints of brilliance that I enjoy. However, a film is more of a marathon and when Get Out gets lazy around politics, dialogue, intellect and story, it goes from a potentially scathing critique to a harmless mockery.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Again, I asked myself, what is the purpose of this film?

When I engage it as a film entirely devoted to black people, it fails. In a lot of ways, the character of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is still amazingly underdeveloped. Simply showing a terrified black man or a man haunted by his past does not give him humanity or story.

There are still unanswered questions that this film left in my black political imagination, such as: Is his love of whiteness so deep that he decided to reject his intuition and wisdom around the dangers of white supremacy? Was his cognitive dissonance around the real dangers of white violence and ignorance—that he surely experienced in his life—so strong that as more evidence mounted that he was in danger, he couldn't see? Was his love for whiteness so deep that he was willing to reject logic because of his love of a white woman he was in a relationship with for five months? What birthed this meal landscape of a character that obviously knows the dangers of white supremacy, but still wishes to participate in it, even as more and more signs materialize that confirm he is in danger?

I understand there needs to be a sizable amount of curiosity and ignorance around a horror film victim, but the space the character existed in, to arrive at this level of curiosity and ignorance was never addressed. Because, intellectually and socio-politically, the character wasn't well-formed. I was left feeling that I just viewed stylized trauma and fear that I'll be sure I'll be witnessing again on my social media feed in real life, in real time extremely soon. A chilling and interesting idea I would have appreciated as a black viewer, is if this content was made to horrify me and disrupt my imagination, would be to pose a contrast between black people that needed this hypnosis / surgery in order to be vehicles of white supremacy and black people that have already shrunk their true selves to better fit in white supremacy, and wouldn't need such a procedure. This is a unique space that could have made the film live up to its political and intellectual ambitions where it decided to get intellectually and politically lazy. The world that this film exists in never feels solid to me. Even fantasy has the duty to have a well thought out plane. Is Get Out set in a white supremacist fantasy land or in a post-racist society fantasy land where events like this are shocking?

Again, I asked myself, what is the purpose of this film?

If this film was designed to disrupt white people that practice a liberal brand of white supremacy, it fails. In making the white girlfriend complicit with the terror by her being in on it all along, it gives up the opportunity to name something even more terrifying: the fact of how many liberal white people lure black people into incredibly dangerous and violent places. The idea that the girlfriend had no idea that her parents were these white supremacist terrorists and that these people she grew up around were shells of souls would name a more horrific idea that could have haunted me after the movie was over. I believe that would have been a more powerful device to disrupt the imaginations of white folks that practice liberal white supremacy.

However, once it is revealed that the girlfriend is complicit in the terrorization, it makes the film become an extreme mockery that white people can locate outside of themselves and never do any type of real, political survey of themselves and their practices and ideas.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

I am left with the question of how, in this white supremacist fantasy world, did Chris manage to murder these white people and there be no repercussion or resolve? I am not asking for realism, I am asking for continuity. Surely, the same "fantasy" place that auction and lobotomized black people would also punish a black person that transgresses? The same world where the real fear of police exist and the real fear around whiteness is alive, there would have to be a conclusion that was closer to a true haunt than the commercially pleasant one we received? And we all know the horrifying truth that in reality, the repercussions of such behavior would be death.

We've been sentenced to death for way less.

The film seems to be made inside of its own fear of white outrage and is afraid to name a truth that would have truly made it a radical, decolonizing work that caused discomfort and transformative conversation. As the credits rolled for Get Out, I asked myself once again, what was the purpose of this film? First and foremost, it is a capitalist move to revitalize the horror film genre in ways that coincide with an interest of a generation more concerned with social justice and white supremacy. We are a generation not as interested in ghosts and chainsaws, and Jordan Peele saw this vacancy and inserted it with what we really are interested in, in order to profit and perpetuate his stardom. Get Out is not a moment of social justice, it is a moment of a marketing / advertising / capitalistic observation and educated risk that has paid off.

This film was not designed to disrupt or transform anything. It was designed to entertain as many people as possible with the conversations we find fascinating in a post-Obama and post-Ferguson world. This is fine for a horror film, but I think the conversation and marketing around the film led me to believe I was going to experience way more than what I did. There was some clever symbolism, but it didn't touch Stanley Kubrick levels how I was led to believe by the perfect reviews and Chance The Rapper imploring how everyone must see the film. Peele replaced ghosts, chainsaws, and haunted houses with white supremacy, but the failure for me is in the fact that it never names the true horrifying component of white supremacy. What is horrifying about white supremacy is that it is not static, it's mutable and infinite. It cannot be destroyed like a chainsaw. It cannot be burned down like a haunted house. It cannot be exorcised like ghosts and demons.

As the car finally leaves the neighborhood, Get Out suggests that Chris has "got out" of sudden danger and death, but the horrific truth is that there is no out in white supremacist domination. The only choice one has is just how far you are willing to "sink in" to collude with the master narrative and law.

The love of Get Out both critically and commercially does not surprise me. It disturbs me when I think how a slight change of gaze can convince so many that they are viewing a politically or socially revolutionary piece of work. There is not a white liberal, black radical, black liberal or fascist that will view this film and be reborn socially or politically. This film does not even slightly function in this way. I do understand its entertainment value. It is well-acted, has artful moments, and when I consume it as just purely apolitical entertainment in the horror film genre. It was worth my $12 and Raisinets. Black people have long been entertained by work that is reactionary to whiteness. White people have long been entertained by work that centers on them, even if it isn't glowing. These are the reasons why Tomi Lahren makes bank, why some black liberals and radicals desire to publicly debate with those more interested in domination than revolution, and why Dr. Michael Eric Dyson publishes books addressed to white people.

There is a market for this work, but before Jordan Peele, the horror film genre had not really tapped into it. I commend him as a business person and creative person looking to profit, just like myself, for having the capitalistic insight to know that the horror film—when the horror displayed resonates—can be incredibly profitable. And the racial discourse—when following certain guidelines—can be captivating and profitable as well. Combining the two can lead to big profit.

It is just as a person that desires to not just be entertained by art, but moved, I was left still once the film was over.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo of 'Get Out' courtesy of YouTube.

One of my absolute favorite films is 1968's Night of the Living Dead. At the time, the film was seen as controversial because it starred a black actor by the name of Duane Jones. The film shows Jones' character running away, fighting and outsmarting zombies while both being terrified and determined. In the conclusion of the film, he beat the odds and survived the zombies he spent the film fighting. A cinematic feat! Until in the morning, where a posse of Southern white men looking to exterminate any and all remaining zombies mistake him for one of the undead and shoot him in the head.

They would go on to burn his body with all of the other ghouls he had been running from for 90 minutes. In a post-Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination world, this moment of true horror was just as chilling as it was measured, political and disrupted the moral and political imaginations of the people who viewed it, not just entertained. This was my hope for Get Out, but instead, I was supplied with a film that desired to use racism, not help dismantle or disrupt it.

Myles E. Johnson is an Atlanta, Georgia-based storyteller. He is also the creator of the literary project, Dear Giovanni. You can follow him on Twitter @HausMuva.