Film discussion

The Analogy of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (and why you should stop watching The Help)

My mental health has taken a beating. For the past few days, I’ve been struggling to put into words the immense and overwhelming pain I’ve been feeling with regards to George Floyd’s death. How do you begin to thread together all the triggering emotions when they cut so deeply, creating a powerlessness that has me grieving for him in the same way as if I had lost my mother all over again.

And that powerlessness extends to the nature of how the protests are covered: looters, thugs, criminals – conditioned responses that don’t investigate the why, but only try to score cheap shots and victories with a deflective ‘whataboutism’ dialogue. And you know the argument is messed up when there’s more lecturing concern for property damage than the loss of human life.

I can’t speak for every Black person on this planet because – guess what- we’re diverse too; from differing cultures, backgrounds, personal experiences and socio-economic circumstances. For every John Boyega who is heroically willing to lay his career on the line by speaking out (more than his Star Wars alter-ego could ever do or achieve), there is a Candace Owens or Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch who appear to somehow believe that they are above Blackness because of their privilege and power in pedalling their platforms with nonsensical and regressive attitudes. Even Spike Lee’s upcoming film for Netflix, Da 5 Bloods has Delroy Lindo playing a Trump supporter to showcase the difference of optics, despite Trump’s dangerous and weaponised rhetoric. But as society has deemed it, Black people are classified as a whole and painted with the same brush.

While I’ve been prioritising my mental health and opening up with friends and family, subsequently, recent reports have been circulating at how streaming platforms are showing an increased viewership of films such as The Help. The desire for education is necessary in times such as this, but I have a suggestion: stop watching The Help. Instead of wasting my time and energy in explaining its flaws and its problems, I’d rather devote it to something more meaningful. Because, if you want to get an understanding of the mechanisms behind recent events, then watch Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Get Out – © 2016 Universal Pictures

There’s a reason why Peele’s social commentary/horror film focuses on the so-called liberalism of modern society – the “post-racial lie” that followed Barack Obama’s Presidential win and inauguration. Racism is done, we’ve fulfilled Martin Luther King Jr’s dream, and climbed that mountaintop to freedom. Mission accomplished everyone! But just like Peele’s mindset, Get Out is wise enough and smart enough to understand that an historic moment doesn’t erase the systemic problem that has been ingrained and festering in the underbellies of society for generations.

Because, as I’ve explained to friends, racism is not just ‘a U.S. thing’ – policing may be different between the U.S. and the U.K., but they act on profiling and weaponised excuses for lawlessness. It’s not just the Klan-wearing, right-wing, MAGA-loving individuals that make racism visually apparent. These experiences are far closer to home, like the air you currently breathe. Racism is embedded and interwoven in the fabrics of our education, places of work, institutions – even the media we consume.

There are far too many examples for me to list regarding my personal experiences (they could practically fill a book) but Get Out is a visual catalogue, and therefore, here are comparative examples it evokes that mirror my own.

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As Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) ‘sinks into the floor’, then the sunken place becomes an allegory for trapped Blackness, where your emotions are suppressed and swallowed for the status quo. As I confront my own feelings, I’m painfully reminded of the different masks I’ve worn throughout my life –  putting on a ‘white voice’ to appear ‘friendly’ is not just a Boots Riley parody moment in Sorry to Bother You. It’s to stop being classified as ‘the angry Black woman’ in moments where I’ve disagreed with management – a transformative symptom of ‘fitting in’ and ‘being a team player’ that echoes Andre’s (LaKeith Stanfield) brainwashed transformation at the garden party.

When Chris is ‘examined’ for his strength and physicality (which only compounds the film’s insidious reveal in its third act) it becomes a familiar scenario where my Afro hair became a ‘play thing’, as if I was a pet – an attitude that would stretch across from my experiences in the classrooms to the cultural environment of the workplace. Or when Chris is at the garden party, it becomes an all-too familiar surrounding, where I’m consciously aware I’m the only Black person in the room, be it an office space, a work function or, on some occasions, some press screening environments.

I remember one screening encounter where I overheard an older white critic label Marvel’s Black Panther as ‘overhyped’ and say he ‘didn’t get it’, simply because it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. You may say that he’s entitled to his opinion – fair enough. You can’t force everyone to love the same films. But it is the type of entrenched and dismissive commentary that allows people to openly reject the messages it conveys or the challenges it wants you to face for the creature comforts of their world view. And what do you get in return? Award ceremonies with a voting pool that allows Margot Robbie to be nominated TWICE at the BAFTAs when someone like Lupita Nyong’o misses out on award recognition for Us. Even Get Out was dismissed and snubbed despite its Best Picture nomination, because voters didn’t bother to see it and accused it of playing ‘the race card’.

Get Out – © 2016 Universal Pictures

Not every experience will be the same, but they are cherry-picked, microaggressions where emotions are swallowed for our own mental survival – a sunken place of our own construct. When John Boyega talks about how he may not have a career after this, that is the painful extent of the outcry in a society that says you either get with the societal program or find yourself ostracised. Get Out is a conscious reflection of the barriers the Black community face but also a response to the horror genre which has traditionally treated the marginalisation of Black consciousness and fears as sacrificial lambs for early exit violence – something that Peele would give greater urgency in reversing with Lupita Nyong’o in Us as his personal answer to the ‘final girl’ trope.

