‘Get Out’ screening encourages dialogue before Stockley ruling
“What happens after there’s an act of hate?” panelist Susan Balk asked. “If I can’t try to feel it, then what am I doing here?”
Washington University students, faculty and community members gathered in the School of Law for a screening of Jordan Peele’s 2017 social thriller film “Get Out,” followed by a discussion panel on Thursday night. Following the Stockley court decision on Friday morning, the discourse following the film about racial inequity and the trauma of being black in modern society became all the more relevant for the St. Louis audience.
The panelists included: Ron Himes, an artist-in-residence at Wash. U.; Dr. Christi Griffin, founder and president of The Ethics Project; Susan Balk, founding director of Hatebreakers and Dr. Marva Robinson, a practitioner at Preston & Associates Psychology Firm specializing in counseling black patients. Kimberly Norwood, a Wash. U. professor of law and professor of African and African-American studies, moderated the panel.
The movie, which follows a black man Chris visiting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time, highlights many themes of racial conflict, while also including moments of comic relief. The crowd alternated between frightened gasps, hysterical laughter and applause at key moments.
“You laugh to keep from crying,” Robinson said. “Nothing around you feels what you’re going through on the outside.”
Robinson continued to talk about the role of witnesses in the film. Some black victims try to warn Chris, putting their own lives at risk in order to better others’. This phenomenon of witnesses, Robinson said, also applies to real platforms that African-Americans use to show what is really happening, like livestreaming on Facebook, taping on video, recording on a cell phone and more.
“What happens to them afterwards?” Robinson said. “They were wanting to do something to warn others so this doesn’t happen again. All for trying to say that line of ‘get out.’”
The panelists’ comments resonated with the audience, who often snapped their fingers in agreement or clapped during particularly strong statements. The diverse audience opened up a productive dialogue about the state of racism and discrimination within St. Louis and America as a whole. Moved by the strong, vibrant emotions of the film, some audience members felt comfortable to share their raw feelings and what society must do to heal racial wounds.
The panelists also acknowledged the different methods that activists have used to facilitate this progress and how those methods sometimes have unintended negative effects. Toward the end of the film, Chris acts out in aggression and hatred in a way unlike himself. This reaction, Robinson said, parallels the reactions of many black equality activists, within protests, politics, social media posts and more.
“Sometimes your response pushes you to being out of character,” Robinson said.
These uncharacteristic reactions were common this weekend, as protests of the Stockley case decision erupted across the city. While most protests were peaceful, some businesses were vandalized and police officers were wounded, leading to cancellations of events and some safety warnings and lockdowns. Panelists remarked that these events have a remarkably sad parallel to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, which occurred right before the current Wash. U. senior class’ freshman year.
In the film, the theme of recursion manifests through hints of the other black men victimized by the white family. Its message of escape, however, only applies to the house. The characters are unable to escape the bounds of society. In the final scene, a police car pulls up to a macabre scene with a blood-soaked black man standing tall.
“We’re all one. We’re the universal audience,” Hines said. “We thought we knew what the outcome would be when the police pulled up.”
“That edge is much more serious than what we get from a horror movie,” Balk added. “It indicates the amount of trauma African-Americans carry every day.”
The movie’s somber and quiet ending reflects the collective African-American exhaustion with the constant trauma that news of shootings, violence and systematic racism play upon the black consciousness.
“That’s what’s left of a human being when their souls are trampled on,” Robinson said.
“Imagine that daily toll,” Norwood added. “There are completely different parallel universes that we live in—now.”
Balk continued with a discussion of how to explain the handling of that trauma to black kids, who must guard themselves from a young age. She participated in an initiative that Griffin began through The Ethics Project called MOTHER 2 MOTHER, which brings together black mothers to educate white mothers on racial understanding and alliance. These meetings sought to bring about an understanding of what black mothers must worry about every time their child steps out of their door. “The talk has been passed down since the beginning of slavery,” Balk said.
At the end of the panel, audience members had the opportunity to stand up and give comments. Many members used that space to talk about their experience navigating their identity. Some talked about the impossible balance between black and white culture, the lack of intersectionality in both feminism and black equality movements and white people’s fundamental lack of understanding of African-American traumas.
Jordan Peele, the director of the film, has stated that part of the film’s intention is to foment discussion on difficult topics, especially between people of different backgrounds and demographics. The film’s success, which made Peele the first black director whose debut film grossed over $100 million domestically, was part of the reason the screening was scheduled.
Co-sponsored by the Wash. U. School of Law, African and African-American Studies Department, College Prep Program, Film and Media Studies Program, School of Black Law Students Association, The Ethics Project and the Hatebreakers, the event represented a crosssection of campus groups and local organizations coming together for a common purpose.
“We share an experience in the dark,” Hines said. “That continues when the lights come up.”