'Get Out,' 2017's Most Surprising Defense of Racial Profiling

March 20, 2017

Warning: Literally the whole plot, including the ending, of Get Out are discussed below. Don't come crying to me about spoilers.

Get Out opens with an impressively constructed scene featuring the kidnapping of Dre (Lakeith Stanfield), an African-American fellow wandering the white bread suburbs of Anytown, USA's. Lost and confused—the 'burbs aren't laid out in a grid and their street names all look the same to outsiders—he's kidnapped and taken into forced bondage by a man in an iron mask who trailed him in a white trash sports car while blaring the 1930s tune "Run, Rabbit Run" out of its windows.

It's the first of many metaphors/allusions we'll see in the film, the main action of which revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting Rose's (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. Chris is black, Rose is white, and, as a result, their trip has the potential to be quite awkward. This despite the fact that Rose's parents are so cloyingly woke: Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) tells him that they would've voted for Obama a third time, just as Rose warned, and lays a smattering of '70s-era slang on him while stumbling around for a way to seem hip and make Chris feel comfortable.

But comfort is slow in coming for Chris, who was warned by his best friend and TSA agent Rod (Lil Rel Howery) about the dangers of heading off to this pasty enclave. It's not just that the family has a pair of domestics awkwardly hanging about—Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel, respectively)—it's also the entitled, lacrosse-stick-wielding son Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) and the efforts of Missy (Catherine Keener) to cure him of his smoking via hypnosis. Oh, and the massive party Chris is surprised to find himself attending, one stuffed with white folks mentally and physically poking and prodding him like he's up for sale and they're trying to game out the best uses for his various talents.

Well, spoiler: He is. The Armitages have politely shanghaied him out to their plantation-style home in order to auction him off to the highest bidder so that the winner can transfer their brain into his body. Chris, made aware of the plot against his body and soul, enacts his bloody revenge and, with a helping hand from the ever-wary Rod in the film's closing moments, wins his freedom.

Get Out is laden with symbols, practically pregnant with allusions. Some are obvious—the aforementioned plantation and its auction; the way the African-American Chris uses big buck horns to slay his tormentor in his escape from slavery; the presence of a successful Asian man, the so-called model minority, at Chris's auction; the fact that the most insidious of all Chris's "suitors" is a literal blind man who talks about his figurative colorblindness with regard to Chris' skin—and some less so.

For instance, I was interested to read that the whole movie is a metaphor for being "woke." As Taloria Stiffin at Geeks of Color puts it, "Rose’s mother, Missy Armitage, has perfected a method of hypnosis that can trigger immediate slumber at the sound of her spoon scraping the bottom of a teacup. Hence, those in the trance are literally no longer woke. And when do they catch these men (and women) slipping to replace their minds with old selfish white people’s? When they’re asleep. Chris has to physically keep himself awake to survive by the closing credits. And by the end of the film, when Chris’ good eye gives him all types of genius adrenaline to get out of that house, Jordan Peele is telling us to 'stay woke.'"

More surprising were the deep reads on the way Rose eats her cereal. As Jasmine Grant noted for VH1, "Rose's choice to separate the white and colored objects is not only brilliantly tongue-and-cheek [sic]—her all white wardrobe purposely contradicts her lack of innocence." Similarly, a writer for The Haute Lifestyle argues "In one scene towards the climax of the Movie we saw Rose separating Fruit Loops from a Bowl of Milk. Why would anyone drink a bowl of Milk rather than a glass of Milk in the first place? This represents the separation of Coloreds ( Fruit loops/ Blacks ) From Whites ( Milk ) If you saw this part you probably over looked it." (Sic throughout.)

I did, in fact, over look this! But there's something that many others seem to have overlooked in Get Out: the fact that Chris' ultimate savior, Rod, is a TSA agent.

It's hard to think of a more racially charged profession for Rod to belong to. After all, Transportation Security Administration agents are literally paid to racially profile people for a living at the airport. It's hard to go a month without hearing a story about the TSA being accused of some variety of racial profiling. For instance, the ACLU recently released a massive report purporting to show that, actually, the TSA's "behavior detection" program is rife with "anti-Muslim bias." A quick trip through Google Scholar will provide you with all sorts of materials showing just how very bad and racist the TSA is.

With all that in mind, and remembering that this is a movie where nothing means nothing, it is worth unpacking the final few moments of Get Out. Chris has escaped from his captors, murdering the Armitages and fleeing for his life. Rose is the last to die: Chris is literally choking the life out of her on a road leading away from the house when—in a moment that prompts audible gasps from audiences—police lights start to flash in front of him. "Oh no," we are led to believe. "The wicked police are here and they will blame all this on Chris and he is totally going to get shot because he will be assumed to be the villain because he is black and black people are racially profiled and killed by the police or maybe he'll get arrested and get the death penalty because there is no justice in this world." Just as we think that Chris's life is about to be snuffed out by racist fools making assumptions, Night of the Living Dead-style, we see—Rod! He's borrowed a TSA vehicle and shows up just in the nick of time.

By reversing our expectations here, Peele provides a moment of catharsis, a way for the audience to cop a laugh from a potentially horrific moment. But he is also rather explicitly making the case for racial profiling: A character whose job it is to employ racial profiling to keep people safe and who himself has partaken in racial profiling throughout the film by repeatedly warning Chris about the dangers of hanging out with white families is the one who whisks Chris to freedom. If the flashing lights had been some redneck cop who arrests Chris, rather than Rod, the message would've been simple: profiling bad! Instead, that lesson is almost explicitly turned on its head.

By substituting cathartic laughter for pedantic chills—by turning the reappearance of a TSA agent who spends the whole film warning about the dangers of other races into a moment meant for applause—Peele puts the audience in the position of literally cheering on that bureau's history of racial profiling. And, if they take a few seconds to think about the meaning of the scene in question, it also puts them (and the 99 percent of critics who have praised this movie to high heavens) in the position of being forced to ask just how woke they truly are. It's a genius move from Peele, a director from whom we can expect great things going forward.