Slavery

Image

One consistent theme throughout the film is it’s allusions to American slavery in both overt and obscure ways. Some scenes evoke the submissive relationship of a servant to their master, while others illuminate the insidious ways in which slavery has informed U.S. race relations, as well as the expansion, proliferation and dexterity of heteropatriarchy. While not comprehensive, below are a few key moments in which allusions to slave time were particularly striking:

Scene #1: The sizing up of the Chris’ physicality when the family first sits down to dinner:

Jeremy: Because with your frame and your genetic makeup … if you really pushed your

body … And I mean really train. No pussyfooting around. You’d be a fucking beast.

Missy: What have I missed?
Rose: A whole bunch of nothing. – We just talking about sports.

Scene #2: … And when he is introduced in the ‘party’ hosted by the Amitage’s

Neighbor #1: Oh, How handsome is he? … Not bad, huh Nelson? So, is

it true? Is it better?

Neighbor #2: Fair skin has been in favor for the past what, couple of hundreds of years…
But now the pendulum has swung back. Black is in fashion.

Scene #3: Most notably, the auction, which is when the audience first discovers that the party is really a silent auction for Chris’ body

Dean: How about sparklers and bingo?

Scene #4: When the mission of the The Order of the Coagula is explained

Roman: You have been chosen because of the physical advantages you enjoyed your entire lifetime. With your natural gifts and our determination we could both be part of something greater. Something perfect.

Scene #5: When the mission of the The Order of the Coagula is explained (continued)

Rod: They’re probably abducting black people, brainwashing them and making them Slaves… or sex slaves, not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and shit. See I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making them slaves or whatnot…but all I know is they already got two brothers we know and they could be a whole bunch of brothers they got already.

Scene #6: When the mission of the The Order of the Coagula is explained (continued)

Jim Hudson: A sliver of you will still be in there somewhere. Limited consciousness. You’ll be able to see and hear … What your body is doing, but your existence will be as a passenger. An audience. You will live in …

Chris: The Sunken Place.

___

Throughout the course of this movie, and especially in the above scenes, we learn that the relationship between Rose and Chris is not the romance it first appeared. Chris is not Rose’s first ‘Black boyfriend’ as she claimed. Scrolling through the list of latest NBA drafts, we learn that Rose exclusively targets black men. Wrapped up in the her rationale for that target pool are assumptions about black men’s physicality – their youth, athleticism, able-bodiedness, muscularity, health, virility, etc. She has a type in the truest sense of the word. The Armitage experiment is predicated on their full subscription to the stereotypes of Black men. More subtle however lies assumptions about their mental fortitude, or lack thereof. Rose is situated within the Armitage family tradition, the conception of the Order of the Coagula by patriarch Roman Armitage. This secret evil cult promises white people a new [black] body to host their conscious and prolong their existence on Earth. In order for mission to be constructed as a morally sound and justifiable endeavor, Blackness has to be cast in the certain light, and both the black body and mind has to be divested of many of the attributes that equate it with all the humanity, value, and competence of those of a white person’s. The following analysis will draw from the United States’ history of slavery while utilizing feminist theory to unmask some of these assumptions.

Dean Armitage presides over the auction and he’s nothing like the easy going, forgivably ignorant character that we are first presented with in the beginning of the movie. Dean proposes a casual game of Bingo and initially, this appears to be fitting with his character (it’s worth mentioning that Bingo is an American pastime commonly associated with elderly white people). Throughout this entirely silent scene however, we see Dean for who he really is – a cold, decisive, mastermind, a perpetrator of an insidious with even more sinister underpinnings. As the camera zooms out from Dean’s face to his hands to his body, and finally captures the entire pavilion, a golden-framed picture of Chris is revealed to the audience, and here the plot unfolds.

The hand gestures, the winning Bingo cards, the clapping when Jim Hudson appears to make the highest bid and win, all make this scene ostentatiously reminiscent of a slave auction. In similar fashion, slaves were property, merchandise, and were handled as such. They could be “sold, traded or inherited … abused, branded, bred, exploited or killed” (History.com, 2009). In the tradition of chattel slavery, slaves  maintain their slave status for a lifetime, and any children born to them are also relegated to slave status. Why did Black bodies make good slaves? “In the early 17th century, European settlers in North America turned to African slaves as a cheaper, more plentiful labor source than indentured servants (who were mostly poorer Europeans)”(“Chattel Slavery.”, 2015). Slavery because a hugely economical practice and thus, slave owners devised a method to control and assert the power they created for themselves over slaves. Black bodies, and particularly black male bodies, were essentially machines for production.

