Get Out, Jordan Peele‘s recently-released feature film debut, offers a commentary on race relations and blackness in America through the lens of comedy and horror.
The psychology of blackness is important in Get Out. We see protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) have to address a trauma experienced as a child that he has yet to come to terms with, as well as his ongoing paranoia as he begins to realize that the affluent and white neighborhood his girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Allison Williams) family resides in, isn’t what it seems to be. He laughs off his worries until he no longer can, the real motives of this secluded community unraveled until the movie’s end.
But we don’t just witness that with Chris, but almost every black character that is a part of the film. In one particular scene we see Georgina, a maid for the Armitage family, laugh to keep from crying when Chris comments on the way she and Walter act around the property.
Laughter is both end-game and coping method in Get Out. For Chris and Georgina the laughter is suppression; to diffuse situations that are discomforting. For the white people, it is mockery disguised as comfort: a faux self-awareness on race relations that undermines the problem of black paranoia.
“Part of being black in this country, or being a minority in this country, is about feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving,” Peele said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s a state of mind. It’s a piece of the condition of being African American, certainly, that people may not know. They may not realize the toll that it does take — even if the toll is making us doubt ourselves.”
When we’re being laughed at and not with, doubt is inevitable, and a person can only take so much mockery until frustration turns into rage.
The commentary here is eerily reminiscent of Dave Chappelle‘s leave from his seminal Chappelle’s Show. The story goes: Chappelle was working on a “pixie sketch,” in which pixies appear to people and encourage them to reinforce stereotypes of their respective races. According to Chappelle, during the filming of the sketch, a white crew member was laughing in a way that unsettled the comedian and made him question what he was doing with the series.
That, along with his rising fame as a result of the show’s popularity, Chappelle left during production of the series’ third season to South Africa. Although Chappelle had stated that his absence was because of ethical and personal reasons, tabloids speculated his exit was driven by drug addiction and other problems.
In other words — Dave Chappelle was crazy.
“The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive,” Chappelle said in 2006 during his appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio. “I don’t understand this person so they’re crazy — that’s bulls**t…maybe their environment is a little sick.”
That laugh Chappelle experienced and its effect on him is essentially the commentary provided in Get Out. But what makes the film refreshing in this regard is how it’s handled in the context of horror. Throughout the film Chris is reserved but vulnerable, tolerating the Armitage’s comments in relation to his race, laughing it off until he no longer can.
When Chris breaks, he breaks. What follows his escape from the Armitage household is something that shouldn’t be simplified as revenge, but rather a moment in which we see a black man provoked to fight for his survival. The shared relationship of comedy and horror in Get Out can arguably be interpreted as a commentary on race relations in America: laughing away realities experienced by black people in this country, and not understanding the ways in which that can evoke rage.
This is what makes Get Out fascinating and why it can only work as what it is. Horror often speaks to its audience psychologically and is an extreme (of sorts) in what we often associate with the genre (gore, violence). Here, we see that extreme used to comment on something very real and extreme in its own right — the black experience in America.
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