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.

Quiet Suppression – We’ll Take That

Back in the mid eighties I and many of my friends, in our mid to late teens, listened to the same music. This was around the time I started going to clubs and meeting people who would become life long friends. One of the commonalities among us was music.

Being black and having attended a predominantly black school, musical leanings were divided between two types; you were either a reggae person – most of the black people, children, I grew up around hailed from Jamaica, pretty much the birthplace of reggae – or you were a soul person. I was a soul person. Michael Jackson, on the brink of superstardom with Off The Wall, Luther Vandross in his fat phase, Stevie Wonder before the lazy, comedic impressions. I had a perm, I danced like I was about to fit and I loved music.

Music was – and still is – a great leveller for a black person growing up. We may not of had much in social status, or many role models, there were no faces to relate to on a regular basis on television – Sir Trevor was a lone, regular, face – and in my part of the world, urban south London, there was no mass expectation of going to ‘uni’ or getting a job that became a progressive career.

This was pre-internet, MTV was in its infancy, phone boxes still existed and vinyl was still the dominant musical format. Music mattered to us. It gave us identity; reggae was and will always be associated with Jamaica, but soul music was black. it embraced all of us, regardless of island origin, we could come together under the umbrella soul of music.

As ever, a lot of black cultural references come from our Stateside cousins. Film, music, fashion, even role models, have ever had blacks enviously looking across the pond. Of course we do not envy their everyday fear of being shot or living in some shitty hovel. We never had to – or our parents – face segregation or sitting at the back of a bus. No, we had any of that to contend with. We were lucky in that regard. Though there is something.

I was listening to Kiss 100 this morning, a commercial radio station that is not dissimilar from any other countrywide, 18-25 demographic driven station. In 1990 I was, as were many of my clubbing friends, at the Kiss fm launch party. The reason we were at the launch party was because we had been supporters of the station and knew many of the deejays that would populate its roster. Kiss was one of the pirate radio station that had helped to promote black music, the music we clubbed to and embraced. We felt like, in some part, it was our station. Fast forward fifteen years and any notion of it being a ‘black’ music station has all but disappeared. It is largely indistinguishable from any other popular music station, pumping largely white produced dance music. So what happened and what does this have to do with anything? The answer to that question is twofold and a little controversial.

Anything that is seen as black and popular, whites have tried to take it away and make it their own. In the States, with such a vocal section of blacks and with their natural inclination as a people, Americans, to highlight an issue, such a thing is not easy to do. Also, such is the number of blacks in America, they can influence at a level that matters; financially. In the UK that is not the case. Anything that is thought as being ‘black’ is not generally viewed as sellable or desirable. Unless it is repackaged as white. This is not a new thing, in fifties and sixties America the excitement initially generated by Elvis Presley was the notion of a white man who could sing ‘black’. Here in the UK the likes of UB40 and Culture Club in the eighties made a fortune singing reggae and ‘black’ music respectively. Jamiroquai also made his fortune adopting a black sound, yet black artist in this country have always struggled to make an impact. As recently as last year, Sam Smith, a soul singing depressive, white kid, garnered award upon award in black music categories, his beautiful ‘soul’ sound embraced by the masses.

Growing up, an insult that would sting any would be clubber was ‘you dance like a white person’. They really could not dance. Not to soul and funk and boogie anyway. Waltzes? Absolutely, but not stuff with a beat.  But as the decades went on and increasing amounts of whites got into soul music, mixed with blacks, clubbed with blacks, they got the beat. Now every talent show features a funky, all white, dance troupe.

There is no field, profession or area where black people are embraced, as leading, within the UK. After over five hundred years of immigration, integration and population, how is that possible? A quiet suppression. The powers that be say: Thank you, I’ll take that!