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Jordan Peele uses satire to expose racism’s horror

A young black man wearing a hoodie walks in a dimly lit suburb where he is summarily attacked and kidnapped by some unseen assailant to the incongruously ominous strains of Flanagan and Allen’s Run, Rabbit, Run.

That scene from Jordan Peele’s acclaimed film Get Out made my hackles rise and it’s no coincidence that it harks back to the killing of Trayvon Martin, thereby setting the tone for a journey to the “sunken place”.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-folks stage of their relationship. She invites him for a weekend getaway to meet her parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford), in a secluded, affluent suburb.

Initially, Chris misreads the family’s exaggeratedly accommodating and strange behaviour as nervous attempts to adjust to Rose’s interracial relationship. But as the weekend unfolds, disturbing events lead him to an inconceivable truth.

Using the premise of the award-winning 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, sprinklings of The Stepford Wives, flashes of Rosemary’s Baby and well-timed comedy, writer-director Peele creates a compelling study of the banality of evil — in this case, liberal white supremacy. Visiting your significant other’s parents for the first time can be unnerving but this film takes a mundane occurrence and throws a “what if?” curveball.

Much like the aforementioned films where the horror develops slowly, like a sense of dread, Peele deftly ropes the audience into sharing in Chris’s paranoia and trepidation that permeates his encounters with the Armitage family and their friends.

The film provides social commentary on race relations and liberal dog-whistle racism, while thrilling the audience with a riveting plot.

Peele deserves praise for managing the apparent racial components of the film in a way that isn’t preachy or convoluted. Though it is his directorial debut, this film doesn’t have that feel as Peele manages to pull off a work that only a lived experience could provoke.

Get Out offers a fresh perspective for mainstream horror fans, yet remains accessible to people who don’t qualify as scream queens. Granted, the humour and horror may not be everyone’s cup of tea, with plenty of the usual horror tropes.

Get Out sets alight “cool” white people’s feeble assurances that black people are safe with them — unlike, say, white men with a penchant for khaki and Native American-kitsch eateries. Here we are presented with the less obvious but more deadly unseen scorpion in a shoe: wealthy, well-educated, well-intentioned white liberals.

The magic of this film lies in the fact that it seamlessly fuses biting satire with the horrifying spectre of racism. The frights are not situational; there’s no Norman Bates shower scene — the terror is mental because it sets out the power dynamics of racism. Prejudice is so standardised that those who experience it second-guess themselves to their peril.

The film is sure to be a worth-the-admission-price crowd-pleaser and although it doesn’t quite reach the peaks it could, it is still a great outing. Weirdly enough, Get Out will likely start long-overdue conversations about “dope” white folks and the “soft” racism that black people experience to the point where it’s an ordinary part of life.

Get Out opens in theatres on March 24

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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