After leaving the theater following a 7:30 PM showing of Get Out, I was speechless. Quite frankly, I was in shock to see a film — a horror film, no less — that challenged the prominent stereotypes that have been a part of this country’s racial fibers for centuries. Simultaneously, while taking the notion of race relations into account, the film also departs from traditional horror tropes that utilize gory scenarios replete with seemingly immortal villains and, of course, the disposable characters that oppose them. Writer/director Jordan Peele instead captures the micro-and macro-aggressions that have become the touchstones (or horrors) of being Black in America. Interestingly enough, though the film focuses on the awkward interactions that characterize interracial relationships, Black masculinity had a significant impact in terms of shaping the larger narrative.
Centered around the relationship between Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a Black man, and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), a White woman, Get Out follows the young couple meeting Rose’s family for the first time. Though Chris is hesitant at the idea of being introduced to Rose’s family, Chris proceeds with the trip after expressing his reservations about the idea with both Rose and his best friend Rod (played by comedian Lil Rel Howery).
While on the road, Rose and Chris encounter an accident that results in the death of a deer, and the police were subsequently called. From the moment, the officer appears there is palpable tension. After stepping away from both the officer and Rose, Chris remains silent as the officer poses a line of inquiry pertaining to the accident. As a Black man, Chris’s masculinity is challenged at the hands of law enforcement who criminalize him before he has the opportunity to speak and/or defend himself if need be. This all-too-common situation challenges Chris’s authority as a man by stripping him of his voice and, ultimately, the ability to assert himself without fear of repercussions. As seen in the present-day examples of police brutality that led to the deaths of Black men and women (among them Philando Castile and Eric Garner), the ironic notion that the same people that are suppose to protect you are the ones you should fear most is a terror that many Blacks encounter.
Once Chris meets Rose’s parents, the inevitable occurs: he immediately feels uncomfortable and is questioned regarding his racial and masculine identity. Though seemingly harmless, many of the inquiries related to Chris’s physical attributes instead of his intellect. The inquiry immediately began to mirror conversations that slavers in various institutions would have, where they strived to weaken the minds of a slaves while maintaining the physical characteristics that were seen as a commodity for plantation owners.
After enduring the initial meeting of Rose’s immediate family, Chris is coaxed into attending an annual family gathering. From comments about his innate sexual prowess to Rose’s father leading a silent slave auction disguised as a bingo game, Chris is a pawn in what appears to be an ill-fated version of chess. Desired solely for his physical traits, Chris’s experience represents a grisly reality in American culture which placed White people in complete control of determining the worth of Black men and women. During slavery, White slave masters would hold auctions to sell Black people, displaying their distinguishing qualities as form of proof for overall worth. As we enter the 21st century, this glaring truth has transformed to meet the demands of the time, but can be seen specifically in sports leagues and associations where athletes are traded to the highest bidder.
Another point that examines masculinity within the film is the role of vulnerability, as the trait is used as both a form of empowerment and weakness. Nearing his emotional peak with being the center of the Armitage’s strange and racially-charged gathering, Chris wants to leave. He explains his reasoning and Rose still encourages him to stay despite the offenses of her family and friends. In this moment, Chris expresses his love for Rose and would rather sacrifice his comfort to accommodate her. This genuine form of affection and act of vulnerability allows Chris to be relatable to people of all backgrounds. Chris also shows vulnerability when he is being hypnotized by Rose’s mother (played by Catherine Keener). Crying and visibly shaken at the thought of losing his deceased mother, Chris relives the experience, filled with guilt that he possibly could have rescued his mother from her fatal car accident.
In society, Black men are taught to refrain from showing any emotion that can result in or from them getting hurt. This reality is traced back to slavery when black men were ripped away from their roles as providers and simply seen as property. At the risk of emasculation at the hands of plantation owners, this toxic hyper-masculine defense mechanism became prevalent within the Black community and continues to be an issue relating to love in African American families in contemporary society.
The relationship between Chris and Rod also touched on themes of identifying masculinity throughout the film. As a central relationship within the narrative, Chris confided in Rod more than his girlfriend Rose, fostering a level of platonic intimacy between the two. Rod also comes to Chris’s rescue at the conclusion of the film supporting this notion of empowerment relating to the comradery of Black men.
With this level of intimacy first seen in the beginning of the film, I feel that the relationship was nurtured through a similar upbringing and the awareness of the racial mistreatment of black men at the hands of White people.
Get Out is a brilliant example of using film to deconstruct cultural stereotypes relating to Black masculinity. As Hollywood continues to explore this shift within diverse narratives, I can only hope that more examples will be created to demonstrate the facets of being Black in the United States.
Ashlin Randolph is a freelance writer currently living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @ashlinrandolph1.