Review: Get Out

*minimal spoilers*


 

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Horror is so often in the mundane—the turn, in an instant, from a walk in a pleasant suburban neighborhood to violence that can end a life. Horror movies have been built on this trope since the beginning, but it is also a potential daily reality for black America. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut underlines this point immediately, layering both classic horror cues and a situation that immediately recalls the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Having established this metaphor—which is less a metaphor than a brutal, direct statement—we meet Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are headed to her parents’ estate for a weekend. “Do your parents know I’m black?” Chris asks, thinking ahead to a potentially uncomfortable first meeting. It’s a question that most interracial couples have encountered, if not always out loud. “They’re not racist,” Rose replies. “I would have told you.” The idea that Rose can see her own privilege through the veil of her place within the family made me scoff, sitting there in the theater. Chris let it go. It laid the perfect groundwork for the questions the movie would raise: about refusing to see what is in front of us, and about blinding ourselves with more comfortable or more convenient truths.

At every turn, the film explores how the sinister can be folded into the seemingly ordinary, through the specific lens of racialized interactions. As the weekend progresses, Chris attends a party thrown by the Armitages for their friends—wealthy older white people who wear Chris down with a barrage of uncomfortable comments that feel all too realistic. From an older woman who goes straight for Chris’ arm muscles, to a comment by Rose’s brother containing the phrase “genetic makeup,” there’s a growing burden on Chris to smile through it all. The premise lends itself brilliantly to horror—after all, aren’t moviegoers already primed to feel a slightly sickening sense of unease and dread when it comes to the sight of a young black man alone in a crowd of older white people? We don’t even need the context of a horror movie to know that historically, and in the present moment as well, there is potential for racialized violence there. Is the awkwardness caused by “benign” racism fueled by mere ignorance? Does it mask, like a KKK hood, the real racist beneath? Like all good horror films, Get Out heightens a particular social anxiety to the point of frenzy. In this case, it’s about accurately judging the depths of a person’s discrimination. Being able to tell the difference between an awkward social encounter and a more sinister racist depth is everything.

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It also delivers a pointed send-up of the microaggressive well-meaning white liberal, since racism is not, in fact, the sole domain of southern evangelicals. The film makes a point of emphasizing Rose’s sympathy for Chris’ situation and her father’s insistent ally-ism (including an absurdist moment where he discusses an ancestor happily losing to Jesse Owens under Hitler’s watchful eyes). Well-intentioned civility can, and does, coexist with the kind of casual cruelty and uncaring evil that will put the good of the tribe first—even among the educated and self-proclaiming liberal.

These are signs that Chris chooses to ignore, or to subsume, time and time again. In his character, we get not only a stand-in for the threatened black male body (among a white cocktail party, or on the side of the highway facing a white cop), but also a figure for the kind of accommodation that white supremacy exacts. We can get along well, the movie says in the beginning, as long as you’re willing to bend a little. Overlook moments of discomfort so that everything will go smoothly. Eventually, this is a road that leads him straight down a nightmare, as the stakes of his attrition rise higher and higher. Chris spends so much of the movie accepting his own discomfort, in situations that seem plausibly microaggressive, that he can no longer see the true nature of the threat in front of him. The other black characters at the Armitages’ house are so accommodating, genial, and blank that the audience is supposed to know something is wrong—but they’re not the only ones bending over backwards just a little too much.

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It’s difficult to discuss the movie further without giving away its biggest plot twists—but rest assured that, though the actual plot isn’t exactly subtle in the end, it is immensely satisfying. There is, as a friend noted when we left the theater, absolutely no redemption for white characters in this movie. And that’s ok. This is one movie, out of hundreds and thousands of movies, where the discussion begins and ends on the side of the black characters. The discomfort is insistent, vivid—a perfect counterbalance to the kind of palliative conversations that revolve around white supremacy and “the alt-right.”



Verdict? Five stars. Watch immediately.

 

 

 

Weekly Dance Break: Safe (Dumbfoundead)

This video has been out for a minute, but since the issues it addresses have no end in sight (thanks, Hollywood!), I thought it’d be appropriate to remind everyone that it exists, and that it’s great. Dumbfoundead talks whitewashing, media stereotypes, and more while editing himself into some of the most iconic white movie roles of all time.

