Say Her Name: The Eternal Lives of Get Out's Heroine

- by Renee Christopher -

 

Right now, what we need more than ever is art that mirrors the often-terrifying realities of racial tension in America. And Jordan Peele may have just created the best horror film of, if not all time, certainly our time—that does just this. Get Out follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) as he and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), travel to a remote wooded area to meet her parents, where everything is certainly not as it seems. 

 

*** Spoilers ahead! ***

 

It was February and I sat bundled in a back row of the theater. As the first scenes played, I was uncomfortably and acutely aware of my own interracial relationship with the white man who was sitting right next to me. How could I reconcile the high anxieties from the US presidential election with my feelings, and what I’d heard about this film already? From the beginning, I was apprehensive and I immediately found myself identifying with Chris. Rose can tell that he is not as excited as she is about going to meet her parents, and when she probes to try to understand his lack of enthusiasm, he forces out the question: “Do they know I’m black?”

I remembered having the same conversation with my partner in late November, though in a humorous manner, and receiving the same disarming reassurances as Chris does from Rose. And during my visit to his parents’ house, I was wary of any direct or indirect racial prejudices. It turned out I didn’t have as much to worry about, but I remembered being intimately aware of myself as a black woman. Emotional tensions were heightened after the election earlier that month, and this visit was another test of my abilities to correctly interpret a dangerous situation. My anxieties showed in the way I made sure to be extra polite to everyone and how I tried to keep out of the way. I tried not to gawk at the size of their house nor show my surprise at the casual mention of spending a large amount of money redoing the front deck. 

This pointed, inward reflection about being a black woman began during my last couple years of college. I started to wonder why I didn’t have very many black friends of any gender. During this time, I confronted my thought patterns about why I didn’t associate being black with what I saw in the mirror. I began to seek out black women because I needed more people like me to talk to. I needed to know for myself that what I saw on television wasn’t all there was, because that wasn’t me. Now, I have a more nuanced viewpoint of who we as black women are, what we can do, and where we fit in. We are anything and everything, we can do so much, and we are everywhere.

So I want to talk about “Georgina,” one of the few black women in the film. The character, whose true identity I name Infinity for the benefit of this essay, is played by Betty Gabriel. Infinity is possessed by the consciousness of Grandma Armitage in an attempt to grant her pseudo-eternal life, and Gabriel performs the role as if trained by queen Viola Davis herself. I left the theater triumphant, ecstatic about the heroic black ending Peele gave us, but absolutely heartbroken by the double death of this character.

Several writers have already spoken to the imperfections of black female representation in this film—Shout out to B. Willis here and Sharice B. here—so I won’t go on about that at length. I only want to establish Infinity as real, in the sense that she was a person with a full life just like Dre, who is played by Lakeith Stanfield, and just like Chris.

Infinity’s early appearances in the film are uncanny, disturbingly hyper-human yet robotic, a common way to unsettle viewers in the horror genre. As soon as Chris arrives on the scene, she attempts to make her resurgence. For instance, Infinity checks out while pouring tea, and then when she apologizes to Chris about unplugging his cell phone, we see a powerful visual battle play out on her face. She mutters the word “no” several times in various tones, while tears run down her face—all while smiling uncannily. In comparison, Dre’s warning to Chris is explicit. In a crucial scene when Chris tries to take a stealthy photo of Dre during the party because he seems familiar to him, the camera’s flash brings Dre out of his sunken place and he warns Chris to “Get out!”

Some may argue that Infinity’s moments are not as important as Dre’s outburst because they are not as explicit, but in my opinion they are just as valid. I read every interaction between Chris and Infinity as acts of resistance, her own attempts to crawl out of her sunken place and reclaim her body. 

The harmful stereotype of the loud black woman has quieted us. Now we turn to the side eye, aphorisms, and black proverbs as ways to try to warn others. When Infinity fights Grandma Armitage’s consciousness to warn Chris, she must also fight this stereotype, making her battle much more difficult. These scenes are telling because they show us what happens when we are rendered silent.