Feminist theorists Judith Butler, Ferreira da Silva, Roderick Ferguson, Sojourner Truth, and many many more, place heavy emphasis on conceptualizations of the body in feminist theory. Therefore, to understand the nuances of micro- and macro-level aggressions Chris experiences throughout the entirety of Get Out, we first turn way back in time to American slavery to contextualize the Black body in its initial stages of existence in the United States.

Black bodies subverted conventional European understandings of beauty, decorum, cognition and sanctity. Therefore, there was no conception of black bodies as unequivocally human.  “There is nothing sacred about Black … bodies … they are not off-limits, untouchable, or unseeable” (Guy-Sheftall, 2002). There were, and still are today, constant placed in close proximity to ape-like savages, and drawn as the inferior antithesis of the refined, civil, European man. And so the process begins. Europeans start out by construing conditions of black bodies as unnatural, exotic, inhuman, and then through chattel slavery, recreating the very conditions that cripple black bodies mentally, physically, and emotionally. As explained by Frederick Douglass, African American slave turned freedman,  “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

As less than human, black bodies become the subject of all manner of tests to extract their monetary value and utility. Described below is the sentiment of a [White] man present at a slave auction.

“He was a muscular fellow, broad-shouldered, narrow-flanked, but rather small in stature ;. he had on a broad, greasy, old wideawake, a blue jacket, a coarse cotton shirt, loose and rather ragged trousers and broken shoes. The expression of his face was heavy and sad, but it was by no means disagreeable, in spite of his thick lips, broad nostrils and high cheek bones. On his bead ·was wool instead of hair; his whiskers were little flacculent, black tufts, and his skin was as dark as that of the late Mr. Dyce Sombre or of Sir Jung Bahadoor himself. I am neither sentimentalist, nor Black Republican, nor negro· worshipper, but I confess the sight caused a strange thrill through my heart tried in vain to make myself familiar with the fact that I could, for the sum of nine hundred and seventy-five dollars become as absolutely the owner of that mass of blood, bones, sinews, flesh and brains, as of the horse which stood by my side” (“a Slave Auction Described by Russell.”, 1861).

Another testament goes further to describe the measures of evaluation for black bodies in preparation for slave auctions.

“…The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments..”(Doesticks, 1859).

“Colonial rule simultaneously involved racializing and sexualizing the population, which also meant naturalizing whiteness” (Alexander, 1994). Creating such distance between Black bodies, humanity and citizenship served to “ease white male guilt about the enslavement and oppression of Africans…” during times of slavery, and we see exactly the same notions operating in full effect in Get Out (Guy-Sheftall, 2002). Black bodies, the economic pivot of slave-plantation economy, were sexualized (Alexander, 1994) – Particular focus on black genitalia “reinforced the European connection between lasciviousness, sexuality, and animal passion among Africans in general…”(Guy-Sheftall, 2002). As in times of slavery, we see the neighbors take liberties with Chris’ body that I’d argue White people surely wouldn’t dare to take with other white people (Scenes 2 and 3 above). The script certainly alludes to it, but on scene he is poked, prodded and felt up. Having just been introduced to Chris, one woman even dares to ask Rose about their sex life and Chris’ genitalia. In these scenes, Peele is drawing from a long history with regards to black bodies.

 

slave auction, virginia, 1861, black history, slave trade

Fetishization of the Black Body

Chris: “Why black people?”

Jim Hudson: “Who knows? Some people want to change– some people want to be stronger, faster, cooler. But don’t, please, don’t lump me into that. I couldn’t give a shit what color you are: what I want is deeper. I want your eyes, man. I want those things you see through.”

Stronger: Since even before America’s founding, African slaves have been the slave of choice due to their ability to complete back-breaking labor without succumbing to sickness or death. They are perceived as physically superior since they were forced to endure the hardest labor known to man and unending torture.

Faster: In a study conducted by Waytz, Hoffman, and Trawalter for Social Psychological and Personality Science, it was found that black people were chosen as more likely to possess superhuman abilities 65 percent of the time, but for everyday abilities, they were chosen only 46 percent of the time over white people. The study concludes that this theory of superhumanization stems from the perception that black people are physically superior while white people are mentally and emotionally superior. Waytz concludes, “Ultimately we believe that superhumanization is just another way of ‘othering’ African Americans.” Superhumanization, in the end, is just dehumanization in a cape.

