Get Out – review

   Get Out tells the story of young black photographer Chris Washington (David Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) going to the suburbs to meet her parents for the first time as a couple. Chris is, understandably, nervous. Do her parents know that he is black? Rose laughs off his trepidation, pointing to her parents almost embarrassing level of liberalism. Chris is not overly convinced but lets the subject lie. They head to her parents.

  At the parents’ place, Chris’ fears are initially soothed as the are welcoming and almost overly accommodating. Around the large home, it is notable that all the staff are black. Rose’s father, Dean (Bradford Whitford), broaches the subject, explaining that the staff had looked after his elderly father and he could not bear to let them go. Chris accepts the story. It is only when Chris engages with any of the black people that things get odd, with each one seemingly perturbed by his presence. He tries to explain it to Rose, but she cannot comprehend what he means. Unable to articulate his feelings, Chris puts it down to mild paranoia.

   At a family dinner, Chris meets Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). He is a little challenging, egging on Chris to wrestle with him. Missy (Catherine Keener), Rose mother quickly shuts him down. Missy, a psychiatrist, ask about Chris’ smoking. Dean says he use to smoke but after one session with Missy had not smoked since. Chris declines the offer of hypnosis. Dean says to Rose that it is the weekend of the big annual party. Rose says she did not realise. Later, unable to sleep, he goes for a walk around the grounds. Before he leaves, he sees the cook Georgina (Betty Gabriel) talking to herself in the mirror. He quickly exits not wanting to be seen. He is startled by the black groundsman, Walter (Marcus Henderson), running at him, then suddenly detouring at the last moment. Returning to the house he encounters Missy. She begins to chat with him, put him into a trance that feels more like a nightmare. He awakens in bed unsure what has happened but no longer wanting to smoke. The next day he walks around the grounds once more, camera in hand. He observes Georgina acting oddly again but is almost caught snooping as he tries to take a photograph of her.

   The day of the annual party and Chris finds himself something of a celebrity amongst the gathered. Everyone is eager to meet him, some even weirdly sizing him up. Among all the white faces, Chris spots another black person and makes a beeline for them. When he engages with him, the man, Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), acts as though he is not used to meeting other black people. An extremely perplexed Chris leaves him be. Later on, still confused by Andrew, he tries to covertly take a picture of him. Unfortunately, his phone camera flashes, causing Andrew to freak out, attacking him. Some time later, a much calmer and somewhat different Andrew, apologises for his behaviour.

   Chris tells Rose that he thinks he needs to leave. She agrees to leave with him. As they are packing, Chris discovers a hoard of photographs of Rose with various black men. She had told him he was the first black man she had ever been with. He decides to keep the discovery to himself, hoping to get away from the house. As the family gather around trying to stop him leaving, he desperately screams at Rose for the car keys only to realise too late she is part of the conspiracy. Missy puts him into a trance. He awakens to find himself restrained, an old fifties television facing him. The television springs to life and an older man, who turns out to be Roman Armitage, is talking about a scientific discovery he made. They have worked out a way to overwrite another person’s character, trapping them inside whilst inhabiting their body. Chris realises he has been recruited for this process. He falls into a trance once more and when he awakens to find himself being spoken to by one of the guests he met at the party, a blind art dealer named Jim Hudson (Stephen Root). Hudson says he wants his ‘eye’ and that it is nothing personal. The screen changes again and the image that sends Chris into a trance is back. When Jeremy comes to collect a still Chris, he is assaulted by the possum playing captive and knocked unconscious.

     Chris, now free, proceeds to kill Dean and Missy. As he is about to escape the house, he is jumped on by a now conscious Jeremy. He fights him off and beats him to death. As he is driving away, he hits Georgina with the car, guilt from his own mother’s hit and run death prompt him to gather her up and put her in the car. When Georgina regains consciousness, she freaks out, attacking Chris causing the car to crash and dying in the process. Meanwhile, Rose is in pursuit and shoots at him. Walter catches up with him and as they wrestle, Chris flashes the camera at him. This seems to awaken something in Walter. He takes the gun from an oblivious Rose and shoots her in the gut. He then shoots himself. A dying Rose tries to persuade Chris she still loves him. As he chokes her a police car pulls up. Luckily for Chris, it turned out to be Rod (LilRel Howery). The two men leave.

      Writer/director Jordan Peele has created a clever, witty, sharply observed chiller in Get Out, a film that tackles race issues and race relations, a subject that is always close to the surface in the States. That he decided to use a British actor in Daniel Kaluuya in the role of an African-American is, from a British, black point of view, is particularly relevant in a country where mixed couples, especially black males with white women, is so common that most male black characters in popular television made in the U.K. tend to have white partners.

