I am very white. Although Portuguese, which makes most people instinctively seeing me as Mediterranean and therefore slightly “Latino”, I am as pale as they come — a definite heritage of my blond-haired green-eyed father, whose ability to turn red after one beach day only would always make hotel clerks address him in German (with hilarious results, since it’s a language he is actually fluent in).
However, I am also a woman, and, as John Lennon sang so in the seventies, ‘woman is the ni**er of the world’. And although I, fortunately, have no first-hand experience of witnessing pure, hate-based racism — Portugal is no paradise and neither is Paris (where I’m based), but race issues in Europe are very different from the United States — its existence in the 21st century is not only undeniable but also potentially more dangerous than, say, fifty years ago: just like women’s rights, we are led to believe that there’s no need to fight anymore because the problem is no longer there, it’s been solved and we are only making things up due to our inability of letting self-pity go.
This apparently random introduction mainly serves to contextualise my views on Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a film I watched for the first time last week, way after the hype that came with its premiere. It may help to explain why I read some things the way I did, which can, in its turn, denounce an innate naiveness derived from my white perspective of the subject. After all, I come from one of the first countries to establish slave trade (although one of the first ones to abolish it as well), and whose problem with its African colonies and their subsequent independence led to a terrible war and a poor decolonisation process with consequences that are still very much visible — as they will be for many years to come. Nevertheless, I was always taught that treating people differently because of the colour of their skin is stupid — but I fortunately never fell on the liberal “I don’t see colour” trap that ends up being one of the underlying themes of Get Out.
There are obviously major spoilers ahead, but honestly, if you haven’t seen the film yet, you deserve them.
Although its initial premise seems very close to Stanley Kramer’s classic Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the story of Get Out quickly develops in a whole different way. Even if you didn’t read the plot summary beforehand, you realise very early in the film that something isn’t right. The first signs arrive with the deer scene, which has the underlying quality of a warning sign that yells “weird shit ahead” at the same time it emerges as an obvious metaphor to both Chris’ situation and the death of his mother. If you’re used to seeing thrillers of the kind, you know that the clue for understanding what’s going on is often revealed within the first minutes of the film, so I made sure I kept my eyes open after that first scare.
As soon as Chris and Rose arrive at her parents’ estate — which gave me major Overlook Hotel vibes — adding to the parallel I kept making with The Shining and which I’ll explain later — you start sensing an unexplainable feeling of rottenness and malaise that makes everything look suspicious. The (very) liberal views expressed by the Armitages sound too forced and artificial — again, think about Joey’s father’s reaction on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, who obviously has his reservations regarding his daughter’s relationship and imminent marriage — but it’s the strange and robotic attitude of Georgina and Walter that starts sending shivers down your spine: it’s like they don’t exist at all.
This is where my mind started running away with itself and fabricating intricate theories about what would really be happening under the apparently flawless surface, for I was sure the key to understanding what was going on laid in those two characters. Initially brought to the house, we are told, to care for Rose’s grandmother and grandfather, Georgina and Walter have become “part of the family” — but it’s in the obvious neo-liberal stereotype of insisting on calling them “family” while treating them as servants that the uncanny begins to emerge, especially because we have little to no reaction from G and W’s side: they don’t seem to be either happy or sad, limiting to following orders and never once expressing an opinion or taking initiative.
At this point I had an epiphany and, fully convinced of my ability to see ahead, thought I had discovered the secret of the film: my instinct was reading the story as Georgina and Walter being the real owners of the estate with the Armitages their servants — at least originally. I honestly believed that the movie would unfold in that sense, revealing a plotline based on a wealthy black couple who had once employed a white family as housekeepers, treating them “like family” and their children almost as their own. They would be revealed as being the original Armitages, who didn’t realise that a revolt fuelled by envy and hate was beginning to grow amidst their white servants who, with a little help from Missy’s hypnotic abilities (and God knows what else, since Wes Craven’s Summer of Fear also came briefly to mind), eventually managed to take over their estate and identities.
Although the main motivation for this hypothetical development can indeed be read as pure envy and greed, the race-related undertones provide for an extra validation of the story, which would emerge as an uncanny portrait of white people’s omnipresent colonial instinct: taking over something that doesn’t belong to them by acting like it was always theirs to take in the first place. It’s also in this context that I started reading loads of details in the light of Kubrick’s The Shining — and I deliberately say “Kubrick’s” and not “King’s” due to the Native American references that are only present in the film adaptation. The clues we are given throughout the classic horror masterpiece all originate from the same source: the hotel was built on sacred Native American soil. The mass slaughter — hell, genocide — that ultimately led to virtually all of their land being stolen from them by white invaders was conducted and validated by an assumption of superiority of race, morals, and religion. It was this same assumption of superiority that I started perceiving early enough in Get Out and that allowed for my alternate extrapolation.
Another parallel I saw with Kubrick’s The Shining that made me expect a different fate for Rod, was the role of the heroic outsider. Despite not fully understanding Rod’s relevance to the grand scheme of things and actually thinking he would be just a minor addition to the main story, as soon as Chris manages to send Leroy King a.k.a. Andre Hayworth’s photo to his friend, explaining his weird reaction to the camera’s flash, Rod appears to be moved by an instinct of saving not only Chris but, symbolically, his whole race. However, I genuinely thought he would have a similar fate to The Shining’s Dick Halloran — either arriving too late, or being eliminated without having the chance of actively helping his friend; looking back, I somewhat wish it had been so, because — despite being in favour of comic relief — the anecdotical ending wasn’t exactly one of my favourite moments.
It is nevertheless interesting to point out that a recently surfaced alternate ending shows Rod having little to no impact in Chris’ rescue, with the latter actually being arrested by the police as we all thought it would happen the second we saw the car’s headlights. I very much believe Peele chose not to go down that road for numerous reasons, the main two being narrative predictability and obvious plot holes: why is the police there? Who called them? Why didn’t Rod arrive first? Also, Chris’ sudden martyr condition of “I’m good, I stopped them” doesn’t quite fit the character we see developing throughout the film.
That being said, I was happy to be surprised by the turn the film took and glad I hadn’t predicted it in advance; I enjoyed every time it made me jump out of my seat (Georgina suddenly appearing in the background accompanied by impromptu music was one of them), wishing more thrillers treated the omnipresent race theme in such a clever and engaging way.
A sucker for all things psychological, I also tried to understand why I initially read the plot the way I did, and exactly what that reading revealed of my views on race issues in 21st century America, avidly dissecting my blind spots in order not to become one of those dangerous neo-liberals whose tolerance and sympathy are but skin-deep. I see colour, and that’s fine — it’s when you stop taking responsibility for your actions and deny your past that issues begin to arise. Civil rights (just like women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and so forth) are a constant struggle, and the trick is managing to keep that in mind without letting race interfere with the way you perceive and interact with other people. I see the writing on the wall, Mr. Peele. Lesson learned.
originally published on The 405 on May 26th 2017