Cooler: This obsession with black culture can be traced back to the introduction of black slaves into Southern homes. Before the cotton gin, slaves and masters worked in close quarters wherein slave owners took great interest in their slaves– watching the slaves play and even adopting facets of their language. Today, we see this appropriation of culture in a more blatant light. Kylie Jenner, a white reality TV star, dons dreads and Fashion Police praises her “edginess” but when Zendaya Coleman, a black actress, sports dreads, they must “smell like weed.” When Iggy Azalea highlights her big butt or Kylie Jenner’s big lip pout goes viral, Viola Davis is pegged as “less classically beautiful”. It has become cool to take on their culture without taking on the vessel with which they experience the world.

Your Eye: Jim Hudson explains that his desire to inhabit Chris’ body is more genuine than the others’– he is going to steal Chris’ agency in order to gain Chris’ perspective. This draws many parallels to the effects of being “colorblind” in the “post-racial” present. Jim Hudson excludes himself from racist people by noting the lack of importance he sets on “color” much like those that claim “colorblindness” champion their ignorance of the inherent variations in experience based on race. Jim Hudson condemns Chris to a place of paralysis by stealing Chris’ perspective as his own. This mirrors the way that dismissing the differences of minorities under inherently racist social and political structures doesn’t miraculously lift minorities to equality but rather buries and devalues their voices when they protest injustice. Like Jim Hudson robs Chris of his literal ability to control his body, those that claim they’re “colorblind” rob Black America of the credibility assigned to their stories of oppression and injustice.

Connections to the Readings

Da Silva sets the foundation for each of the following arguments by identifying Western imperialist ideals of a hierarchy of rationality based on the degree of variation from the phenotypical universal as the basis of most social and political structures today. Hancock builds on this by noting the distinct profit made from exploiting black stereotypes in the entertainment industry and its negative effects on the stereotyped group– just as the Armitage’s seek to make a profit by selling black bodies for their stereotypically beneficial attributes. Harris and Agostinho emphasize the way feminism and intersectionality are watered down to be more palatable to the general audience when utilized as a profit producing tool in mainstream media– speaking to the cool factor that the media exploits without addressing the systemic oppression of marginalized individuals. Lastly, Jackson identifies “colorblindness” as a term created by the privileged to erase uniqueness and refrain from addressing slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. In short, this scene of Get Out portrays the way society seeks to adopt and profit from black culture without addressing or attempting to ameliorate the oppressive natures that keep those that form the root of the culture from succeeding.

Connections to Current Events

Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pretended to be of African American descent for several years. She has tried to integrate herself into black culture and has made multiple allegations of discrimination and hate crimes against her because of her white descent. While a student at Howard University, a historically black university, she began darkening her skin and changing her hair texture to appear “blacker.”

The Armitage family in the film also have an obsession with blackness and with being black. Both acknowledge racism but have switched it so that it is black people getting advantages that should, in some way, be theirs. In Dolezal’s case, she changes her appearance to fit in with a community that she wants to fit into. She does not appreciate the cultural appropriation that she is participating in, instead of viewing it as a “social construct” that she is able to manipulate as she likes. In the Armitages’ case, they undergo surgery in order to appropriate a body that they see as physically stronger, better, but also theirs to take. Neither sees black bodies or black culture as something that is not theirs to take at will, and neither appreciates the racism that black people face on a daily basis. In Get Out, several white people asked Chris if he liked the “African American experience.” It was not an opening to discuss the challenges he faces as a black person in a white-dominated society, but rather an expectation of their feelings—those that suggest that black people are facing fewer challenges than white people—being confirmed. They expected Chris to tell them that it was better being black. Both they and Rachel Dolezal fetishize the black body and the black culture.

Commentary on the Use of Police

Racial profiling is another significant commentary Jordan Peele inserts into Get Out. There are two key moments in the film that speak volumes to the stark realities of police violence.

Police: Sir, can I see your license, please?
Rose: Wait, why?
Chris: Yeah… I have a state ID.
Rose: No, no, no. He wasn’t driving.
Police: I didn’t ask who was driving. I asked to see his ID.
Rose: That doesn’t make any sense.
Chris: Here.
Rose: No, no, no. Fuck that. You don’t have to give him your ID because you haven’t done anything wrong.
Chris: Baby, baby, it’s okay. Come on.
Police: Anytime there’s an incident we have every right to ask…
Rose: That’s bullshit.

In this scene, Roses’ white femininity protects Chris from racial profiling. Although we later realize that Rose was not genuinely concerned about Chris’ safety, as she was primarily worried about creating a paper trail, she fulfills the dominant trope of the victimization of white women. White women must be saved and protected; they are the rational subjects of justice. They are protected by the law. Rose later deploys this strategy towards the ending of the film. As she lies on the ground, struggling against Chris, she sees the police siren and cries out “Help! Help!” In this moment, she plays into the historically and socially constructed binary of the helpless white woman/dangerous and aggressive black man.

