Get Out, or Your Life As A Fugitive

“I lay still, panting, trying to find the strength to get up and run. The man had a horse around somewhere. If I could find it…” Octavia Butler, Kindred

This morning I attended an incredible symposium on “Genres of Speculation” hosted by the New School in collaboration with the UC Berkeley debate program. Those of us in attendance were fortunate to hear Anna Agathangelou speak about occupied breathing. To hear Donna V. Jones speak about the historiography of afro-pessimism, and the racial underpinnings of a paranoid crisis. To hear Zakiiyaah Iman Jackson reflect on the black feminist poetics of the sublime. Christina Sharpe reminded us that the freedom act was a deed too radical to be articulated in advance of the event. Jarod Sexton asked us to develop a rapport with the uncanny. Together, they carefully, compassionately constructed a framework that might support the nebulousness and manage the impossibility of articulating an experience of blackness. I mention this conference not only because that same afternoon I went to see Jordan Peele’s new speculative film Get Out, but because it is so important to acknowledge that this work is being done, that it depends upon on the work of all our artists and theorists that came before, and that Jordan Peele’s work is fully engaged in this conversation.


A Reflection on Jordan Peele’s feature film “Get Out” Or, Your Life As A Fugitive

The theater was packed resulting in a frantic shuffle for seats. Two female friends and I shuffled in and out of long rows, trying to beat other groups of three to the center, but moving too carefully and getting pushed to the front. We settled into the seats we could steal just in time for the horror.

The first preview was for a new movie starring Amy Schumer, where she and her blonde mother (Goldie Hawn) go on vacation to an undetermined location called “South America” where they are promptly kidnapped and forced to escape and save their own lives by killing off an “assault” of brown men. “I should have never come here, I should have listened to you” Schumer says as they cling to each other on the dirt floor of a foreign cell. Coming out on Mother’s Day. It’s a comedy? Then is a movie called Unforgettable (more accurately Unforgivable) in which an ever blonder Katherine Heigl haunts, threatens, and terrorizes Rosario Dawson for “stealing her life”, by way of marrying her ex-husband. Some astronauts go to space. Spoiler alert: the black scientist dies first. Then Dwayne Johnson, dressed as a lifeguard, throws a “dead” black man, bound hand and foot over the edge of his boat and into the ocean.

Drink Coca-Cola.

And then finally, the film begins.

We don’t trust this white girl. From her first scene where she boasts that she has not told her parents that her new boyfriend is black, we’ve decided. She’s one of them. Don’t go Chris! Slipping lower in our seats with each passing moment my friends and I mumble warnings under our breath and cast each other reassuring glances. We are very concerned for his safety.

Even if the movie had not been marketed as a horror film we would have been terrified. The suspense was palpable from the quiet screaming keys at the beginning of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone”. Can it be that this is really love? Can she see him, dark as he is? Why is she always sitting directly in the light?

This is a story about happy slaves. About the continuity of the division of labor, the persistent weight of the white gaze, the necessary intimacy, the involuntary conditions of consent. The White American family has never reproduced itself. We can see, as Saidiya Hartman reminded those of us gathered to hear her speak this evening that the production of the family form amongst those who were able to be white has always required an extraction of intimacy from those required to be black. The reproduction of the white family has always and will always require our sex. Our organs. Our laboring bodies.

Daniel Kaluuya gives a spectacular performance offering up his own sweat and tears from his open pores. When his character Chris sits down with the gentle white mother- sits in her chair to talk a while – I hear echoes of the stern advice Professor Christina Sharpe offered to the young debate students in the audience of the symposium earlier that morning. “Don’t talk to everyone,” she urged them. “Don’t tell everyone your story. Everyone does not need to know your story. Everyone does not have your best interests in mind.”

            Chris grips the arms of the chair.

            “What about your mother,” she asks him.

            “I don’t want to talk about that,” he says.

But she takes it anyway. She steals his story from him with the power that comes from naming yourself God. With the gentle turn of her china cup she steals his story and commands him down into the void.

We need scholars like Zakiyyah Iman Jackson to guide us though the inifinite. Just hours before she had asked us, “how does it feel inside a black hole?” She demanded that we recognized how black femininity is required to operate as the indexical image of the sublime. We can only wait in anticipation for her upcoming book “The Blackness of Space Between Matter and Meaning” so that we might benefit from her labor of “theorizing the void.” For Chris, suspended in the darkness, he can only watch the story of his life as it is told to him from the other side of the screen. He is at its mercy for as long as the white mother stirs her silver spoon.

We ought to take a moment to reflect on the technology this mother (played by a turquoise and suede clad Catherine Keener) deploys against him, as it will lead us to the alchemy of whiteness. Susan Gal has a forthcoming article “You are what you eat on: Qualia and consequences of European porcelain” (forthcoming, Signs & Society) in which she writes: “Alchemy was the control of a passage from chaotic materiality to perfect form, surely an ontological claim. For porcelain, the change in qualia is striking: Dark, wet, soft clay turned by intense heat into a hard, white, translucent body” (Gal, 2017). As the white father in Peele’s film boasts, “It’s a service we offer.”

