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.

 

 

 

How to Deal with Trump-Supporting Relatives at the Holidays

Spoiler alert: I don’t know exactly how you should deal with your racist relatives this holiday season. Every family situation is obviously markedly different, and will call for different strategies. But it will probably be helpful for us to think through this together before you go—don’t you think? With the election behind us and #trumpocalypse looming large, this is more important than ever.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know exactly how you should deal with your racist relatives this holiday season. Every family situation is obviously markedly different, and will call for different strategies. But it will probably be helpful for us to think through this together before you go—don’t you think? With the election behind us and #trumpocalypse looming large, this is more important than ever.  Continue reading “How to Deal with Trump-Supporting Relatives at the Holidays”

“What Are You?”: Let’s Talk About Asian-American Encounters

This is a bit of an anomalous situation, but once…my sister and I were on a horseback riding tour in Wyoming, and somehow it was just the two of us with the guide. He was a typical white cowboy-type, kind of dashing in his way, until he opened his mouth to say, ‘What are you guys?’ (Humans?) In this situation, where we were literally in the mountain wilderness alone with him, how sassy could I afford to be? So I just replied, ‘We’re Chinese-American.’ He seemed perplexed for a second before relaxing. ‘Cool,’ he replied. ‘I love sweet and sour chicken, I eat that all the time at this place in town.’ Was this a strange flirtation attempt couched in the language of…food? What was I supposed to say, ‘I’ve eaten mayonnaise before and it’s pretty good?’ Here’s a hot tip: don’t treat someone’s ethnicity as something edible. If you have to reach that hard to find something with which to connect, just use, you know, your shared humanity.

by B.C.

[to] customer service guy, fun fact: my race is not a conversation starter and I don’t care that your ‘best mate’ is getting married to an asian girl.

When I posted this status on Facebook about how a customer service rep unnecessarily remarked on my race, I was kind of surprised by how it blew up with ‘likes’ and comments — but also not that surprised. 

Among my friends, including those on social media, it’s pretty common knowledge that these types of comments are unwarranted. But I was reminded that it’s not common knowledge for everyone.

To backtrack, I was at a Verizon store getting a phone upgrade. This guy was helping me along and we were making typical small talk. Then, out of nowhere, he asked if both of my parents were Asian. I was unsure of where he was going with this but answered, yes, only to have him tell me he was surprised I didn’t have an accent.

As those words left his mouth, I felt myself cringing. Really? Did you really say that? I told him, politely, that there are lots of Asian-Americans like me without accents and that his comment was a little offensive.

He seemed taken aback, shocked, even; he immediately apologized and said he didn’t mean offense. Okay, I thought, well good. Glad that’s over. But then he continued the conversation by telling me that his best friend was marrying an Asian girl, as if that were a way to redeem himself.

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As it to convey, hey, I’m a nice guy. I didn’t mean any harm. My best friend likes your people, so I can relate and it was okay of me to say what I said. I wasn’t so much upset as I was flummoxed by his cluelessness. He was only making things worse without even realizing it. Continue reading ““What Are You?”: Let’s Talk About Asian-American Encounters”

Weekly Link Roundup: 4/14/16

Our collection of thought-provoking, discussion-sparking reads.

  • How ‘Empowerment’ Became Something for Women to Buy: “[Sheryl] Sandberg and [Kim] Kardashian are perceived by most to be opposites, two aesthetically distinct brands fighting for our allegiance, when each has pioneered a similar, punish­ingly individualistic, market-driven understanding of women’s worth, responsibility and strength. In the world of women’s empowerment, they say the same thing differently: that our radical capability is mainly our ability to put money in the bank.”

  • Who Disrupts the Disruptors? We Need to Change the Way We Talk About Innovation: “The culture of disruption’s American Dream 2.0—where you can both be the man and claim to be sticking it to him—glosses over the fact that the type of innovation venerated by disruption culture often works to keep white men in positions of power and strengthens our relationship to instant-access consumerism. More importantly, it lacks critical engagement with the processes of disruption and the values being advanced by those we call disruptors.”
  • What ‘white folks who teach in the hood’ get wrong about education: “There’s a teacher right now in urban America who’s going to teach for exactly two years and he’s going to leave believing that these young people can’t be saved,” says Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “So he’s going to find another career as a lawyer, get a job in the Department of Education or start a charter school network, all based on a notion about these urban youth that is flawed. And we’re going to end up in the same cycle of dysfunction that we have right now. Something’s got to give.”
  • Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest: “As men continue to fall behind women in college, while outpacing them four to one in the suicide rate, some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.”
  • More Than One Medical Student at UVA Believes Black People Don’t Feel Pain“The researchers found that half of the sample endorsed at least one of the false [medical] beliefs [about black patients], and those who endorsed these beliefs were more likely to report lower pain ratings for the black vs. white patient, and were less accurate in their treatment recommendations for the black vs. white patient.”