Image result for get out movie police

In movie theaters across the country, we collectively gasped when we saw the police car lights approach Chris, as he raises his hands in surrender. In fact, Jordan Peele shot an alternate ending to the film that plays into the viewers’ fears that although Chris was able to escape the Armitage’s house, the violence that he encounters as a racialized body is inevitable. In a recent interview, Jordan Peele described this alternate ending: “He gets locked up and taken away for slaughtering an entire family of white people, and you know he’s never getting out, if he doesn’t get shot there on the spot.” Peele decided against this ending because it was “too real.” Instead, he comments: “The ending needed to transform into something that gives us a hero, that gives us an escape, that gives us a positive feeling.”

In “No-bodies: Law, Raciality, and Violence,” Danise da Silva focuses on the Brazilian state’s occupation and surveillance of favelas, economically dispossessed areas with majority black and brown populations, as a tool in which the state “acts only in the name of its own preservation.” Peele’s alternate ending only underscores the need to preserve the real and widespread fear that characterizes the relationships between people of color and the police. Moreover, Peele’s insertion of these two police scenes into Get Out further comments on the vulnerability of unarmed black and brown bodies to police violence.

 

 

Postracial America

Image result for get out dean armitage and chris

Chris: Do they know… Do they know I’m black?
Rose: No.
Chris: Should they? It seems like… something you might want to, you know… mention.
Rose: “Mom and Dad, my uh, my black boyfriend will be coming up this weekend, and I just don’t want you to be shocked because he’s a black man… Black.
Chris: You said I was the first black guy you ever dated?
Rose: Yeah, so what?
Chris: Yeah, so this is uncharted territory for them. You know I don’t want to be chased off the lawn with a shotgun.
Rose: You’re not going to. First of all, my dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have. Like, the love is so real. I’m only telling you that because he is definitely going to want to talk to you about that… and it will definitely fucking suck. But that’s because he’s a lame dad more than anything else. They are not racist. I would have told you.

Get Out disrupts sanitized notions of race in the U.S. Throughout the movie, we are confronted with the abject danger of colorblindness. In this initial scene between Chris and Rose, her father’s acceptance of Chris is predicated on his “love” for former President Barack Obama. Ultimately the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, ushered in a new era of “post-racialism” in the U.S. This ideology purports that America is free from prejudice, discrimination, and racial preference. But Get Out depicts how our goal should be inverted, from post-racial to post-racist.

Image result for get out dean armitage

Dean Armitage is cast as “the nice racist”– the white liberal that gives critical purchase to post-racialism. As he shows Chris around the Armitage “plantation,” he verifies Rose’s prediction. As the film progresses, the irony beneath Dean’s “post-racialism” is crystallized. The innocuous white liberal is revealed to be one of the most dangerous characters in the film. The Obama-lover led the “slave auction” and performed brain transplants on innocent black folks.

Dean: I know what you’re thinking.
Chris: What?
Dean: Come on, I get it. White family, black servants. It’s a total cliche.
Chris: I wasn’t going to take it there.
Dean: Well, you didn’t have to, believe me. Now, we hired Georgina and Walter to help care for my parents. When they died I just couldn’t bear to let them go. But boy, I hate how it looks.
Chris: Yeah, I know what you mean.

Dean: By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could. Best president in my lifetime. Hands down.

In “The Politics of Race and Science: Conservative Colorblindness and the Limits of Liberal Critique,” Dorothy Roberts states: “Colorblind ideology posits that because racism no longer impedes minority progress, there is no need for social policies to account for race; any disadvantages people of color experience today result from their own flaws rather than systemic discrimination.” Peele’s development of Dean Armitage from the colorblind “lame dad” to the threatening white supremacist neurosurgeon shows the true danger of post-racialism.

Hypnosis

Chris entering The Sunken Place

Missy Armitage hypnotizes Chris with the repetitive scraping of her silver spoon on the bottom of her tea cup to condemn him to The Sunken Place– a place of paralysis.

  • Chris doesn’t realize that he is being hypnotized because stirring tea is a common action, just as sometimes one does not notice the oppressive nature of political and social systems because they have been so engrained in daily life that few have stopped to question their structure.
  • Exploiting the perceived failures of his past (his mother’s death) to coax him into paralysis just as the media exploits negative black stereotypes for entertainment value resulting in the infectious idea that failure is inevitable– that minorities cannot escape their statistics and their destiny, just as Chris cannot escape The Sunken Place.
  • Upon returning from hypnosis, Chris has an inexplicable feeling of uneasiness regarding the situation. Instead of questioning the Armitage’s abnormal behavior, Chris ignores his uneasiness and carries on with his visit because he’s supposed to be safe, nothing is supposed to be wrong and he’s supposed to just be visiting his girlfriend’s family. Just as sometimes, minorities aren’t fully aware of the extent of their inequality because they’re supposed to be equal, they’re supposed to have the same rights.

