What do horror movies ask us to fear? Zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, Freddy, Jason. The mainstays of contemporary horror have a single thing in common: They’re not real. Memorable horror films often play upon our real fears, but they combine these dangers with fantastical elements to form a story that keeps us up in the middle of the night. However, there is nothing scarier in this world than real people, and Jordan Peele’s upcoming horror film Get Out capitalizes on this fact. It’s already inspiring a lot of controversy over its depiction of race in contemporary American society.
In Get Out, Charlie (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), go on a trip to meet Rose’s parents: two well off white people who live in a predominantly white town. Charlie is awkwardly greeted by Rose’s parents, who are just now learning of their daughter’s interracial relationship. Rose’s father asks the couple how long they’ve been doing this “thang,” and it’s clear there’s some prejudice involved. That awkwardness takes a dark turn when Charlie learns other Black people have mysteriously disappeared after visiting the town.
The movie appears to highlight the contemporary Black person’s actual fears of oppression and the constant threat of violence looming over people of color. But, what makes this film different — and what makes us anxious to see it — is that the story is told from the perspective of a young, Black man, offering a different take on horror films that usually feature white protagonists.
Some people may call a horror movie focused on the Black experience racist and scoff at the idea that anybody can be scared of rich, white people — a ton of white Marvel fans are already calling Luke Cage racist for similar reasons. However, it’s very important to note a couple of things here:
People of color cannot be racist because the term “racist” means that you benefit from the oppression of another racial minority on both an institutional and personal level. So, use the term “prejudiced” next time you feel the need to call something created by a person of color, “racist.”
The racial fear that exists in Get Out is not far-fetched. It’s a real-life fear that many Black people experience every day, especially when dropped into environments where they are the minority.
So often, in cases of police brutality, we hear police officers say they fear for their lives in exchanges with black civilians. However, a lot of that fear is irrational and founded upon some made-up bias against people of color. But, Black people were enslaved, had to endure another 100 years of beatings, lynchings, rape allegations, and are now videotaped being killed by police officers without repercussions. Do we honestly believe people of color don’t have a right to be fearful of white people after all these years? If you’ve ever felt the awkwardness of feeling out of a place or like you don’t belong, you’re on your way to understanding the very real fear that Black people harbor: fear of being an Other, or being surrounded by people who might do you harm.
Writer and director Peele says nobody has really made a thriller about race since Night of the Living Dead (1968). Night of the Living Dead was not necessarily meant to be about race, but it came off that way due to the time period in which it was released, and because Black actor Duane Jones was cast as the film’s protagonist. So, where Night of the Living Dead used racial undertones in its horror, simply because of its casting, Get Out places race at the forefront of its argument. That’s a bold move for Peele, and a hugely innovative step forward for the horror genre, which has historically treated Black characters with apathy, or even outright hatred.
Get Out hits theaters this February.