What should white people get out of ‘Get Out’?

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Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a movie of microaggressions pushed to their very extremes. He draws upon the small, unassuming horrors that Black people face on a regular basis and blows up to cinematic, gory proportions.

The unease that it builds to largely relies on these microaggressions, the little awful things that pervade the lives of Black people and other marginalized groups that white people won’t really think about until it’s laid out in cinematic form.

“Get Out” starts with a tangential bit that reeks of history and context, of George Zimmerman and white flight. It’s an everyday horror that plenty of non-Black folks will never worry about in their lifetime set up in a fitting tableau of the movie. A Black man (Lakeith Stanfield) gets lost in a cushy suburb only to be attacked by a Freddy Krueger-like figure as “Run Rabbit Run” plays in the background. It’s abrupt. It’s terrifying.

This is a Black film, and a Black horror film, at that. These are moments of everyday anxiety, moments that are reflected with the special kind of familiar incredulity that Jordan Peele achieves with ruthless, relentless aplomb. It’s a meet-the-parents tale that becomes a literal nightmare; Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a hip, well-to-do photographer who doesn’t heed the warning of the movie’s title.

Most of “Get Out” doesn’t play out with terror or gore. There are few jump scares. Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his “down” white girlfriend, doesn’t tell her parents that her new beau is a Black guy. Her father’s support for Obama — he jokes that he’d vote for Obama for a third term —  borders on patronizing. At a family gathering that seemingly comes from nowhere, legions of white folks harass Chris with a nightmarish barrage of questioning that are obscene and terrifying — a free-for-all of unchecked, old-fashioned, dehumanizing racism.

In some ways, it works as a cautionary tale — don’t go and meet the parents four months into a relationship, for one. But so much of “Get Out” is rich with symbolism and context that, for Jordan Peele’s intended audience, doesn’t need explaining in a BuzzFeed listicle.

I can’t claim to understand the feelings of a Black viewer watching “Get Out.” There’s an Asian character lurking in the midst of the gathering, a reminder that, as Ranier Maningding from your favorite woke Facebook page The Love Life of an Asian Guy pointed out, “our willingness to participate in anti-Blackness makes us a supporting character.”

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to wonder how much of “Get Out” might have been missed by a largely white audience looking for a $10 thrill on a Saturday night. At the theater where I watched “Get Out,” the white nonsense — the unsettling “how big is it?” joke at the family reunion, for instance — was received with laughter.

Peele mined these gags for maximum comedic effect. “Get Out” is funny as hell, and rightfully so. But it feels like the Dave Chappelle conundrum: Is the audience laughing because it’s some familiar white nonsense, or are they laughing because they think this never happens?

Up to the third act, “Get Out” scans like a comedy of misunderstandings. Until the big, horrific reveal, you get the sense that Rose is right; her family is just a collective of well-intentioned liberals who can do a little better. So once the other shoe drops, it gets a little too easy to distance yourself from the thinly veiled racism of the Armitage family. The line between self-recognition and self-denial is shattered.

If these kooky whites only sound racist because they are — murderously so — then it’s all the more easy to extricate yourself from the mild forms of racism that permeate all over the movie. You’re absolved from any white guilt if you’re not like Rose and the Armitage clan. After all, if you’re whooping and hollering for the Black guy, then you can’t possibly be one of them.

For the white folks in the audience, racial microaggressions are uncomfortable fodder that you brush off at Thanksgiving dinners. At most, it’ll be a tense conservation to have with mom and dad. Race, even for the most ideologically progressive white person, is almost always only a source of worry in theory. Worse yet, even the most seemingly woke white person can still fall privy to them — shock at how eloquent a Black person is counts as a microaggression. More often than not, it goes unchecked.

But for Black folks — and certainly, to a lesser extent, other people of color — these are realities to face, ones that are complicated and hard to navigate on the day-to-day. None of this is the doing of “Get Out”— it’s a damn-perfect film that deserves all the hype that it’s been getting. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if the white people checking in will think about the movie long after the credits roll out.

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.