The Movie ‘Get Out’ Is a Strong Antidote to the Myth of ‘Postracial’ America (NYT)
“Get Out” speaks in several voices on several themes. It subverts the horror genre itself — which has the well-documented habit of killing off black characters first. It comments on the re-emergence of white supremacy at the highest levels of American politics. It lampoons the easy listening racism that so often lies behind the liberal smile in the “postracial” United States. And it probes the systematic devaluation of black life that killed people like Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner (New York Times, March 27, 2017). Join us on February 10, 2018. Click here for more information.
And now, our cinema series interview with Judy Tyson, PhD, CGP, Raquel Willerman, PhD, LCSW, and Warren Levy:
JUDY: Raquel and Warren, I am glad to have an opportunity to talk with you about the film you chose to present at our next Cinema Series. Jordan Peele, the writer and director of “Get Out” has received accolades from the film industry for his film. And by the time this interview is read, many will already know that “Get Out” was nominated for a Golden Globe award and has been recognized as ground breaking in the film industry.
I saw “Get Out” to prepare for this interview. And when mentioning the film to friends and colleagues, their “push back” reactions surprised me. To some, its “horror” label telegraphs “ominous,” “foreboding,” “scary,” and is a reason to avoid the film altogether. Would you give speak to this issue, first off?
RAQUEL: The first thing I will say about me is that I don’t like horror movies. My body gets disregulated just at the sound of eerie music! There are suspenseful and unsettling moments in this film. However, clearly, Peele does not want to scare his audience away. He wants his audience to connect with the film; to identify with the African American protagonist. The well timed comedic moments give us opportunities to catch our breath, self-regulate, and metabolize the intensity of the subject matter he presents. And that helps us take away a viewing experience we can learn from.
It’s ironic that the category “Get Out” was nominated for at the 2018 Golden Globes was actually comedy, not horror. It was also nominated for best screenplay and best actor. It has won best film for many smaller film awardsas well. From a cinematographic perspective, it’s gorgeous. There are numerous reasons to see this film in addition to its “message”.
JUDY: I agree. Peele says that the film’s label is irrelevant. It has been labeled comedy, documentary, horror, and I would consider adding satire to that list. What is significant is that it is a Black man’s statement of racism as it exists presently in our society.
RAQUEL: Peele’s statement absolutely resonates with me. I think it’s so important for White people to realize that even if they work hard to “be safe” for people of color, or believe themselves to harbor no racism at all, that there’s an entire US history, from slavery, to lynching’s, to Jim Crow, to present-time uses of incarceration and police brutality, that make it impossible for a Black person to “turn off” his or her alarm system in White spaces. It is an act of courage to be in a predominately White space.
In fact, I think it is a brilliant aspect of the film that most of the film takes place in an upper class White suburb. For many of us, including me and Warren, such a magnificently appointed suburb says, “safety.” But for Peele’s main Back protagonist, we learn that our White safety is not safe for him.
JUDY: That challenges the assumptions of so many. Even those never having lived in an upper class White suburb may hold those assumptions. Peele reminds us that those who are invited into an “inner circle” are “outsiders”. Being considered “the other” may mean never being safe from assumptions or acts of others that jar or are hurtful. And, as Peele suggests, in some circumstances, can annihilate.
To shift the focus, would you each please share a bit about your personal selves? What could you tell us that would give us an understanding of your choice to present this challenging film?
RAQUEL: I have participated in various anti-racism efforts over the years as a White person. I’ve learned about the pervasiveness of racism and that there are conscious and unconscious aspects to it. In fact, I have come to realize that racism is so pervasive it can be said to be in the air we breathe. Like breathing polluted air, no one escapes it; not even those of us who work hard to end racism.
I also have found from my experience that much of the work to recognize our own racism involves being able to pendulate between self-regulation and moving towards the discomfort. For example, if we are White we need to increase our windows of tolerance of what we can see, hear and feel about the African American experience. And we need to expand our understanding of the ways we are complicit in or benefit from racism.
JUDY: It seems that bringing this film to our attention is a way you will have helped us expand our awareness of how we may be complicit that we may be unaware of.
And, Warren, what would you like to share about yourself? How does your interest in this film reflect your interests and concerns?
WARREN: As a physician, I try to be sensitive to the stresses in patients’ lives both personal and societal. But it is all too easy for me, a White man of privilege, to forget about the traumas that African-Americans experience every day. This film presented the trauma and allowed me to feel some of that fear through Peele’s protagonist and his experiences with his White upper middle class girlfriend and her family.
When watching the film I got pulled in by the plot. After it ended, and Raquel and I talked about it, I could reflect on the symbolism and the overarching themes.
JUDY: Your discussion with Raquel enabled you to gain insight as to what the film has to offer. That’s great validation for the group discussion we’ll have after viewing the film on Cinema Series night. Our group discussion, facilitated by a few of us, will be a time to share our perspectives and develop learnings and gain insights.
WARREN: I certainly hope so.
JUDY: It seems to me Peele wants more from his audience than recognizing the racism in others. It seems to me that he wants his audience to realize each of us, unwittingly, has made assumptions based on unconscious projections which have been grounded in racism. It could be “horrifying” to realize this. Could we, informed by our own unconscious attitudes, be perpetuating racism?
There are moments in the film when Peele’s characters express attitudes or behave in ways we would reject. Again, their attitudes “horrify” us. Peele suggests it is “horrifying” that some of use may be operating from our unconscious assumptions of the “other”.
RAQUEL: Judy, this is a very astute observation and one that leads to the crux of anti-racism work in my opinion. It would be easy for me, a White person, to look at the White characters and say, “That’s not me!” And of course in most of the details it isn’t. But the dream-like quality of the movie encourages us to look deeper into ourselves, into our unconscious processes to ask these questions.
JUDY: Raquel, what would you hope our colleagues and friends “takeaway” from reading this interview, viewing the film, and participating in the discussion?
RAQUEL: I would hope that people feel their perspective about race and racism is enlarged. I would hope they feel curious about looking into all the symbolism of the movie, because one night of discussion won’t cover it all. And I would also hope that it spurs participation at some level, personal, clinical, political, and societal in the efforts to end racism.
JUDY: Well spoken, Raquel. Those of us who organize the Cinema Series support those goals as well. The next Cinema Series evening, February 10, we’ll visit over dinner and then I’ll invite you to introduce the film. Perhaps, you could suggest what we might think about, or notice, or wonder about while viewing the film. After the film, we’ll all get some dessert and sit down together for a group discussion.
I’m looking forward to the opportunity we will have to explore how this film speaks to us. We can share our reactions to the film. We will have the opportunity to take on Peele’s invitation to consider how our unconscious projections have influenced our decisions and actions in our day to day lives.