Missy Armitage stirring her tea to hypnotize Chris

 

Connections to the Readings

Denise Ferreira da Silva identifies the way that all political and societal structures have been manufactured with the influence of Western imperialist ideals of a hierarchy of rationality wherein subjects are ranked by their degree of variation of the phenotypical universal. Get Out alludes to this underlying, almost undetectable oppressive nature of current political and social structures with the banal, yet fatal, nature of the tea stirring. Hancock explores the negative outcome of the media’s consistent exploitation of defamatory generalizations of minorities. In Get Out, the only way to reach The Sunken Place, wherein your destiny is no longer decided by you, is to be reminded of your failures just as the media reminds minorities of their shortcomings contributing an inevitable repetition of history. “Feminist Theories of the Body”, as published by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, explores the way in which certain big subjects remain generalized and unquestioned as a result of being so embedded in society. Get Out utilizes Chris’ ignorance of the abnormal behavior as a metaphor for they way society doesn’t question the inherently oppressive nature of the systems in which we live in (capitalist system, patriarchal system, law enforcement system, etc.)

Cotton Chair

Chris bound in the cotton chair

When Chris is tied up in the Armitage’s basement, he pulls out the cotton stuffing from the armchair he is strapped into and uses it as an ear plug to keep him from falling under hypnosis. Initially, we connect Chris’ original trauma (when he allowed his mother to die in a hit and run while he sat at home and watched tv) to his ability to get free. We see in the many flashbacks to his mother’s death that Chris is largely paralyzed–except for a frantic clawing at the bedposts. Flash-forwarding to Chris’ restraint in the basement after being tied down at the basement by the leather binds, the hypnosis backfires, as the saving grace of being hypnotized is that it sends him back into the moment if his mother’s death, which is what forces his hands to frantically claw–this time at the leather chair, revealing the cotton underneath. In resisting the family’s hypnosis, Chris picks and stuffs cotton into his ears, a racial irony that touches on the notable role that cotton picking played in the enslavement of black people. As Chris’ arms and feet are bound, much like slaves were shackled, this imagery of literally picking cotton to drown out the noise of the oppressor subverts this historical trope and is how Chris manages to survive.

Cotton fields on an American plantation

Chris’s hands in the cotton chair

“This might be the only time where a Black man picking cotton has been a lifesaving task.”

The phrase used to describe American economy in the 1830’s and 1840’s was “cotton is king.” It became the first mass consumer commodity and its production turned millions of black human beings themselves into commodities, particularly in Southern United States.

https://www-tc.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/files/2013/01/100facts_cottonking.jpg

Black slaves processing cotton on an American plantation

The connection to cotton picking gives the movie a much deeper historical and racial relevance that ties the experience of African Americans to Chris. The deeply-embedded trauma of being the descendants of slaves is inherent in all African Americans. That it is what ultimately comes to save Chris’ life is an allegory that many African Americans can appreciate as they struggle with present-day conditions. Perhaps this might be Keele’s way of suggesting that white people cannot keep African Americans trapped in their historical trauma and that it is the very fact of that trauma that will ultimately liberate descendants of this traumatic history. Thus, plugging his ears with the cotton becomes symbolic of how the memory of past enslavement becomes protection against re-enslavement.

Connections to the Readings

In tying these to a contemporary framework, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s “Animal: New Directions in the Theorization of Race and Posthumanism” narrates a turn in critical theory towards the animal. Her intervention and iterations of animal studies and posthumanism aim to address how the fields of animal studies and posthumanism would be altered if the work and activism of people thinking about race and racism circumscribed the boundaries between human and animals within a posthumanist framework. To that, she articulates how we risk denying people’s humanity and how by ignoring history and centuries of colonization, we risk perpetuating this notion. In other words, ignoring the histories of slavery, colonialism, and racialization and how these play into the human, re-run into the risk of replicating the same violent epistemological assumptions that feminism is supposed to work against. While the goal of posthumanism is to decentralize the human so that we get a sense of how we are all connected, it can be harmful because it ignores how colonialism and slavery never gave the chance to some groups of people to be humans themselves.

