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watching and learning and thinking

maura @ 1:32 pm

SPOILER ALERT! I can’t talk about Get Out the way I want to without spoilers!! Do not read beyond paragraph 4 if you do not want spoilers!!!

It’s not necessarily related to my sabbatical, but we’ve seen a bunch of movies lately. We’d pulled back from movies in the theater when the kid was a baby, then started easing back in but focused mostly on movies we could take him to, too. Babysitting is expensive when combined with tickets + snacks (which are sort of expensive just by themselves), and for a long time it seemed easier to just wait for the DVD. But as he’s gotten older it’s been easier for us to bring him to see movies we want to see that aren’t overtly kid or superhero movies. So far this calendar year we’ve seen 3 movies in the theater, which feels like a record.

First up was Hidden Figures. I’d been waiting for this for a while because science + women of color is totally my jam, Janelle Monae is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve loved Taraji Henson ever since she was on Person of Interest. I’ve not read the book that this is based on so I can’t comment on how they’re different, though I did read a review that noted that the Kevin Costner role was elevated in the movie (the better to make him the white savior, sigh), which is a drag. Other than that, though, the movie was terrific. The leads were incredible. Octavia Spencer’s scene in the library especially resonated with me (obvs), a reminder — unfortunately — that libraries have been complicit and have a responsibility to resist. We need more movies like this, please: telling the stories of women and people of color who have been overlooked by mainstream history education and publications, especially for us white people who really need to make sure we and our kids learn about the history of everyone in our nation. I’m definitely going to recommend this for the next time we’re visiting my siblings and need something for all of the niblings to watch.

One of the previews during Hidden Figures was for I am Not Your Negro, the film adaptation of an unfinished script that James Baldwin was writing when he died. I’ve not read any James Baldwin* and have read that folks who have read lots of his work may not find much new here. The movie shared Baldwin’s perspective on the Civil Rights movement, and also focused on the work of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. For me the movie was an education, and a disturbing reminder of our country’s brutally racist past that has evolved into our still pretty brutally racist present. We brought the kid with us to this, too, and while his schools have done a much better job of telling the true story of American history than did mine when I was a kid, I don’t know that he’s seen the kind of documentary footage that the movie included (I hadn’t, either). I am so glad we saw this — I can’t exactly say that it was enjoyable, but it feels like it was necessary.

* I know, I’m working on it — there’s a lot to read, and while I’m glad to be doing the work of learning about white supremacy, intersectional feminism, and American oppression of marginalized populations, I remain angry about my lack of exposure to this during my formal schooling. I’m working on it.

Then yesterday (okay, this one was enabled by sabbatical, because weekday matinee what?!) Jonathan and I saw Get Out. Again we’d seen previews at the prior two movies. After the first preview we wondered, is this a real horror movie or a funny horror movie? I mean, Jordan Peele, he’s funny, and the preview made it look like it could go either way. After the 2nd time we saw the preview I thought, whoa, this is too creepy, I do *not* want to see that movie. But then I started reading more about it and just couldn’t get it out of my head, so off we went.

And wow. Wow. Mind. Blown. The basic plot outlines are familiar to anyone who’s seen the preview: black guy dating a white girl who live in the city go home to the rich white suburbs to meet her parents where things are…weird. But are they microaggressions weird? Or bloodthirsty evil weird? Or…?


The answer is both and, plus it *is* funny, because Jordan Peele. Yes there’s lots of racism, but also the whole family turns out to be the leaders of a sort of weird cult that transfer the brains of white people who are old or disabled into black people stolen for the purpose, because of their “genetic makeup” and strength. The black guy’s buddy is the hero, providing the laughs when he confirms the black guy’s weird feelings about the increasing creepiness of the situation, and ultimately saving him in the end because he’s the only person who believes that the black guy was ever in any danger. Because white people are racist but not actually evil, right? Except these white people are both.

Honestly I can’t do the film justice at all — I’ve been thinking about it for 24 hours and it just gets better and better. What’s stuck with me most is that I feel like the movie manipulated me in the best way to get me to confront my own biases. For most of the movie it seems like the girlfriend is okay, she’s not evil, just the rest of her family. She lives in the city, she’s dating a black guy, “I have a black friend!” And that goes so deep that during a couple of scenes leading up to the revelation that actually, she’s fully on board with her family’s evil agenda, I found myself trying to give her a pass, thinking things like “wow, she was totally brainwashed by her family!” And then she’s revealed, and damn, there’s me as a white woman realizing that I was trying to give the white woman a pass, after all of the history of violence wrought on black men in the name of white women. D A M N.

That is some fine filmmaking. I am beyond thrilled to have read that Jordan Peele is planning for several more horror films.

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