“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.

 

 

Weekly Link Roundup: 2/21/2016

This week we feature thoughtful pieces rather than news per se: I’m sure, as this election season advances, we will all be glutted with more news than we can handle. For now, good reads for your Sunday afternoon.

Activist Spotlight: Haneen Jasim and Brianne Cain, Organizers of University of Cincinnati’s Anti-Islamophobia March/Rally

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Photo credit: Joelle Cartier
By B.C.

University of Cincinnati pre-med student Haneen Jasim had a potential brush with death after a normal study session Monday night, November 16th. Upon leaving the Starbucks at University Square, she was honked at, cursed at and called a terrorist by a man in a car, according to WLWT, presumably because she was wearing a hijab.

The man then drove toward her without stopping. Luckily, three bystanders pulled Jasim onto the sidewalk, possibly saving her life. She is ever-thankful for “three wonderful souls who saved my life,” but was terrified by the experience.

“The fact that an individual could have this much hate for Muslims that he is willing to kill an innocent woman is unbelievable,” Jasim says. “Of course I was scared at that moment. I was scared for my life.”

She is still afraid, not only for herself, but because this terrifying incident can happen to any Muslim child, woman or man. Jasim reached out to Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which called Monday for an FBI and Cincinnati Police hate crime investigator. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator. However, Jasim says that even if they catch him, she won’t press charges.

“I would want him to apologize to me and other Muslims in public,” Jasim explains. “I would also want to make sure that he will never do this to anyone ever again. We, Muslims, were taught to forgive.”

Because the incident was all over the media, garnering national attention, many individuals reached out to Jasim.

“I received a wonderful concerned message from Brianne Cain,” she says. “I had no idea who she was, and she only knew me through my incident. She wanted to make sure I was well and had the idea to plan a rally against Islamophobia. I thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed to organize it with her.”

Cain, a sociology student at UC, has lived in Clifton all of her life and couldn’t believe what had happened. She had heard that Islamophobic violence was on the rise, but never thought it would happen to someone around her.

“It was just too close to home,” Cain says. “I’ve been interning at Planned Parenthood, which absolutely has inspired me to be more involved in my community and stand up for what I believe in and given me some great tools/ideas for how to do it.”

However, the march/rally that took place yesterday, If You HEAR Something, SAY Something: a March and Rally Against Islamophobia, was the first time both women had organized something of that scale. It started at 3 p.m. and went until 4 p.m. The Facebook event reads: Please join us in a march to support the Muslim community followed by a rally. Come learn about Islamophobia, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it!

There are many speakers sharing both personal stories and educational information, including Jasim herself,  Clifton Mosque Imam Ismael Chartier and Executive Director of CAIR Karen Dabdoub, among others.

“Before Haneen and I met, I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to turn into anything, but her determination was obvious and inspiring, and somehow it came together!” says Cain. “Her ability to turn what happened to her into an opportunity for positive change is incredible.”

The two speak out on the march/rally and how they hope it will help spread the message against Islamophobia.

ACRO: What do you hope is the outcome of this march/rally?

Jasim: I hope to get individuals to want to learn about Islam and Muslims — to understand that we are kind people. I want others to speak out when witnessing hate speech toward Muslims or individuals of other faiths.

Cain: I hope that through this event, not only will the Muslim community feel supported, but the rest of the community will understand that they have a role to play in this. People seem to think not being racist is enough, but that’s just not true. You have to actively fight against hate speech and discrimination to expect anything to change. If we make it clear that no one will stand for Islamophobia, then we begin to have an environment that fosters acceptance, not hate.

ACRO: Why is this march/rally important?

Jasim: This march is very important to explain to others that Islam is not ISIS. The real Muslims around the world do not consider the individuals involved in ISIS to be Muslims. Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Muslims are not terrorists. Islamophobia needs to be stopped. No one should ever be scared of Muslims because of extremists claiming to be Muslims.

Cain: This rally is important because people need to know that this is happening and that it’s everybody’s responsibility to do something about it.

