Rowan Finnegan Cummings
Films have always connected to American literature; whether by adapting it or reshaping it to simply get the idea across, modern film makers have perfected the art of selling people ideas that they have no idea that they want, yet desperately need. In early 2017, Jordan Peele released a smash hit film by the name of Get Out, and it was exactly the film that America needed to open some eyes.
Get Out centers around an African American man named Chris, who is on the way to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s parents. But before any of the terrifying action even begins, Peele throws in a scene where Chris and Rose hit a deer while Rose is driving, prompting them to call the police. The officer immediately begins grilling Chris, asking him questions having nothing to do with the incident, only stopping when Rose intervenes and reiterates that she was driving, calling into question the officers hinted-at racial bias. He quickly leaves, and Rose and Chris resume their journey.
I’m a firm believer in “no spoilers”, but I will give you the gist of the rest of the film without outright telling you the ending; sometimes, seemingly liberal white parents are not who they seem to be, and sometimes, all they want is your eyes.
On that note, let’s examine how this connects to American literature; a genre so complex that it is nearly impossible to describe.
In early American literature, white characters seem to have one of two opinions of African Americans; they are either dangerous demons who are simply waiting for the perfect moment to rise up and kill all white people (as seen in “Benito Cereno”), or they are holier than white people, yet childlike in their demeanors (also seen in “Benito Cereno,” as well as in Uncle Tom’s Cabin). In this certain situation, Rose’s white family leans towards the latter, seeing African Americans as superior physically, but they also see them as nothing more than supplies for their own advancement in life.
In my opinion, Chris bears some similarities to Eliza from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Eliza, being a mulatto character, is treated differently than her fully African American comrades and seen as superior to them, based on her more white appearance. Chris is treated differently than if he were white because Rose’s family sees him as a physical superior to any white men or women that Rose could be dating. While this may seem like a better situation than the one Eliza, a slave, is in, in a way, Chris is seen as a slave as well; his only purpose to Rose’s parents is to be a tool.
I think Get Out is one of the best modern day takes on stories focusing on racism. It presents it in a similar way to early American literature, but puts a twist on it that makes it more graspable for the less “woke” people of our society. The ideas about racism that are portrayed in early American literature are very much a part of our current political climate, and this film was very much needed and opened many people’s eyes to the issues that characters like Babo and Eliza have been silently screaming about for centuries.