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Racism is an issue that persists against all efforts of political and social figures. Although it might not be visible in the current, post-racial society, as some researchers call it, it still lingers somewhere on the brink of consciousness and is evoked in a disguised, hidden manner.
The recent film, Get Out, by Jordan Peele masterfully demonstrates the flaws of society in the style of a gripping horror movie. Peele’s creation appears to be a confirmation and a demonstration of multiple ideas about cultural and historical underpinnings that Grant discussed in his article. Thus, due to the relevance of the subtle manifestations of racism in a post-racial society and the depth of the problem’s roots in this essay the problematic nature of racism will be discussed in partial reference to Grant’s famous article, Screams on Screens: Paradigms of Horror.
The Issue of Racism in the Movie and Research
Despite the allegations that racial conflict is non-existent in the 21st century, research and media evidence that it is still present in a dormant and, sometimes, inactive form. Thus, the mere production of the film Get Out and its popularity in 2017 is solid proof that the issue of racism persists within society. To its popularity speaks the 7.7 IMDB rating which is rather high for a horror movie (“Get Out”).
The authors intended to demonstrate that despite society’s best efforts to hide it, racism is still on the minds of certain people, and this does not let them become a part of the post-racial world. It appears that the choice of a genre was not incidental but deliberate. According to Grant, horror movies, judging from the etymology of the word “horror,” are created to evoke the feeling of repugnance and fear, but in juxtaposition to terror the obscure ones, from the land of dreams and abstract reality (4). This intricate distinction appears to be vividly present in the story creating the basis for the problem it is designed to represent.
In the first half of the movie, racism was demonstrated from a historical perspective. When Chris enters the Armitage family residence, he meets servants who are represented only by black people. This is a clear historical reference to the times in world history when African slaves were imported to first-world countries and employed as servants in the houses of rich white people. Chris’s reaction is noticed, and the servants are regarded as family friends who do their job voluntarily. This first reference to the seemingly long-forgotten and abandoned relationships surfacing again in the 21st century provides ground for thorough thought. By demonstrating this scene, the authors try to remind the viewer that there may be still a hidden hostility between the two races.
It is fascinating to underline the element of suspicion, abnormality of the situation that seems to prepare the recipient for the horror part. This connection between history and the features of the genre is what Grant proposes as the art of horror films to evoke unpleasant feelings, the sense of uneasiness that brings the viewer closer to fear (4). In addition, Bonilla-Silva argues that the current society obscures and silences the racial issue rendering it nonexistent using structural mechanisms, while in reality it still exists and influences the life of minorities (3). The movie scene discussed above is a clear reference to such societal order, which again stresses the relevance of Peele’s artful and thought-provoking creation. Thus, the film’s techniques are supported by theoretical scientific knowledge.
The movie also references the cultural anxiety that exists between the two nations. The first such allusion to the tensions between Americans and Africans happens during the banquet that reminds the 18th-and 19th-century ones when honored guests converse lazily while being served beverages and appetizers by their servants. The guests pay attention to and discuss the physical qualities of Chris’s body.
It is a cultural reference to the practice of colonial-age slavers who used to evaluate the “quality” of a black slave by the strength of their muscles and the beauty of their teeth. It evokes the stereotypical perception of a person that emphasizes his or her body composition without giving any credit to one’s mental capabilities. Such consideration is also referred to in the study conducted by Howard and Flennaugh who argue that the stigma of black males as poorly educated individuals and, consequently, social exclusion persists even today (106).
It is vital to stress that in any other situation, different from the one demonstrated in the film, an appraisal of a person’s strong sides would not elicit such a vivid and racially related mental picture. This seems to work only in the situation when a group of white people is discussing a black person. Such a notion reanimates the situation when black people were treated like the Other. What has been seemingly forgotten and banned from practice is nonetheless springs to life again in the form of a mental image when confronted with a suggestive scene. Grant describes such an experience as the “re-emergence of that which we’ve sought to deny,” (6).
