By now you’ve no doubt heard about Jordan Peele’s hit film Get Out, the satire that inverts genre tropes to show an African-American perspective on horror. It wildly exceeded its opening weekend earnings estimates, and has enjoyed a strong buzz from the cultural cognoscenti for its rich, layered portrayal of liberal racism in both interpersonal and institutional forms.
And Lord knows we need more discussions about revealing and deconstructing racism in America… [cue Stephen A. Smith voice] howeva… I just need to stop and give thanks for what was, for me, the most life-giving aspect of the film: the friendship between the protagonist Chris and his friend Rod.
(And yes, I realize how ridiculous it sounds to refer to a horror movie as “life giving,” but stay with me.)
Get Out follows the story of a young black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who follows his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) at their palatial estate. It’s a fantastic movie, and especially if you consider yourself an evangelical, you should see it.
As the film progresses (I’m trying not to give away any spoilers here), Chris’ encounters with Rose’s family are at first mildly off-putting, then significantly unnerving, and eventually life-threatening. But at various junctures, Chris finds solace in cell phone conversations with his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who serves as the voice of reason, imploring Chris at first to proceed with caution, and then eventually, to follow the film’s titular advice and break away.
From the standpoint of narrative and plot structure, these conversations serve as welcome comic relief as well as a way to give voice to the audience perspective that Chris’ predicament with the people surrounding him is not normal. Indeed, that sense is what prompts Chris to call Rod in the first place, because after meeting Rose’s family, he meets two other black people who work as their domestic servants, and Chris is unnerved by their blank, servile countenance. He expects to find a baseline level of solidarity and understanding common between African-Americans, and is skeeved out by the lack thereof.
Now, this movie resonated with me on many levels, but one of them is the way that it captures both extremes on a continuum of black identity.
On one side you have quiet, sensitive Chris, trying to succeed both in his career as a photographer and in his interracial relationship with Rose. At best, you could call him a refreshing alternative to the stereotype of black masculinity. Soft-spoken, yes, but also perceptive and observant. At his worst, you might call him an Uncle Tom type, so eager to please the white people in his life that he lets himself be taken advantage of. Still, as a creative professional, I can relate to Chris.
On the other side, you have outspoken TSA agent Rod, played by stand-up comic Lil Rel Howery, who also has a supporting comic role on NBC’s Carmichael Show. For years, black stand-up comics have built material off of racialized horror movie tropes (like this R-rated bit by Aries Spears), so Peele’s casting of Howery is appropriate. At his worst, Rod is the stereotypical loud mouth with no sense of text or diplomacy. But at his best, Rod is a brash truth teller with keen instincts and a fierce sense of loyalty. He keeps it 100, he’s good at his job, he looks out for his people, and he is unashamedly black. As a connoisseur of hip-hop, fried chicken and NBA basketball, I can also relate to Rod.
So what I loved about watching their on-screen friendship was that it’s clear that Chris and Rod need each other. You could probably cast Howery and Kaluuya as these same characters in a buddy cop film or as best friends in a romcom, and it would probably still work, because Chris and Rod have what sports analysts often refer to as “chemistry,” a combination of skills, perspectives and attributes that can serve each other well in a friendship. Chris would probably be the one to help Rod write his wedding vows, and Rod would probably help Chris out of a jam.
Y’know… uhh… hypothetically.
And for me, it’s personal. As a black man in an interracial marriage in the Pacific Northwest, I know what it’s like to feel so isolated that I’m in danger of losing my authentic sense of blackness. I also know what it feels like to enter majority black spaces like churches and barbershops, and feel right at home. Chris and Rod are archetypes, and my guess is that most black men can probably see a bit of themselves in both.
But it’s deeper than just friendship. As a Christian, I know that life is not meant to be lived in isolation, but in community. Proverbs 27:17 in the NIV says, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I know that I need to have people in my life who can recognize when I’m walking down a dangerous path, and who can warn me otherwise.
So among the many takeaways that Get Out has to offer, maybe the most valuable is to invest in your friendships. Make the effort to get together, even when it’s inconvenient because of the job, or the kids, or the traffic, or whatever. Community is not something that just happens, it must be cultivated. Because when that moment happens in life where things are going sideways, you gotta make sure you have people in your life who will tell you the truth and have your back.
And if they also work for the TSA, you never know… someday that might just come in handy.