     Where the fight for racial equality has always been very vociferous and forceful Stateside, with a well documented civil rights movement and historic figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, in the U.K. civil rights and racial equality have always been an afterthought, with such fuss frowned upon in British society. Notably, even as they beg to differ, prominent black figures – entrepreneurs, sportspersons, musicians, actors – are commonplace Stateside. Though the black experience on both sides of the Atlantic has commonalities, in the U.K. black people, especially black men, are still very low on the totem pole when it comes to acceptability.

     The scenario in Get Out, meeting the white parents for the first time, is a well-known one in cities throughout Britain. The awkwardness, over-familiarity, inappropriate questions and scarcity of other persons of colour in social gatherings, are all situations that black men, that have taken white women as partners, have encountered.

     The other elements his screenplay allude to – oppression, slavery, fish-out-of-water, assimilation – are more universal. The entitlement of the affluent, white middle classed, Armitage’s in the film, the fact that, with the exception of Georgina, all the abducted are men, the covetousness of the black male physicality, themes that have been used in many films. The smart thing in Peele’s screenplay is that all of these underlying themes do not detract from the story. They are more like unconscious themes, never mentioned or crassly thrust into the story.

    Peele first effort as a writer/director is extremely accomplished. I look forward to his future outputs.

Minstrel

Back in the seventies, there was a television programme in the UK called The Black and White Minstrel Show. It would, as the title suggests, feature white entertainers in blackface make-up, doing various singing and dancing things. A different time; different sensibilities.

Such things are not seen on our screens anymore. The likes of the National Front, a right-wing organisation of my youth, and no-go areas in parts of London town are pretty much consigned to the past. I even live in one such area these days, with no thought of my safety being an issue because of my lifelong, deep tan.

The lot for the black man – and woman – has definitely changed in the preceding decades here in the UK, as it has in the States. Though they do have many issues of overt racism and oppression still prevalent in their society, conversely, they also have many examples of stunning success and role models to aim for and emulate, something that is sorely lacking in the UK.

Our “heroes”, for a black person growing up in the UK, are mostly American. Black history is not a big topic in the United Kingdom. There was no civil rights movement on these shores; no MLK, no Malcolm X. The incidents of racial attacks, slights, mistreatment and oppression never gained the sort of traction or garnered the kind of attention that becomes a “Roots” mini-series or “Mississippi Burning” Hollywood film.

Some may think this a good thing. We obviously never suffered as much as our American cousins; were never treated with the same contempt. If only that were true. There are reasons why it may seem that the black man’s lot in the UK is better than that of his US counterpart.

With the global reach of the internet and proliferation of video cameras and mobile technologies, the sins of a few can be related to the world moments after they have happened. So we know of the continued oppression of black men by those who wear badges Stateside.

We know that they act with little fear of punishment because all who have committed similar crimes have walked away, the lives of those affected less important than a rabid animal. The USA is a country that has embraced gun culture, much to the detriment of many a passed, black soul.

Still, they have black moguls at the other end of the spectrum. Oprah, Tyler Perry, Jay Z and Beyoncé, are a few of the modern moguls, but before them, there was Berry Gordy, James Brown, and even Sam Cooke, names adding to the rich history of black achievement in the USA.

In the UK, names of well-known black people are harder to come by. In the traditional fields of sport and entertainment, we still maintain a credible presence, beyond that? It is a struggle.
Since the eccentric enunciations of Sir Trevor MacDonald, there has not been a black face that has regularly graced our television screens. A quick google of ‘UK black newscasters’ throws up Sir Trevor, Moira Stewart and June Sarpong!

In music and sport, the proliferation of black personalities is of course higher. Having said that, the ‘superstars’ of our national sport, football, are all white. The music business is more interesting. In the traditional black music genres; soul, dance, jazz, and rap, the dominant artist of recent times, lauded and acknowledged for their sound, have all been white.

The avenues to advancement in this country, as it tells itself that it is fair and liberal and modern, offer very little for those that are dark of skin, regardless of the field. It is no accident that young black boys are routinely pointed out as amongst the worse academically performing demographic. They have no one to follow or aspire to.

That is not to say that all black people are struggling hand to mouth. There are many well-educated, working, middle-class black people. What there are very few of are those making the step up to the top table, having the ear of those who help to shape society. There are a few, the former trade union boss, Lord Bill Morris for one, but they are rare and largely not immediately recognisable to the masses.

Is it racism? Is it cultural inertia? Is it, as some would have you believe, that we, as a people, are just not that smart? Perhaps it is all of those. Some say that as people, we are too fragmented, and don’t embrace family the way that say Asians do. Yet are we not the same people who have managed to create one of the largest, most famous, street parties in the world – The Notting Hill carnival – for half a century? Even as Notting Hill became more affluent and the well-heeled residents tried to end the tradition, it maintained.

As a people, we are as capable, intelligent, inventive and attractive as any other in the UK, so why, after so many years, in these supposedly enlightened and colourblind times, do we still seem to be lagging behind everybody?