Thus to ignore colonialism, slavery, and imperialism, as white characters in the film attempt to do, would mean blinding ourselves to the heteronormativity that underpins our legal system and most other aspects of our lives. Jackson articulates that the idea to move beyond the “human” comes from a place of privilege (a luxury that only white people have because their humanity is already acknowledged due to the Eurocentric historic domination of the world) while minorities are seen as irrational (therefore less than human) and their history of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and conquest is erased by post-humanism. In subverting the trope of cotton picking and the symbolism it serves in present-day, Keele confronts this erasure and brings to the forefront the legacy of slavery and imperialism that continue to manifest in present-day and inform the day-to-day experiences of black people in modern-day America. In teasing out this parallel, the film links the ubiquitous trauma of both past and modern-day enslavement to essentially push against the idea of a ‘postracial America.’

Role of Camera/Flash

“It was hard not to watch that scene without thinking of how important camera phones and video recordings have been for many African Americans experiencing police violence—especially in light of an earlier scene in which Chris is the apparent target of racial profiling by an officer. Cameras, Get Out suggests somewhat plainly, have the power to reveal.” -Lenika Cruz, “In Get Out, the Eyes Have It”

Throughout the film, the role of sight and photography is developed with a sense of critical urgency. At the Armitage house, Chris views whiteness through his camera lens. His camera is an extension of his eye and his physical sight becomes commodified. Jim Hudson, the blind art dealer, tells Chris, “I want your eyes, man. I want those things you see through.”

In the film, the only thing that has the power to revive the small traces of the real inhabits of those bodies is the flash of Chris’s camera. In this instance, they literally “see the light,” which is what it takes for all of them to realize their blackness. Ultimately what ends up saving Chris is ultimately the flash from his camera phone. The flash from Chris’s camera phone jolts Logan back into reality. His nose bleeds and he warns Chris to “get out” after he comes into contact with this flash. Toward the ending of the film, Chris shines his flashlight on Walter as he attempts to choke him. Walter then uses the rifle to shoot Rose and then himself. Over the past few years, police violence is being documented more frequently with cell phone cameras. With the push of a button, these videos are shared globally–posted as “live” Facebook or Instagram videos. The killings of Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling among so many others were
“shot” by bystanders who used their camera phones to document the violence they saw.

“We have been talking about police brutality for years and now because of videos, we are seeing just how systemic and widespread it is” -Deray McKesson, Black Lives Matter activist

In “No-bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence,” Denise da Silva describes how raciality is mapped onto certain bodies. To be a no-body, she describes, is to be a body that can exist in the world but does not exist as a marker of rationality. These no-bodies are obliterated with no ethical outrage. They are neither the subjects nor objects of justice as the law itself conceals this original violence.

The camera phone has been used to bring anti-black police violence into the center of collective, national attention. In Get Out, the flash of a camera phone is a flash back into the actuary fear and terror of living under white supremacy as a black body. It is a warning to reject colorblindness, to “get out” of post-racial ideologies, and to resist the normalization of racialized violence.

Black Buck

A Black Buck

The symbol of the deer is present throughout the film, beginning with Rose hitting one that was crossing the road in one of the first scenes in the film, sending it to its death. In this scene, we see a police officer arriving at the scene, requesting to see Chris’ ID without cause. It is evidently white privilege in a situation that has seen black people shot to death. However, as we see unravel the rest of the film, we see how the deer becomes symbolic in its connection to the recurring theme of abandonment. After the deer is hit, close-ups are intercut with shots of Chris’ transfixed face, hinting at something potentially more significant than merely the deer’s death. Later, during his first trip to the “Sunken Place,” Chris reveals his greatest childhood shame to Rose’s hypnotherapist mother, Missy–that he didn’t act quickly enough to save his own mother in the hours after her hit-and-run accident, and thus felt responsible for her death. Chris suffers from this childhood trauma of his mother’s death, feeling that had he called 911 when she didn’t return home instead of watching TV all night, she could have been saved. Immediately after Rose hits the deer, he gets out of the car to check on it because it reminds him of his mother’s death. (We see the theme of abandonment reemerge as he is finally escaping from the Armitage home when after he accidentally hits Georgina with his car, he stops to pick her up despite her body being inhabited by Rose’s grandmother, because he sees the parallels to his mother).

Chris looking at the black buck

Chris as a child in his bedroom

However, the deer serves as an important motif in Get Out in other instrumental ways. Deer are also known as “bucks,” a term used to sometimes represent Black men. The deer killed by Rose at the beginning of the film foreshadows the fact that Chris in danger set to meet his end.

Dean and Missy Armitage

The deer offers commentary about race and resistance in other ways. The biggest indicator that the deer means something more is most apparent when Chris first meets Rose’s father, Dean. His reaction to the deer story is notably odd. He praises Rose for hitting the deer and goes on to rant about the entire species and how they ruin the local neighborhoods, thus according to him, eradicating them would be of great service to the community. This scene not only sets an odd tone for the rest of Chris’ interactions with the family, but it also prepares the audience for what is yet to come. The deer serves as a motif for black men, in representing how they are perceived to ruin neighborhoods, how unassimilated they are and how they need to be locked up (or worse) for everyone’s safety.

