Race in Reviews of “Get Out”

I saw Get Out last week and absolutely loved it. It’s only just been officially released across Australia this week. I was excited about this not just as an horror movie aficionado but to see a film made by and starring people of colour (Black men specifically). I purposefully didn’t read any reviews or articles until after watching the film. What’s been interesting is now reading reviews by White people, both from the USA and from Australia.

The film has received almost universally positive reviews – as it should; it is excellent! White American reviewers disproportionately write about the film as if it is written for them; that it is meant to reflect onto *other White people* (not the reviewer, not their readers) their own latent racism.

Reviews by Black writers, especially Black women, see tht the film is primarily for Black people, a view supported by interviews with the writer/director Jordan Peele.

White Australians see this film is also about White Americans, and they do not reflect to what extent the racial dynamics might have some comparison to, and diverge from, race relations in Australia.

Get Out

The ABC reviewer Jason Di Rosso writes: “What Get Out does is ingeniously highlight the hypocrisy of the White American liberal.” What might the film say for the White Australian liberal is barely entertained.

“Just what an Australian audience will make of the racial subtext is interesting to ponder. The forced submission of black people by whites — even well-meaning ones — is a phenomenon running through our history, and on occasion our cinema.”

So it may have some comparisons to our history, but not our present. Telling how White Australians (and Americans) distance themselves from racial oppression, even onscreen.

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer, Paul Byrnes, writes: “A new era of black horror has begun.” Here’s another aspect of Whiteness: films by and about Black people are “Black films,” but films about and by White people, especially White Americans – that is, the majority of big-budget movies that hit Australian screens – are just movies, full stop.

Betty Gabriel in Get Out

The film works as a smart horror, but also as social commentary on scientific racism, fetishisation and White supremacy. A film on these themes with a similar set up, focusing on embodiment, would be very different if told by and about Black women, and it would take on additionally sinister dynamics. In Australia, such a retelling would mean we, the audience, would be forced to reckon with genocide, eugenics, enslavement, racialised gender violence, forced removal, and multiple forms of discrimination. So, no, the film is not a universal tale of Black experience. It is a specific case study of what Stuart Hall called, “the spectacle of The Other,” complete with an running gag of Black male athleticism.

Nevertheless, White Australian reviewers and audiences are never asked to consider how the power relations on the big screen might have some bearing on modern-day Australian society, which borrows so heavily from White American pop culture.

Let’s go back to the reviews. Compare the White reviewers to the nuanced reviews by Black women not just in the USA but also in the UK. These are full of spoilers, so stop reading now and come back when you’ve watched the movie!

Catherine Keener in Get Out

***SPOILERS****

“There is a choice among some white people, to stand in their apathy and ignorance, clinging on to stereotypes about other groups and races in order to continue to make themselves feel superior. What comes forth in the wake of this, are ideals that are entrenched in both bigotry and white privilege, which are so horrifying that they are often borderline amusing.”

Aramide A Tinubu, Masters in Film Studies, USA.

“While you are mentally in the Sunken Place, you can see the injustice being done to you but you are completely unable to stop them. In reality, the Sunken Place is much more complex than a psychotic trance. After the film’s release, Peele revealed it is a metaphor for black people being marginalised, ‘No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.’ It simultaneously pokes fun at black people who are complicit in their own oppression: think of all the black Trump/ All Lives Matter supporters who claim they don’t see the racism other black people tirelessly campaign against…So how do black people get out of the Sunken Place?”

Kemi Alemoru, Masters student in Magazine Journalism, UK.

Are you still here? Go watch Get Out!

This post was first published in parts on Twitter and Tumblr.

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