The recent release of the film Get Out written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele has created a whirlwind on social media and in the infamous kitchen table talk circles. The caveat of having a considerable amount of education is that you can never view a film or any cultural artifact without being hypercritical. I had the opportunity to be a “regular consumer” of the film. I sat at the movie theater (Regal Cinema at Union Square) and tried to ignore the fact that I am practically 6’2” sitting in a seat that felt like the person in front of me was going to end up in my lap. I also tried to ignore the fact that my racialized existence put me in the minority bracket despite that there were other people of color. Because the ratio was still more white folks than non-whites in the audience. However, the lights darkened and I was inundated with ads and coming attractions that are responsible for fueling the Movie Industrial Complex.
Finally, after 15 minutes of trailers the film began. Fortunately, despite the crowd being New Yorkers they were immediately engaged in the film. Their engagement was interactive and complete with cheers as the protagonist gained agency. Yet, I found myself disappointed, more than that anointed feeling I get from films that are FUBU (for us by us).
I recently read Renata Salecl’s The Tyranny of Choice which is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read since Gaia knows how long. Not to mention, she is the former wife of Slavoj Zizek (clearly, I wanted to know how a person who was married to him thinks).
Back to the topic at hand. I read through Salecl’s text and found myself thinking how is it that a person can stick to the topic of capitalism and at best shallowly delve into the slippery slope of intersectionality? It proves why I am with Naomi Zack when it comes to the failure of intersectionality. Basically, it is that intersectionality never approaches difference. At the very least, intersectionality acknowledges marginalization and hegemony which forces us to at least acknowledge it. However, Salecl’s book does address the illusion of choice and how we think we have numerous options. Instead, we are inundated with categories which merely places things in isolation. It is merely a contemporary form of empiricism in which categories re-inforce hegemony. At best, it gives an illusion of choice. Perhaps, that is why I found Get Out disappointing. It does not give people of color the choice of. Instead, it gives us the only option of.
The story itself revisits the plantation narrative of black bodies being vessels for white mobility. It proves that black bodies, especially black female bodies are merely as Zora Neale Hurston stated, “the mules of the world.” The protagonist is a black male, but we cannot look away at the character of Georgina who serves as the domestic/housekeeper which is even deeper than Walter who works in the field as the groundskeeper. We later discover why Georgina and Walter exist which is beyond being the racialized “help,” to a white family in an isolated place that also echoes the physical and ontological isolation of a plantation. Georgina’s existence, which I won’t give a direct spoiler but just a reason why you should watch the film, is that she symbolizes the historical rape and “vassalage” that is the black female body. There are two other women of color in the film, a police officer and the faceless yet continued mentioning of the protagonist’s mother. All three of the women of color are black women they were used as vehicular tropes which moves the story line along. However, they are used as “mules” that merely carry the weight of the story which is the weight of being black women in a story about race. It is a story that centralizes black male erasure at the expense of black female erasure. The film ends with the possibility of a sequel and Peele himself alludes to the possibility of there being more films like Get Out. Monetarily speaking, the film has grossed over 100 million dollars and Hidden Figures has grossed over 200 million dollars.
I mention Hidden Figures because it is a film that tells the story of black women working for NASA during the 1960s. It is the largest grossing film centered on black women. It does help to reduce the “Oscar’s so white” hashtag of Hollywood. This year we have witnessed “black” films such as Moonlight (which recently received an Oscar for Best Picture) not only make money, but get nominated and even win awards. More importantly, Hidden Figures hasn’t gone without criticism for the white male savior character. The savior in question is played by none other than the infamous white heteronormative savior Kevin Costner. Let’s face it, his career is based on being the white heteronormative savior. A redeemable aspect of of Get Out is that black men save themselves and each other. It argues that the “tyranny of choice” does not exist for the racialized and or gendered subject in a discourse on race and power in the United States. It only further proves that the infamous Audre Lorde quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. It will only temporarily beat him at his game but it will never bring about change.” The truth and pain that comes from Lorde is the film and films like it.
On March 17, 2017, 12 minutes after midnight in Eastern standard time, Jordan Peele Tweeted “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” Is he being critical of his lack of agency, the agency of the film, and the system? Or is it a way to diffuse intraracial criticism of the film because the illusion of choice that artists of color have following Moonlight winning the Oscar for best picture and the amount of black films and documentaries that flooded the film industry this year? Or is it a statement that merely proves Lorde’s quote that American racism is a well-oiled machine that runs on sustaining white power and dominance?