“Zootopia” Encourages Us to Examine Our Prejudice

**This post contains some spoilers**

Zootopia continues Disney’s time-honored tradition of using animated creatures to talk about something else, whether it’s covering….Hamlet with lions or depression with walking, talking emojis (I’m talking Lion King and Inside Out here, in case you couldn’t tell). But Zootopia manages to do a little more, by drawing a charmingly insightful view of the world that still manages to talk about the prejudice and stereotypes that plague us.

Are you in it for the animal puns and inventive world-building? Sure. There are little sparks of pleasure throughout the entire movie, as the animators recreate familiar technology in an “evolved” world where animals, predators and prey, live together in a modern metropolis. How would subways accommodate both giraffes and hamsters? Do rabbits facetime? Are leopards pop-star fanboys who know how to use apps? All of your questions will be answered. (Bonus: this makes the film’s address of bigotry, racism, and prejudice even more compelling, as there’s a clear parallel drawn between Zootopia’s world and ours).

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Photo from Zootopia \\ Twitter @DisneyZootopia

Its main character, Judy Hopps, is an amibitious young bunny bent on becoming the first police officer of her species. To do so, she works twice as hard as anyone else, insisting that she’s not just a “token.” She is a creative problem-solver who works collaboratively, respects her friendships, and knows when to acknowledge her own mistakes and shortcomings. She’s a great cop who got there mostly by the dint of her own hard work, but also through the love and support of her community. She is defined more by her ambitions than anything else (and thank god there was no love story in this movie, because how would that even work…?). My cynical heart swells thinking of the young girls watching this movie who will absorb this film’s subtle, but strong message about the potential and abilities of the underestimated.

But Zootopia is more than a girl-can-do film, and its address of bigotry is what makes it one of the best and most important movies Disney has put out yet. In the beginning, Judy’s naive worldview presents Zootopia as the harmonious, “race-blind” melding of two distinct classes of animal: predator and prey. Part of her journey is through the disillusionment of that idea, and toward a concrete plan of action to remedy it. There are forces at work in the city who feed off of the distrust and prejudice that still surround “predators” and their unavoidable “biological instinct”—an early lesson for young viewers in the insidious power of coded language to shape public opinion, as Judy also learns. Through Judy’s friendship with the street-hustler fox Nick Wilde, she learns what it means to confront the lingering animosity between “predator” and “prey,” and how to forge a strong friendship from this unlikely, but very effective, partnership.

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Image from Twitter @DisneyZootopia

The film is also seeded with references for the adults or particularly savvy kids—like how the “nighthowlers” drug can be seen as a parallel to the crack epidemic, or how Judy tells another animal that bunnies can call other bunnies “cute,” but if another species does it….(you can almost hear the n-word echoing in the background). Zootopia depicts how quickly people (or animals) can fall into the traps of fear-motivated thinking, how bigotry and racism feed off of misinformation and fear. It also shows how much is lost when one’s world is circumscribed by these prejudices. And it does so in terms that both children and adults can understand and use to discuss racism, bigotry, and prejudice in the real world. That is a refreshing antidote to the hate-mongering and racism being peddled by election frontrunners—and the positive reaction to Zootopia bespeaks more than just our love for cuddly animals. Is it perfect? Probably not. But it brings the problems of bigotry right to the front and center. That’s a hell of a lot more than Disney movies used to do. We need more children’s movies like this, which are driven by interesting storylines and use world-building to open up discussions about the pressing problems of our own world.

 

Plus, this movie is just really freaking cute.

 

 

At The Movies: Carol (2015)

Some spoilers.

What does falling in love look like? As Todd Haynes’ film Carol reminds us, it often looks quite boring, looking from the outside in. Lives are brought together and broken apart in the most ordinary of settings—a rather depressing department store, a diner where the porcelain is thick and ungainly, a motel with ugly bedding. People with beautiful cheekbones and deep, startling gazes must still remember to pay their coffee bill and deal with traffic.