Despite being warned away from the house in various ways by different people, Chris only realizes the truth when he finds photos of Infinity, Walter, Dre, and other black men together with Rose—and by then it’s far too late to avoid her betrayal. This scene stuck with me because this revealed Infinity as a queer black woman.

Being black surrounded by white people in this theater, in this city, in this state, I found my investment and concern for this black woman skyrocketed. I couldn’t continue to fully focus on the inevitable doom that would befall Chris in the next scene downstairs. Rose was queer, or worse—and more likely—she was faking it to gain Infinity’s trust, a painful experience that is not uncommon for many queer women of colour. I wanted to know if she had seduced other queer black girls for her parents’ business. We only see Infinity for a minute, but I now desperately wanted to know what Infinity’s life was like, and whether she’d had a friend like Rod who tried to find out what had happened to her. I’m sure she did. I wonder if she had also figured it all out, just as Chris did, because that meant—to me at least—that we could have had a black queer woman save the day.

Towards the end of the movie, Infinity runs out in the middle of the road and Chris hits her with his car. Chris knows he should just leave her ass there; we all know it will end badly if he puts her in the car. But ultimately, he does save her and when the body regains consciousness she attacks Chris, causing an accident that kills her. Perhaps Infinity could no longer fight past Grandma Armitage in that moment, or maybe she took a radical, “If I go, I’m taking somebody with me,” approach. I like the latter version less. In my optimistic reading, running out into the road was Infinity’s last cry for help. In that moment her subconscious is fighting tooth and nail to drag herself out of the sunken place, to escape Grandma Armitage. I’m choosing to believe in Infinity’s ability to have survived, if given the chance.

The film makes it clear that Chris sees his dead mother as Infinity’s body lying on the ground, so saving her is an act of redemption. As for his plan afterwards, I wonder if it occurred to him to draw back her eyelids and take a photo. Or wait until he was safe to try and help her. Although he was trying desperately to escape, I believe there was a small moment where this may have been possible. I will never stop wishing that Infinity had lived as herself, had not died subjugated and subliminal, forced to perform a false self. 

Infinity fought so hard to stay alive, yet was consistently misunderstood or ignored. Am I the only one bothered by this? I wonder: What if Chris had taken Infinity’s picture? Would she have broken the trance? How much ass would she have kicked? This failure to envision a black woman as a potential hero is a wider result of men’s socially conditioned response to negate women. This is compounded by race and sexual orientation in this film. Black women are often denied the validation of our anger at others’ wrongdoings. Our unique struggle to exist outside of a performance of blackness, of womanhood, of queerness pulls at my heart.

In that scene where Infinity apologizes to Chris for unplugging his phone, her litany of “no” seems, on the surface, as if she is denying what Chris has just implied about the white people at the party acting strangely. It appears that this was Grandma Armitage beating Infinity back, to keep her from reaching out to Chris in more direct way. But to me each “no” was Infinity’s refusal: no, I will not lower myself; no, I will not lessen myself; no, I will not erase myself or my needs in order to live. Meet me as I am, a human being. Although Infinity ceased to exist in this film, she lives on in the daily lives of black women, straight and queer, who continuously push forward, who make every attempt to live with the optimism implied in Infinity’s litany of “no.”

They refer to this character as Georgina, but I refuse to use this given name here. I rebuke this erasure of a fully realized person whose only mistake was to feel some kind of way about Rose and who paid for it with her life. I want us to reclaim our names, our minds, our bodies, our personhood—if only for this moment. We are black queer women, and we are here.

 

© 2017 by Renee Christopher

1700 Words


Renee Christopher is an MFA candidate at Iowa State University where she serves as poetry editor for Flyway Journal. She is a recipient of ISU's 2017 Dark Horse Award and a spot in this summer's Tin House Writer's Conference. Her work can be found in Noble Gas Quarterly, Speculative 66, and Alyss Lit's 2017 Inauguration Edition. She tweets @reneesunok.