This evidences the fact that the horrors of the past experienced by the black population are still remembered and easily pictured, which further argues in favor of the persistence of the issue of racism in modern society. It may be suggested that it is the memory or the collective knowledge of the past abuse is that drives people to connect such scenes to historical events and cultural practices.
Yet another example of racial representation in the movie Get Out is the title itself. This phrase is uttered by the black servant who, for a single moment, regained her consciousness and tried to warn Chris of the imminent threat posed by the Armitage family. The call to forgo the lies of white people and stop trusting them is a bold conclusion towards which this scene may push the viewer if discussed as a recollection.
In some sense, this notion again may return one to the issues of obscuring the persistent problem of racism in the society that was discussed in the studies by Bonilla-Silva, Howard, and Flennaugh (2; 105). If viewed from this standpoint, the title elicits an aggressive response to cultural clash pertinent to the current post-racial society. What appears to be a warranted response in the situation described in the movie, is the opposite of such in real life.
If viewers are to accept the idea that the film, in general, is rather a social critique, as argued by Grant, then it could be proposed that the title is a part of it. This proposition, such action would confirm the scientific evidence which academics discuss in their papers. As such, Bonilla-Silva suggests that people of color should “wake up” and realize that the issue of their oppression is being silenced and start taking steps towards resolving the matter (12).
The idea of continuous cultural repression against black people is further developed and culminated in the horrible truth that Chris uncovers as a result of his inquiries into the secrets of the Armitage family. In the movie, black servants are white people’s consciousness placed surgically through brain operation into the bodies of black people. Behind this, the absurdly horrifying situation could be the idea that white people interfere with the free will of colored individuals by means more intimate than those they used a century ago. This grotesque delivery, however, is what makes the movie such a brilliant piece of horror film art.
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The implications of this idea are evidenced again by Bonilla-Silva’s research. He states that the old-fashioned and plain racism such as blunt insults, denial of service, and segregation is replaced by “new racism” that utilizes framing, civilizing, and other techniques to maintain racial domination (1).
Yet, in the movie, the replacement of consciousness is not complete which is evidenced by the fact that some servants were able to “wake up.” This notion could also contain the implication that black people have a chance to resist such cultural domination and take action to firmly establish themselves in the society. The role of the Other, which is referred to by Grant as a widespread concern raised by horror films, in this case, is played by black people who are used as vessels for the white and wealthy citizens (8).
In a sense, accepting the issues raised by the film at this angle, it appears that Peele escalates the conflict and wants black people to confront the white as to the nature of their co-existence in the society. This is precisely what they do in the movie in the face of Chris.
The latter is portrayed as a moral and positive character which strengthens the whole idea of the misconception of the white family about black people. The consideration of colored people as inferior in terms of intellectual and moral capacity – the ideology upheld by the Armitage family – is proved to be wrong by Chris and his friends. This contains the implication for white people, who, as Howard and Flennaugh suggest, should be more determined to resolve the issue and change their thought paradigm about people of color (119).
All in all, the film facilitates the immersion of the viewer into deep reflection about the cultural and historical issues about the relationships between black and white races. While some scenes relate to the times of open oppression, slavery, and apartheid, others imply a more delicate demonstration of white supremacy. The ability of this horror movie to reflect social tensions in such a professional fashion is what Grant related to in his research.
The problems outlined by getting Out strongly correlate with real-world issues, and their portrayal is precise and evidence-based. The discussed studies fully support the point of view of Peele, which seems to make the movie rather an insight into the world of current scientific debate. Thus, the film is exceptionally relevant and presents an example of an excellent work of art.
“Get Out.” Imdb.com, n.d. Web.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. “The Structure of Racism in Color-Blind, ‘Post-Racial’ America.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 59, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1358-1376. Web.
Grant, Barry Keith. “Screams on Screens: Paradigms of Horror.” Thinking after Dark: Welcome to the World of Horror Video Games, vol. 4, no. 6, 2010, 1-19.
Howard, Tyrone C., and Terry Flennaugh. “Research Concerns, Cautions and Considerations on Black Males in a ‘Post‐Racial’ Society.” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 14, no. 1, 2011, pp. 105-120. Web.