But for two-thirds of Get Out, the sunken place is not strictly limited to the Black experience. It is also a metaphor for that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that’s beholden on everyone, where familiar anecdotes become ‘swept aside’ excuses for not confronting real world issues. Race is ‘too controversial’ to talk about in addressing America’s or even Britain’s Colonial past when they had reaped the economic benefits of slavery. ‘Bad apples’ becomes a media-darling buzzword without extending the thought that it ‘spoils the barrel’. ‘Does Britain have a race problem?’ – a regressive and tiring question which resets the conversation back to zero when Windrush deportations, Grenfell and the murder of Stephen Lawrence prove otherwise. And when Black commentary is injected, our perspectives are easily dismissed, shut down, explained away, and ignored – the ‘shut up and dribble’ of conversations.

The Armitage family and their slave-trading inner-circle are a snapshot of those microaggressions and the biased societal bubbles they live in. It fuels a commentary where they don’t see themselves as racists and even defend it with awkward comments and assumptions, even though their ignorance and their actions speak otherwise. I mean, Stephen Root’s blind art dealer might as well be the people who say ‘I don’t see colour’ in their arguments. And they work so hard to appear as allies, but their dehumanising support only extends to the appropriation of Black bodies for personal and profitable gain. Get Out today is what Morpheus from The Matrix did back in 1999 – we may not have built the system, but they unmask it.

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Chris’s mental construct is symptomatic of the triggering trauma faced. Seeing a deer dying on the side of the road is a tormented memory relating to his mother – no different from the deeply ingrained memories and scars of seeing young Black men and women dying on camera for the world to see. Even the ones that pre-date the invention of the smartphone – Emmet Till, for example – are permanent, etched reminders of what would happen if we ‘stepped out of line’.

The marginalisation comes in the displacement of not belonging, where values and mindful contributions are not respected. The hopelessness stems from the lack of progress and the endless and repetitive cycle at the exposure of brutal violence. Self-love, wellbeing and kindness don’t come easy when the world around you sees you differently and dismisses you as an exception. The tears are symbolic throughout Get Out, when they are a persistent sign of the mental health struggle and conflict when confronting the truth, or as Peele puts it so eloquently in the making of – “no matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” The system – as he radically demonstrates – was to reveal racism as Frankenstein’s monster.

If Peele was more radical, he would have ended the film as he originally intended: when the sirens flashed, it wasn’t Chris’s best friend to the rescue, it was the actual police and they sent him to prison despite the madness he endured. Peele decided to give Chris a heroes’ ending based on the current circumstance of the time, but the fact he committed it to film doesn’t shy away from the disproportionate reality faced by Black men and the justice system.

The Help – Photo by Dale Robinette – © DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

So, if this analogy strikes a chord, then here’s a piece of advice:

Stop watching films like The Help, The Blind Side and Green Book – the ‘tea-stirring’ films that only perpetuate the denial and keep the hypnotic fantasy alive. However “well-made” they are, they’re designed for white comfort, based on white saviours, faux progression, and sanitised perspectives on racism. They are the equivalent of celebrities and companies posting black squares on their social media profiles thinking they’ve done their ‘one good deed’ for the day and then go on to say some racist shit the next without even reflecting on the systemic problems within their own institutions or within themselves. Their PR sentiment is the jpeg equivalent of ‘thoughts and prayers’ – or as Monkey Paw Productions accurately pointed out in a recent tweet “I would have posted two black squares if I could.”

You don’t need that type of tone-deaf education. It’s not helpful, especially when we’re so conditioned and over-familiarised in seeing Black characters as subservient slaves and demonised criminals – unequals. And you know you’re on the wrong side of history by watching The Help when Viola Davis publicly denounced her involvement, and and its writer Kathryn Stockett was subjected to a lawsuit over how much it appropriated from the real life Aibileen Clark.

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Instead, devote time to watch Get Out. Watch Queen & Slim, BlacKkKlansman, Selma, 13th, When They See Us, HBO’s Watchmen, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Just Mercy (just to name a few) where the POV is different from the safety of your comfort zones. You may never be able to ‘walk in our shoes’ or fully comprehend the emotional burden. This is not about penance, revenge or to make you feel guilty or go on the defensive, but the Black experience and the emotional anguish portrayed is identifiably real, and not some escapist fantasy to switch off from – something that Black people do not have the privilege of doing. The horrors of racism and its necessary confrontation are supposed to be uncomfortable, and Peele, an auteur of our modern times, immediately recognised what that fear and trauma translates to in relation to the status quo of normality – and we’ve been living it on a daily basis.

Get Out should have been the wake-up call – as should have the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Stephen Lawrence, but instead, in 2020, it took the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to make that fear and trauma viscerally real. And once again, as we chase for equality, we have to pick up the shattered pieces to face another day while screaming from the depths of our mind, “when will this nightmare end?”

And since Get Out is a relevant analogy, upon this mass social awakening we all find ourselves in, if you’ve been deeply affected by recent events, then I leave you with this: you’re now out of the sunken place. Welcome to reality.

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