Later in the film, it is revealed that the Armitage family has been appropriating black bodies for the convenience and use of wealthy white society, and this is justified as being for the greater good or, in other words, as a service to the community. Dean’s out-of-place tangent earlier in the film, then, is not just referring to the deer, but what — or whom — it represents to him in the form of black bodies.

A buck on the walls of the Armitage home

At first, it seems peculiar that Dean speaks so lowly of deer, considering he has the imposing head of one mounted on the wall of the recreation room where Chris is later held against his will. It is not just a deer head mounted to the wall, either; the antlers indicate that the deer is likely male, also known as a buck. Again, historically, the “black buck” was a racist slur in post-Reconstruction America for black men who refused to bow to white authority and lusted after white women. However, that in itself is not enough to make one pause, since it was clear early on that Dean was a hunter, and procured many exotic souvenirs during his travels abroad. During the grand tour of the house, he casually showed off his trophies from far-off African locales, including statues, instruments, and tapestries. All of these many elements he had cherry-picked to display in his own come came from black culture representing the pursuit of black appropriation. Like the black people Rose hunted and seduced, Dean’s favorite bits of blackness were given new life as decorative trophies. The biggest trophy of all is displayed in the recreation room. To the Armitages, Chris and the deer are mirror images of each other. The Black men and women Rose has dated were hunted and immortalized as trophies, just like the deer hanging on the wall in the room Chris is being held captive.

Later, it is no mistake that Chris escapes the recreation room the way he does. He resists the family’s hypnosis cues by picking and stuffing cotton (from the armrests on his chair) into his ears. After Rose’s brother, Jeremy, comes to collect Chris and Chris strikes him, he finds his way to the operation room where he strikes a shocked Dean with the antlers of the very buck that loomed over him moments ago. The antlers are both a literal and a metaphorical implement of resistance, and their indication is clear: Chris is not a wild beast to be tamed, and he will not be yet another ‘ethnic’ trophy for the Armitage estate. With the prior knowledge of Dean’s awkward raving about the deer population needing to be kept under control, it becomes especially emblematic that a physical token of the dehumanization of black people becomes a tool for subduing him down and, by extension, the nuanced oppression that he represents.

The imagery in Get Out is saturated with the imagery with subtextual power, using the deer as a symbol for Chris’ past trauma, the animalization and appropriation of people of color, forced deference to the white man and, finally, as an instrument of defiance.

The Sunken Place

While hypnotized by Rose’s mother, Missy Armitage, Chris is condemned to “The Sunken Place”. The Sunken Place is essentially a black hole of nothingness that strips Chris of his ability to control his body and allows him only to watch the life his body remains living as a passenger. As he is falling backwards aimlessly through the recesses of his mind, Chris experiences an out-of-body experience that represents the greater narrative of Black America. It is a theme that has been played out throughout American history – from slavery to the Tuskegee experiments all the way to present-day mass incarceration; the idea that terrifying and denigrating things come from white ownership of Black bodies. Chris is immobilized, powerless and vulnerable in the grips of Missy’s trance, which all originated from the lie that hypnosis would cure his nicotine addiction. From a big picture standpoint, there is a lot to be said for the fact that Chris is “sunken” anytime he entrusts his well being to the white people in this film.

Chris falling into The Sunken Place

The Sunken Place serves as a symbol for the systemic racism that “steals the agency” of Black Americans today. This systemic oppression of Black people has placed invisible chains on people where they cannot just dig their way out. We cannot dress, dance, talk our way out of it because it is bigger than all of us. And it is deep and all encompassing.

  • The sunken place represents the helplessness and powerless feeling many Black Americans experience day-to-day, in a society controlled by whites where they are used for what they offer but never allowed to embrace who they truly are.
  • The way in which statistics of failure (higher rates of incarceration, higher rates of poverty etc.) contribute to the feeling as though a future of failure is inevitable.
  • Feelings of being a passenger in your own life: This speaks not only to the inevitability of failure as touched on above but also to the lack of influence of black communities on changing their situation. Or as put more, concisely by the director, Jordan Peele:

Or in the words of Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Chris, it can bebe read as a metaphor for the way black people are sometimes forced to resist reacting to what they see around them:

“Just feeling, that’s how being black sometimes feels like. You can’t actually say what you want to say because you may lose your job and you’re paralyzed in your life. You know? You’re paralyzed in your life, you want to express an emotion, and then it comes out in rage elsewhere, because you internalized it, because you can’t live your truth, and that’s what I’m trying to say is so amazing.” -Daniel Kaluuya