When porcelain first arrived in Europe it was incredibly rare, and considered to have magical, mystical qualities. It was brought from China via Arab trade routes, and the material was immediately taken up as an index for the purity of white personage. Whiteness, as delicate as it is, has always had to protect itself. Since, “[p]orcelain’s impermeable surface did not retain impurities that would have adulterated those delicate flavors,” which it was expected to contain but never absorb, it’s such a perfect weapon for Peele to animate as the desire for consumption without contamination.

Film Title: Get Out

The place that Chris finds himself once his mind has been tampered with is the impossible space of freedom. Weightless and unbound, he is trapped beneath the weight of his dead mother; the dead promise of a family given to women whose children are never their own and sons whose mothers are forever unknown. He loved her and to love was his weakness not once but at least twice. She pushes him down.

To imagine myself in this deep dense darkness is not difficult, but the weight shifts. I am drawn back to into another imagerie. This time in Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred to Dana’s experience in the woods where she is forced to kill by a chance white encounter/rape. He pushes her down. “I dragged myself from beneath his heavy body and tried to stand up,” Butler writes. “Halfway up, I felt myself losing consciousness, falling back, I caught hold of a tree and willed myself to stay conscious. If he came to and found me nearby, he would kill me. He would surely kill me! But I couldn’t keep my hold on the tree. I fell, slowly it seemed, into a deep starless darkness” (Butler, 43).

You’re sleeping in the big house now Chris. You’re in bed with your own death. And if you could recognize the danger you were in, how could you escape? Take the road? A man in your position was just taken from the road, snatched up and thrown in the trunk of a car. They say he’s happy now.

Extending the father’s “field of play” lies an all-too-familiar forest. Should you take to the woods like a fugitive? These are the same woods that Dana finds herself forced to enter again and again. Sure enough, the forest is not the only character from Butler’s novel that makes an appearance in the film. My friend Rachel sitting beside me identifies Rufus playing the part of the younger brother: reckless, irresponsible, demanding, violent. Full of the virility and confidence of a man who is promised everything, who is destined to inherit the world. His father is God. He has nothing to do but live, and he lives a brutal, druken life. And the father? Well the father is an honest man. I love how it feels says the father, “but I hate how it looks.”

And then there’s Alice, alone this time (or is it all the time?) as the film’s only black woman – a character named Georgina played by Betty Gabriel. She serves tea, speaks softly. Loves her own reflection. She is trapped in a lie she can see right through, and she can only steal a few seconds to cry. She does her duty. “She adjusted, became a quieter, more subdued person. She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little” (Butler, 168).


At one point Chris tries to rescue Alice/Georgina. She is unconscious after he runs her down in a stolen car while trying to make his own escape. Reminded of her presence as she lies wounded like a deer, Chris stops for a moment to retrieve her limp body and put it in the car. However, she betrays him. She wakes up, because she’s got a white woman planted inside her. But of course, the black woman has always been working for them. She has always, after all, “been the white man’s slave” (Black Macho, Michelle Wallace). He probably should have left her in the road. Who will say he didn’t try? But he destroyed her house. They will say she was too angry to survive.

How does he get out? Brute animal strength. How does he get out? Closing his eyes and ears. Guarding his mind. How does he get out? Picking cotton.

There’s blood to shed, and the theatre is going crazy. People are standing up and cheering. Some people.

Chris tries to choke the white woman who betrayed his love, but she likes it too much.

                     The wheels on the road.

                     The sickness in your stomach in those spinning lights.

LilRel Howery is a welcome presence anytime he’s on the screen, but in a film as deliberate as this one I can’t help but wish that Jordan Peele had cast another black woman in this role. Especially if he was going to leave Georgina dead in the road. I don’t know what he meant us to learn about black brotherhood that doesn’t feel like an oversight. Not an overseer, but a deliberate looking over. Maybe you decide to look beyond someone because they are standing too close to your face. But hey, I stood up and celebrated for these successful black men. At least they had each other.

I stood to my feet. I stomped and shouted. Hootin and hollerin.

I don’t know how to describe how I felt walking out of that theatre, except to say I felt joyful.

When I got home from Hartman’s lecture this evening I read the review of Get Out in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. And I’m choking as I read: “Short of making us listen to “Ebony and Ivory” over the closing credits, “Get Out” could hardly be more provocative.” What the fuck are you talking about Anthony Lane? Only Elton John could have escalated the level of interrogation? “There is good and bad in everyone” is not the theme of this remarkably original work. This is not an ode to sitting “side by side”. This is not a horror film about the impossibility of getting along. You missed it. This film is not anti-white people, but it is definitively anti-White. If it isn’t yet obvious, the Lane’s amongst us, you should be too.

jordan-peele-get-out-trailerGet Out. Divest. Whiteness is toxic. It’s massive. It’s parasitic. It’s desperate. And you, and we, are deep. We are deeeeep. We are deep in the woods. “Can a film be too inflammatory for its own good, or are there times, and places, when only fire will suffice?” Lane asks. Maybe some people are sitting in the theatre wondering “How’d it get so scandalous?” But We been knowing when and how. We may not know how to clean it up. We may not know which way to run. But we know one thing. Don’t let ‘em catch you sleepin.


~ by Vy on February 27, 2017.

One Response to “Get Out, or Your Life As A Fugitive”

  1. YO! 😮 I’m speechless family

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