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Image via Twitter @carolmovie

In some ways, not much happens in the movie. Two women meet in 1950s New York, exchanging glances and a joke or two over a toy counter. They fall in love, suddenly and without warning. One of them is Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), the kind of woman who matches her coral lipstick to her nails perfectly, the better to veil her repression. The other is Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer who shies away from others (Rooney Mara). What ensues? A couple of visits, a road-trip to flee Carol’s estranged and pushy husband Harges (Kyle Chandler), sex, and finally, a confrontation that sends them spinning away from each other and then back again.

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Image via Twitter @carolmovie

In other ways, the stakes of the film are much higher. Vibrating underneath these events is a tension more meaningful than a shared cup of coffee or kisses exchanged on a motel pillow. In an era that could not brook the love between two women, or even call it by its name, Carol’s struggle to fit both her family expectations and her personal needs into a single life is a bitter one. She and Therese strive to fully realize their desires and selves. From the 1950s until now, that struggle for the right to occupy mundane space, even peacefully and beautifully, without intrusion and judgment, can ring true and familiar.

Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, the source material for the film, was long considered a literary footnote—after a surge in popularity at the time of its publishing, it fell to the wayside. It was, in fact, daring and important in many ways. Not only did it take lesbian love as its central theme, it broke the convention of “lesbian pulp fiction” to give its lovers a happy ending and a modicum of hope. The Price of Salt also precluded that other famous love story of the 1950s, Lolita, in its use of transgressive sex and the open road to explore the morality of American sentiment and loneliness. Both versions of the story celebrate the seemingly small but in fact monumental choice of self-satisfaction in the face of censure. In Carol, the driving force of a beautiful love story unfurls, whisper-soft but sweet.

Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)

By I.C.

January is always a time for looking backward as well as forward, and as 2016 gets underway I’ve been reflecting back on the cultural events that defined 2015 for me.  One of the things that strikes me is what a great year it was for documentaries.  I am an avid fan of documentaries, and, as 2016 opened with Netflix’s documentary miniseries Making a Murderer as the year’s first pop cultural obsession, I’m clearly not alone. In recent years the genre has become particularly effective at combining entertainment with vital insights and even the capacity for inspiring activism and real social change. (See: The Paradise Lost films about the West Memphis Three, spanning 1996 to 2011, or 2013’s Blackfish.)  Following this trend, some of 2015’s most acclaimed and compelling filmmaking came from this genre.  So here are four of the best from 2015, in case you missed them, with a synopsis and also a suggestion of what these documentaries offer particularly to a feminist viewer. Whether you’re looking for eye-opening insight or a chance to funnel righteous indignation into action for a cause, these films have something for you. Continue reading “Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)”

Alternate Titles for Spectre

You forgot there was a James Bond movie coming out, didn’t you? Me too, until I found myself in theaters watching it. Minor spoilers for tone and the teensiest of spoilers for plot, but…you’re not watching this for the plot anyway, are you? Don’t.

  1. How much abuse can a middle-aged body take?
  2. A good soundtrack makes all the difference
  3. It’s about THE DATA DAMNIT
  4. This is definitely not an obsolete franchise, nope
  5. The world’s cybersecurity problems boil down to a personal grudge, surprise!
  6. Never neglect a German child
  7. This guy again
  8. What do you mean this is an outdated sensibility
  9. Here we are in North Africa living a beautiful khaki imperialist dream

    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING
    ABSOLUTELY THRILLING, OBVIOUSLY. PLEASE TELL US MORE

Studio Ghibli says goodbye with “When Marnie Was There” [Spoiler-Free Review]

Studio Ghibli’s latest and perhaps last offering, When Marnie Was There, is a strange and compelling turn into the Gothic, signaled to us by its abandoned mansion, haunted grain silo, and little girl maybe-ghost. But the movie also delves deeply into some of the studio’s best storytelling centered on the growing pains of young women, like its slightly lighter and more fantastic peers Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like any good coming of age tale, it makes room for sweetness and allows for bitterness. But unlike its more famous counterparts Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Marnie’s focus is less on a magical world and more on the dark possibilities of self-loathing internalized by young women struggling to find their way and worth.