Or as referenced in this episode of Black-ish:

Thus, The Sunken Place becomes allegorical to to the actual paralyzing state of being when you are unable to defend yourself against racism in certain settings like the workplace.  The hypnosis is a satirical/extreme example of the psychology associated with enduring racism of all kinds.  One is aware that it is happening, but the need to keep one’s job, or not go to jail prevents them from being able to react. The mind of the actual black person in the film is trapped in ‘the sunken place’, and while they are aware, they are unable to react. Ultimately, this state of being becomes the suspended animation of how we look at race in America, a nation that has bound to the increasing belief that once Obama was elected President, the nation had overcome racism and had become “post-racial,” as mentioned at several instances throughout the film.

Georgina attempting to reassure Chris

The trope of The Sunken Place is unpacked in different ways in the film. The development of Georgina’s character is one that bears notable significance. She tried to stay woke from the depth of the darkness, and she gives a valiant fight. When the Armitages and Chris sit on their back deck, Georgina comes to pour them all iced tea but at one point, she zones out and spills tea around Chris’ glass. It was the first sign of the fact that she had some fight in her. In another scene, Georgina’s single tear and forced smile, exemplifying her suppressed emotions as a black person having to hide her pain and come off as strong and solid at all times, is indicative of the experiences of black individuals throughout all of American history. However, what is significant is her experience as a presumably queer black woman (who has had relations of some sort with Rose). Unlike Logan and Walter, who apparently needed a camera’s flash to “wake up,” Georgina was the only one whose black consciousness broke through without an external trigger. She is also depicted as seeming to have the greatest internal struggle when she was in close proximity to Chris, indicating that she was fighting the hardest but it was not even for herself (something that has been the case throughout black history in the relationship between black men and black women).

Georgina represents the characterization of how black women have often had to put up a valiant fight on behalf of the black family throughout American history. However, also importantly, it is evident in the film that Rose has been able to scheme up to a dozen black men, perhaps even more. The fact that Georgina is the only black woman that has been taken under the Armitages’ control perhaps embodies the notion that black women are more careful to not be lured into the sirens of white womanhood. Nevertheless, her capture itself still represents the fact that despite black women knowing better, the are still quite vulnerable. And the most vulnerable of black women, perhaps, is a queer black woman.

Connections to the Readings

Da Silva argues that political and social ideals are founded upon Western European imperialist ideals that rationality can be derived from one’s physical characteristics (race, ethnicity etc.). Get Out builds off da Silva highlighting the paralysis of The Sunken Place as a metaphor for the way political and social structures today are created on the basis of inequality and serve to essentially paralyze marginalized individuals from changing and achieving within the system. Hancock identifies the ways in which popular culture holds the power to influence society’s perception of itself and in profiting from reinforcing these defamatory stereotypes, popular culture influences society to view racial minorities negatively and two-dimensionally. In Get Out, Chris is only able to reach The Sunken Place after being repeatedly reminded of his shortcomings just as the amplification of negative statistics and stereotypes can result in a sense that failure is inevitable based on the amount of melanin you may possess.

In Elizabeth Bernstein’s “Carceral Politics as Gender Justice? The “Traffic in Women” and Neoliberal Circuits of Crime, Sex and Rights,” she discusses how state to use incarceration as an apparatus of control, removing those it deems threatening to society and reinforcing the patriarchal structures it thrives on. Additionally, Sune Sandbeck’s “Toward an Understanding of Carceral Feminism as Neoliberal Biopower” suggests that feminist advocacy moves away from relying on the threat of incarceration to address women’s issues since this feeds into the state’s use of prison as a method of control. The articles shed light on the authority of the state power to render blackness as the Other, who is denied protection but is often exploited by the state in order to generate surplus value.

In Treva Ellison’s “The Strangeness of Progress” and “The Disorder of Law and Order” Ellison draws on concepts of hierarchies of value and ethical outrage to develop their own framework of neoliberal multiculturalism, racial capitalism, and carceral geographies. The nation-state creates carceral geographies, which refer to the “formal institutions, processes and developments such as prisons and jails” (Ellison 326) and the knowledge and representational forms that are used to dominate and control, through racial capitalism and a mask of progress in order to further its own agenda. Based on difference, the nation-state creates a realm of relevance, in which those who belong are subjects of legal and ethical concern. At the state’s convenience, those who fall in the space of ethical absence are either protected or not protected. As disposable beings, these bodies are actively hurt when laws, such as Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, that promote mass incarceration are passed.