Get Out was going to be the ideal Christmas movie. You see, I come from a Jamaican family, and Jamaicans are notoriously hilarious in their reactions when watching films—screaming at obvious jump scares, shouting at characters who can’t hear them, and keeping running commentaries in Jamaican patois (or as we say, patwa). After Christmas dinner I always suggest a movie that will allow me to be entertained by my family’s antics, and Get Out was going to be perfect. While I mostly wanted to laugh at their reactions, I was sure that I was introducing them to a new family favorite—in terms of storyline, acting, directing, and a plethora of other things: Get Out is a brilliant movie. At least I thought so.
They enjoyed it until the end, when the main character, Chris, a black man who escapes a group of liberal yet racist white people trying to take over his body, suffocates the white ex-girlfriend who lured him into danger. A police car pulls up, and in the context of America’s institutionally racist justice system, the audience is led to believe that Chris is done for—a black man pinning down a white woman will be presumed guilty, even if he is fighting for his life. But instead, out hops Chris’s best friend, Rod, to save him, and both black men drive home to safety. This is where my family went up in arms.
“That makes no sense.”
“That’s so unrealistic!”
“Nah, that was pathetic.”
I was shocked. I love the ending of Get Out. To be quite frank, after my first semester of college, I needed Get Out’s concluding optimism. Columbia’s brand of liberalism is often thinly veiled complacency. I frequently feel like if I don’t mention race in appropriate discussions in class then it will just be disregarded. I’ve watched myself and other black classmates share our experiences only to have them dismissed. I’ve read emails from the administration allowing white supremacists to speak freely on campus. Luckily, I have come across some students and professors who are open to making change. But, as with many people, progress stops with the passive realization that racism is bad. It’s fun to stick a “Black Lives Matter” sticker on your laptop or diversity on your school brochure until it’s time to actually work to fight racism.
More so, when so many mainstream black narratives are filled with trauma or the degradation of black people—The Color Purple, Twelve Years a Slave, and The Help to name a few—it is refreshing to see a story in which a black character faces racism and comes out completely on top. Not only that, but he is saved by a fellow black character—no white savior narrative. I tried to explain all this to my unimpressed family, but we’re all a stubborn bunch, so they weren’t having it.
In an attempt to soften them, I mentioned that Jordan Peele originally wrote and filmed a different ending, where there actually is a cop in the police car, and Chris is sent to prison, presumably for a very long time. However, during a time when it was common to scroll past innocent black bodies freshly shot by the police on Twitter, Peele thought that conclusion was too bleak and changed it.
My family and I watched this alternate ending. Can you believe they all preferred that ending? Yes, I have to admit that it is more realistic, but also more depressing. My mother said that Peele missed an opportunity to make an impactful statement about racism. I responded that maybe he wanted escapism as, again, so many black stories, real and fictional, are traumatic; to which she responded, “Libby, that’s just the black experience.”
That got to me. I hate to think that a core part of blackness is suffering, that we are largely defined by the racist oppression we face. But then I think about how Jamaica, my country of origin, was molded out of slavery, and that race is a mere social construct that was made to validate the transatlantic slave trade, violently shifting the course of my personal history. Therefore, when I call myself black, with all my pride and passion, am I not describing myself according to a racist system?
Ta-Nehisi Coates tackles this worry nicely in Between the World and Me with the line, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.” What I love about this quote, particularly when considering the overwhelming role suffering plays in blackness, is that it affords control back into the black identity. When you define blackness strictly by the unfortunately very real trauma we face, it becomes frustratingly passive. Slavery, institutional racism, colorism and all their troubling offshoots are things that just happened to black people against their wishes and center around white supremacy.
Blackness cannot be only this, with suffering and white people at the epicenter. Yes, a racist, traumatic history bounds black people together simply because of the commonality of melanin, but out of that we made ourselves as we are today—we formed a myriad of rich, complex cultures that thrive as well as writhe. And this is why I cling to the ending of Get Out, because it shows the duality of blackness in the West: We have to struggle with implicit or explicit racism wherever we go, and this should never be dismissed, but we are not solely defined by it. We can try to take control of a grim beginning and form our own happy endings, as Rod did when he jumped into that car to save Chris.
So I stand by the neat, idealistic, and relieving ending of Get Out, despite my family’s disappointment. For me, when being faced with a frustratingly white curriculum at Columbia that offers few non-traumatic depictions of people of color, these endings are not just a relief but important for emotional well-being. To be constantly denied representation and then to only see yourself represented as the lesser or in traumatic scenarios—being raped, abused, enslaved, etc—takes an emotional toll. While it’s important to recognize, remember, and point out racist oppression, I’ll happily welcome anything that relays the breadth of the black experience, beyond the difficult circumstances in which we have found ourselves.
Liberty Martin is a Columbia College first-year from Thornton Heath, South London, who is currently looking to major in creative writing. You can follow her on Twitter at @libertytaking. Views from the Seven runs alternate Fridays.
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