Following the recent completion of my master's dissertation in which I looked at writer-director Jordan Peele's 'social thriller' (as Peele himself calls it), Black horror film Get Out (2017), I wanted to delve into some specific aspects of the film, some of which I wasn't able to include in my dissertation. (This first piece will be general and function as a brief overview of some points of interest.) Titled 'Woke Horror: Sociopolitics, Genre, and Blackness in Get Out (2017)', my dissertation explored the film's place in sociopolitical horror film history, how it addresses Blackness as an integral part of creating horror, and also its postmodernist status (the state of being postmodern, a point that Lisa Guerrero has made, is a reality inherent to lived Black experience). The film has often been covered in reviews and articles as mainly a 'social thriller', one that was inspired by (as Peele has often discussed) other horror films such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Stepford Wives (1975), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but also, and specifically, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) about an interracial couple (a White woman and Black man played by Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier, respectively) who visit her parents, introducing them to her fiancé. Peele's film makes stylistic reference to 1980s horror slashers like Friday the 13th (1980, with series continuing for decades) and, even more recently, 1990s slashers like Scream (1996, with subsequent films into the 2000s), through its visual aesthetic and haptic sensibility.
It's difficult, pointless, and ignorant to try to parse the various elements of Get Out to see what's horror and what's racial politics. They blend, working together to create what scholar Robin Means Coleman calls a 'Black horror' film, one which is based around a narrative concerned with Black identity. The evocation of physical feeling and response is key to not only horror as a genre, but also to this specific film (and others about race and horror, e.g. Candyman (1992), (although that film has some serious problems with the heroicization and protection of female Whiteness, also mentioned in Robin Means Coleman's book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present), and of course, Night of the Living Dead, as it is an element that connects us physically and immediately to, especially in the case of Get Out, the overwhelming anxiety inherent in the experience of Black bodies under existential threat.
The haptic visuality is striking, the most well-known example of which may be Chris's face, eyes wide, tears streaming down his cheeks, (a popular image used to advertise the film) as he is caught in Missy's hypnotic scheme to plunge him into 'the sunken place', a place that is dark and looks like outer space, a place from which he cannot express any external agency (he can't move, he can't speak), and a place that becomes a specimen-like vantage point for him as he is peered at by Missy who is well aware of his incapability of exercising his own agency. He is, in effect, a psychological and physical prisoner. In haptic terms, we 'feel' Chris's tears, we 'feel' his struggle to speak or scream, we 'feel' his incapacity to move in or from his chair. There is a bodily reaction, a corporeal sense, that we experience during this scene (and others), that not only serves to connect us as viewers to Chris's experience as a victim of this horror, but also connects us to the phenomenological experience of the denial of identity, expression, and overall agency of Black people in the U.S.
But far beyond the popular culture references, the now-classic nostalgic horror film intertextuality, and the clear parallels with contemporary racial politics and the Black Lives Matter movement, Jordan Peele draws from, and builds upon, a long history of resistance and critique within American social, cultural, and intellectual history and racial politics around endangered Black identity and the threatened existence of Black people. Black intellectuals, civil rights leaders, and artists such as James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, and more contemporaneously, Dr. Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates, (to name but a few figures), have all in some way contributed to the sociocultural critique of racial politics that Jordan Peele has brilliantly depicted in his film and been informed by in both its design and message. The distillation, innovation, and contribution of social critique by Peele makes Get Out an important film in many ways; the discussion of a reality of a history that informs this 'woke' film in no way is meant to take anything away from Jordan Peele, but rather to recognise and appreciate the provenance of his critique, one that includes work by intellectuals, civil rights leaders, and artists, work that is a quintessential part of the fabric of American social consciousness and, in specific terms, an integral part of sociopolitical and socially conscious cinema.
This is just an overview of some points of interest for me in and about Get Out. More parts to come, as I explore various aspects of the film's sociohistorical consciousness, genre (looking at it as a horror film), and critical reception.