|Pictured: Daniel Kaluuya starring in Jordan Peele’s Get Out|
Since its release on February 24, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut hit Get Out has been the must-see movie of the year. Early on, reviewers described the film as a “race-savvy satire” and a “fun bonafide fright flick.” Moviegoers, delighted with the film, returned to the theater for second and third screenings. And last week, the MTV Movie and TV Awards nominated the film for golden popcorn statues in seven different categories including “Best Actor” (Daniel Kaluuya), “Best Villain” (Allison Williams), “Best Comedic Performance” (Lil Rel Howery) and “Movie of the Year.” As for me, I fell asleep when I went to see it.
Now don’t get me wrong—this movie needed to be made. I don’t believe anyone could have done it better than the fabulously funny and insightful Jordan Peele of Key and Peele fame. Yes, Peele did pen and direct a brilliant commentary on American race relations. Yes, Peele did expose how white liberalism often window dresses the same prejudice that is so proudly flaunted by your run-of-the-mill racist. And yes, Peele did manage to do all of these things while creating a modern movie starring a black protagonist and white villains that was not a slave narrative, did not take place in the ‘hood, and did not begin or end with a black guy dying. Kudos!
Still, I fell asleep.
When I went to watch the film a second time, I was happy to have not slept during the same scenes in my first viewing. Did I feel a certain level of guilt? Of course. With all the praise surrounding Get Out, I was scared that my response to the movie would get my black card revoked and deny me entrance into future black people meetings. But after careful consideration, I realized there was no other way that I could have reacted to the film because everything about it was so achingly familiar. Too familiar. I’m talking familiar to the point of boredom followed by deep, slack-jawed dozing.
I was born and raised in Northern California, albeit a diverse region of the nation but still predominantly white. For the first eight years of my schooling, I was either the lone black spot in the classroom or one of a very modest few. Throughout junior high and high school, I shared advanced placement classes with mostly whites and Asians. At my college located in the heart of Orange County, I remember stopping another black student and stating, “Look, there are too few of us on this campus not to speak to each other. We are going to be friends, do you hear me?” Later on I spent a good portion of my young 20’s in Las Vegas where the following phrases from the majority white populace and my majority white co-workers were a daily occurrence:
“Can I touch your hair? I heard it feels like hamburger meat.”
“You are so well-spoken!”
“Of course you know what it is like growing up poor because you’re black, am I wrong?”
“Do your people get stretch marks?”
“Seriously, black penises are just bigger, right?”
“Nikki, you’re a registered democrat, I’m sure. What else would you be?”
“Why don’t you get up and dance for us; I can tell by looking at you that you have some moves.”
“You’re not married, but you have kids, don’t you?”
Like Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris, I recall all too well simply smiling and changing the subject, or smiling and laughing off the comment, or smiling and excusing myself from the conversation before my head exploded. I also recall trying to reconnect with any other nearby black person to commiserate but often being disappointed that this fellow brother or sister was also not to be trusted. I spent nearly 30 years of my life living Get Out, trying desperately not to be converted to a black person who existed as a passenger in her own body, forever locked in the sunken place that is the incredibly lonely black experience in a predominantly white world. That’s why I now happily reside in the great black mecca that is Metro Atlanta and will never again live in the west.
To be sure, I am not anti-Get Out. In fact, I look forward to Jordan Peele’s upcoming projects because this type of social commentary is necessary. What upsets me is just how necessary it is. It upsets me that after all this time and history and emancipation and reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement and the first black president, this sort of movie is considered such a groundbreaking creation. At least 42 million Americans (according to the 2010 US Census) identify with Chris’ experience in Get Out on some level. Yet those who saw the movie were so darn overjoyed, and somewhat surprised, just to see the experience articulated in a major motion picture.
There’s something not right about that.
What about our experience is so difficult to grasp or believe? Why is this film being described (mostly by whites) as a satire? What madness is preventing our supposed white allies from recognizing our truth or at the very least admitting their contributions to the state of the American black experience? How many books, speeches, ballads, rap songs and movies do we have to write before a level of comprehension outside of the African-American community is reached? And how many more decades or centuries will that take?
I don’t understand how this movie can be considered so cutting edge at this stage in American history, nor do I comprehend why such ignorance about the Black American experience persists to the point of so many of us finding such profound confirmation in a single film. I’m pretty tired of having to have this same “are you aware that America is still as racist as ever?” conversation. Nevertheless, I guess I have to accept this reality for now… and try my best to stay as woke as possible.