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Get Out and The Horror Of The White Moderate

Hollywood acknowledges a new type of villain. Spoilers ahead.

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Two weeks ago Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out premiered and took the film world by storm. Upon it's initial release the horror movie landed a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and generated a staggering $33.4 million dollars in its opening weekend. The film follows Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) as he makes a weekend trip to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time. While his girlfriend Rose Armitage (played by Allison Williams) seems sweet enough, Chris soon makes a horrifying discovery about the entire Armitage family.

While the film ultimately utilizes the terror of racism to advance its plot and escalate racial tensions between Chris and the Armitage family, the beginning of the movie contains a surprising amount of humor. One of these moments comes when Rose's father (played by Bradley Whitford) assures Chris in private that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if given the opportunity. However, long after the film ended, and the truth about the Armitage family was disclosed, I couldn’t help but wonder if this quip had a hint of truth behind it. While the Armitage family ultimately reveal themselves to be the equivalent of contemporary white slavers they do so without the use of racist diatribes, slurs, or even the suggestion of racial superiority. In fact, the film successfully elicits fear from the terrors of racism without invoking any conventional images of American racism. There are no burning crosses, no threats of lynching, no Confederate flags, and no feverish pseudoscientific rants from someone like Django Unchained’s Calvin Candy. Given the contemporary political climate and the recent uptick in hate crime, this absence is notable if not downright jarring. In fact, not only do the Armitage’s mask their covert racism at the beginning of the film, but it’s clear that the film goes out of its way to make them appear incredibly progressive.

Upon Chris and Rose’s arrival at the family house the Armitage family maintains the appearance of being well educated, well intentioned, (and frankly) moderate liberals. Whether or not this appearance is a facade, a cog in the grand scheme of the Armitage’s body snatching scheme, the absence of conventional hate symbols and speech leads one to think otherwise. The film leads one to believe that despite the Armitage’s involvement in kidnapping people of color they can still really think of themselves as well educated and well intentioned liberals. The antagonists are not the rifle toting, Confederate flag waving, boogiemen that are often equated with the face of American racism. In fact, as antagonists, the Armitage family proves to embody the exact opposite of this stereotype—they’re presented to the viewer as rich, elite, coastal liberals.

It’s at this point that Get Out solidifies itself to be as much a commentary on Obama’s America as it is a commentary on Trump’s America. The Armitage family exists in the same world where a white electorate who voted for a relatively unknown black senator from Illinois could also elect Donald Trump eight years later. They exist in the same world where white people who virtue signal online, pose for pictures with police in pink hats, and proudly proclaim that they were “with her,” are complicit in everyday, covert racism. Peele’s depiction of American racism notably lacks the macabre Hollywood glamour of Deliverance or the “Christ haunted” south of a Faulkner novel. Instead, Peele cinematically illustrates the unexplored horrors of the white moderate—those who will vote for Barack Obama but are too timid to proclaim that black lives matter, those who will decry police brutality but draw the line when traffic is blocked. The same white moderate that Martin Luther King Jr. lambasted in his famous "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," writing, "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate." Peele pulls no punches when showing his discontent with the white moderate establishment, the type of establishment that can spend a night denouncing Donald Trump yet ultimately applaud a creep like Casey Affleck.

In the wake of all of this comes it becomes clear that Peele is making the most out of the white people in his intended audience. While (as expected) those on the right have denounced Get Out as an example of Hollywood’s Cultural Marxism, the film has attracted the same kind of white liberals that Peele creates a strong argument against. While it’s uncertain if Peele’s message will be lost on the majority of his “woke” white audience, it certainly wouldn’t be the film’s fault. Get Out masterfully portrays and acknowledges the existence of covert racism, a type of racism whose existence is often denied or ignored altogether in film. Interestingly enough, within the film, all of this racism only reveals itself after Chris and Rose leave their comfortable apartment in the city. While this is (obviously) symbolic, perhaps it’s time for well-intentioned white moderates to look outside of their cities and grasp the true extent of institutionalized racism in this country.

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