ACRO: Do you think there needs to be more awareness surrounding Islamophobia and why it’s a problem?

Jasim: Of course I do. Educate others on Islam, the meaning of Islam, the condemning of terrorism. I want people to go out and learn about Islam. Give us Muslims a chance to show you how peaceful, pure and innocent our religion is. We are not terrorists. We are the last thing from being that.

Cain: I definitely think there needs to more awareness surrounding Islamophobia. I think the more people that share their stories, the better. It takes tremendous courage to talk to people about something so personal and I admire everyone that is going to do that. I hope that it will encourage more people to speak out in the future. I think spreading the message is exactly how we combat Islamophobia. We talk to each other. We reach out to our Muslim friends and give them support just as we reach out to our non-Muslim friends and give them information. Ignorance is at the heart of all of this and we need to be willing to do something about that. The most important thing I want people to take away from the rally is a personal sense of responsibility regarding Islamophobia. Although there have been events about Islamophobia on campus, this is the first that is a march and rally. The reason we did it this way is for exposure. We know it’s going to be cold and the entire event takes place outside, but we want people that are walking by to stop and listen.

ACRO: Did the event accomplish what you and Haneen intended?

Cain: I definitely think we accomplished what we meant to. I honestly didn’t even think to count how many people, but I’d say around 40… someone said nearly 50 [people showed up]! Everybody hung out afterwards and met each other and talked to each other and that’s what we wanted… to build our community. After hearing our amazing speakers, I was left with such an overwhelmingly positive feeling. If everybody else left that way, then we definitely accomplished our goal!

Read more about the march/rally here.

Weekly Link Roundup: 11/13/2015

Let’s just dive right in.

  • By now, you should know about the incendiary and distressing events at Yale and Mizzou. Regarding Yale: understand that this is about more than an email or even offensive Halloween costumes. This is about the daily struggle of minority students and students of color for dignity, a sense of belonging, and a respectful environment free of psychic traumas. Viet N. Trinh, a doctoral student at Yale, answers Erika Christakis’ perhaps well-intentioned but ultimately thoughtless and insensitive letter about racism and “free speech” in a more nuanced way than we, as outsiders to this struggle, perhaps could.
  • To that point, this New Yorker article by Jelani Cobb is a thoughtful response to the Atlantic’s finger-wagging piece about student activist ‘intolerance,’ (as if students with material privilege cannot experience racism), centered on the protests and debates at Yale.
  • Cosmopolitan, of all places, has a urgent and important take on the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, a former police officer accused of trading on his power as a law enforcement official in order to sexually assault black women. Why isn’t this getting the attention it deserves?
  • The Nation has an important take on the resignation of Tim Wolfe, and the ways in which exploited student athletes can fight back against administrations. In the article’s words: “The administrators created a world in which universities revolve socially, politically, and economically around the exploited labor of football. Now let them reap what they sow.”
  • On decolonizing the kind of yoga that exploits the exotic for profit: “As an Indian woman living in the U.S. I’ve often felt uncomfortable in many yoga spaces. At times, such as when I take a $25.00 yoga class by a well-known teacher who wants to “expose us to the culture by chanting Om to start class“ and her studio hangs the Om symbol in the wrong direction, my culture is being stripped of its meaning and sold back to me in forms that feel humiliating at best and dehumanizing at worst.”
  • And finally, news that’s a little more lighthearted: I love advice columns, and I love Mallory Ortberg. Two great things collide!

Halloween Thank You Cards

From WOC to their white ally friends.

From WOC to their white ally friends!

Organization Spotlight: Unconscious Bias Project

S.T. interviews the Unconcious Bias Project’s Cat Adams on bias in STEM fields and how we can bring about a new, more effective form of “diversity training.”

We all know STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are rife with sexism. It seems like every week, there’s a new story about sexual harassment, or absurdly sexist statements about how women can’t science. And, of course, the many other forms of bias that plague us – racism, homophobia, transphobia – are prevalent in STEM fields too. (And, you know, everywhere.) Sometimes it just feels like everything is terrible and everyone is terrible to each other. But, there are also a lot of awesome people working hard to change things, in STEM and elsewhere. This week, I talked to Cat Adams, a PhD student a UC Berkeley who is fighting biases in STEM fields through The Unconscious Bias Project, which, in her words, is designed to “help people be more awesome to each other.”  You can follow her and her project on facebook and twitter. Our interview is below.

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Continue reading “Organization Spotlight: Unconscious Bias Project”