**no spoilers**

Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter
Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

Studio Ghibli’s latest and perhaps last offering, When Marnie Was There, is a strange and compelling turn into the Gothic, signaled to us by its abandoned mansion, haunted grain silo, and little girl maybe-ghost. But the movie also delves deeply into some of the studio’s best storytelling centered on the growing pains of young women, like its slightly lighter and more fantastic peers Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like any good coming of age tale, it makes room for sweetness and allows for bitterness. But unlike its more famous counterparts Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Marnie’s focus is less on a magical world and more on the dark possibilities of self-loathing internalized by young women struggling to find their way and worth.

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Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

Our protagonist, Anna, opens a window onto mixed, found, interracial families and issues with abandonment—themes that many Ghibli movies touch upon without exploring as fully as Marnie does. Primarily, this movie melds a ghostly mystery with the joy of struggling toward a fulfilling girlhood friendship. Is this movie feminist? Not overtly, perhaps not intentionally. But like the rest of Ghibli’s most memorable protagonists (Kiki, Chihiro/Sen, Mononoke, Arrietty, Ponyo—all young women!), Anna reminds us of the intermingled heart-swelling joy and pain of learning to like oneself, to struggle in a new and unfamiliar place, and to succeed. More than other Ghibli films I’ve seen, it is less about external struggle and more about learning to love oneself despite a self-perception of deep unhappiness, of self-dislike, and of failure.

Photo @ghibli_intl / Twitter
Anna and Marnie. Image @ghibli_intl / Twitter

When Marnie Was There is a sentimental movie, one that works to bring emotion to the surface. Its resolution is, without giving too much away, fairly neat and obviously packed with emotional force. I admit, I am very susceptible to this. Ghibli movies, for me, have always toed the line between joyous consumption of the sentimental, and my ingrained, ~*disaffected youth*~ sense that to purely enjoy sentimentality is deeply uncool, deeply “unintellectual.” But the value of allowing oneself to both look at a text—movie, novel, whatever—with both uncritical pleasure and critical understanding cannot be overstated. When Marnie Was There reminds us both of loneliness (that preciously parsed intellectual theme) and its antidote, the love-laden ending. It allows us to live for a moment in that precious Ghibli world of mysterious harbor towns and windswept landscapes (isn’t it always windy in these movies?), where it’s always summer and it’s always possible to slowly, dreamily, be alright.

Things That Make and Break Avengers: Age of Ultron

*very, very minor spoilers, mainly of aesthetic details

Avengers: Age of Ultron was full of campy goodness…These are moments which might detract from, or really add to, your movie experience, depending on your expectations and mindset:

  1. Cap’s concealer / Nat’s eyebrow powder / everyone’s makeup, really
  2. Ultron’s ass (sports-car curves, yes!)CAOxhh2UMAIWWvG
  3. Ultron’s undulating and somehow…sensuous lips…

    Photo from Entertainment Weekly
    Photo from Entertainment Weekly
  4. Wet Thor in a dramatic cave

    CAVE OF FEELINGS
    CAVE OF FEELINGS
  5. Sad droopy Bruce-face
  6. Quicksilver’s Adidas endorsement deal

    Image from thedropdate.com
    Wheeee zoom zoom | Image from thedropdate.com
  7. The twins’ Cold War accents (unidentifiable Slavic vagueness!)
  8. Awareness of how brilliantly campy this movie will seem in 5-10 years
  9. Cap’s biggest fear is not knowing the foxtrot, maybe
  10. Keeping track of property damage costs (Avengers insurance??)
  11. Recognizing Running Man filming locations when the Avengers are in Seoul
  12. Every time Bruce gasps THE INTERNET (“he’s hiding in THE INTERNET”)
  13. SCIENCE BRO MONTAGE ft. Bruce and Tony (*swipe* *calculate* *high-five*!

    Avengers dick-size contest ft. Thor's hammer
    Avengers dick-size contest ft. Thor’s hammer and Cap’s forearms
Gratuitous beautiful Quicksilver promo because I can
Gratuitous beautiful Quicksilver promo because I can