After two weekends successfully dodging spoilers, my wife and I finally had a chance to see “Get Out.”
Written and directed by Jordan Peele of “Key & Peele” fame, “Get Out” tells the story of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black, 20-something photographer who accompanies his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) on a trip to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) for the first time at their family home. What should be a potentially awkward but innocuous visit becomes anything but, as Chris quickly realizes something sinister is going on.
Before I go on, I should mention that I’m black, and my wife is white. We met nearly six years ago, and I was warmly welcomed into her family.
Immediately, however, “Get Out” reminded me of a pivotal moment that happened early in our relationship.
I had joined my wife’s extended family for her cousin’s high school graduation in eastern Kansas. Rows and rows of mostly white teenagers sat in folding chairs at the 40-yard line of the football field, while their mostly white parents waved and peered at them through zoom lenses. As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I played a game I often play in moments of intense whiteness (folk concerts, theme trivia nights, farmer’s markets, etc.). I call it “Find Another Black Person,” and depending on where I am, it’s much harder than it sounds.
That day in Kansas, I didn’t see any other black people.
I’ve played this game for years without ever really thinking much about why I play it. After seeing “Get Out,” it clicked: This harmless game is more than just a way to occupy my impatient mind it’s a safeguard. In a sea of white people, I look for a lifeboat. And “Get Out” reminded me that maybe I’m right to.
“Get Out” is unsettling, suspenseful, witty in just the right places, beautifully shot, and well-acted. It’s fantastic.
The rest of this story will have spoilers, so if you haven’t yet seen “Get Out,” get out.
As I watched the film from its title theme, “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” a song in Swahili that loosely translates to “listen to the ancestors,” to the tears streaming down Chris and Georgina’s faces when they were in the “sunken place” something stirred loose in me. Scenes of Chris dodging microaggressions from all sides while Rose gaslit him without abandon felt familiar yet horrifying on the big screen.
I’d say it couldn’t have come at a better time, but to be honest, we’ve needed a film like this for years. It was frightening for the same reason a stadium full of white Kansan parents and their children left me looking for a familiar brown face sure, nothing bad will happen … but it could.
To put it plainly, “Get Out” left me shook. I needed to talk about it immediately, and thankfully, I had a car ride home with my wife to do so.
I needed to digest what I’d just seen. “Get Out” was certainly no ordinary film. The way my heart lodged firmly in my throat when I saw the red and blue lights approach our hero in the final scene, only to be saved by his trusted black friend, his lifeboat? I saw my worst fears play out on the silver screen. It was just too real.
While my wife and I are an interracial couple, we’re also both women, so my experience watching and reflecting on “Get Out” isn’t quite the same as what Chris experienced.
I was nervous when I met my wife’s white parents for many of the reasons Chris was nervous in the movie. Did they know I was black? What was I walking into? But, as a black woman, I also had the privilege of coming to my future in-laws’ front door without the burden of more than 150 years of assumptions and lies about violent black masculinity, hypersexuality, and predatory behavior (especially as it pertains to white women). It doesn’t mean I rang their bell without worry or fear, but as a woman dating a woman, I know I didn’t shoulder the burden of history as black men in heterosexual interracial relationships do, and I recognize that.
When we got in the car, I turned to my wife. I knew we’d watched “Get Out” differently. How could we not?
I needed to know if in watching the film, she saw me. Not just a character in a horror film, but me, her wife, who faces fear, isolation, and anxiety about racism every single day.
We discussed the film in-depth the whole way home, but there was one part of our conversation that stood out to me because, in that moment, something clicked for both of us:
Me: “When do you think about being white?”
Her: “When racist stuff happens.”
Me: “What do you think when racist stuff happens?”
Her: “I feel bad.”
Me: “You feel bad for whom?”
Her: “For whom? The victims of racism. I feel guilty.”
Me: “You feel guilty after racist things happen. Did you feel guilty after watching the movie?”
Her: “Yeah, maybe a little. Yeah. It’s so extreme though, you know?”
Her: “It kind of got out of the range of like, ‘realistic racism,’ I guess. Once we got into brain transplants, we’re obviously outside of a realm. I feel like I felt more guilty when they were doing other stuff, the minor stuff … that turned out to be major.”
That right there the conclusion she drew is an important one.
Whether we’re talking about Hollywood horror or real life, racism is never just small stuff. It may start with small things, like being followed around a store, having your hair stroked by strangers, or people assuming you grew up in poverty. Before long, it becomes voter suppression, subpar medical care, limited economic opportunities, and poor public schools. One racist misdeed begets another, and it all starts “innocently” enough.
Punishing experiments on black soldiers like the Buffalo Soldier bicycle mission, the Tuskegee syphilis trials, the stripping of cells from Henrietta Lacks these things don’t happen all at once. They happen when a group of people is not seen as fully human by society. That’s when these small things cross into what my wife called the “realm of the impossible” a realm that black people in particular know from history is actually very possible.
That’s the frightening reality I grappled with while watching “Get Out,” and, while it didn’t leave me screaming in the theater, it definitely keeps me up at night.
I adore my wife, and I know the feeling is mutual. But I was black long before I met her, so even as our families blend, my blackness won’t.
My blackness is non-negotiable. It’s not a hobby or a casual interest. I won’t get bored with it one day and shove my blackness in the attic. It’s here. Always. It’s with me at work, at home, when I’m driving, and when I’m in a crowded football stadium watching a high school graduation.
Thankfully, my wife recognizes and appreciates that. But even on her best day, she won’t know what it’s like to feel so out of place, to look out into that sea of white faces and need a lifeboat. She can’t. No white person can. But in that theater, for 103 minutes, a surprising and innovative movie helped her get a little closer to understanding what that’s like. That’s more important to me than she’ll ever know.