Frederick Douglass (1852) stated, “it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages”. When enslaved, one loses the freedom to navigate one’s environment, loses “the power to do as one pleases”, to be free “from physical restraint” and loses “the power of choice” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Once liberties are stripped from an individual, a desire for freedom and fleeing the oppression grows “all consuming” (Gates, et al., 2002, p. 118). Remaining within an oppressed relationship has the potential to drive “a wise man mad” (Douglass, 1852). Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, depicts a young man in a fight for his freedom once his liberties and physical integrity becomes compromised.
Slavery, and similarly, acts of modern slavery (i.e. human trafficking, debt bondage, sexual exploitation, contract slavery, etc.) include the use of a host of similar physical and psychological criteria that fosters one to be able to successfully hold another in captivity. According to Paz-Fuch, (2016), enslaved relationships incorporate the use of “humiliation, ownership of the individual, exploitation of vulnerability, and denial of free choice” as well as provide “sub-standard terms and conditions of employment, restrictions on the power to end the employment relationship; and the power to control the worker’s life outside the employment relationships” (p. 762). Paz-Fuchs (2016) coined these attributes as the “badges of slavery”.
Chris Washington, performed by Daniel Kaluuya, portrays an African American male dating Rose Armitage, a Caucasian female, acted by Allison Williams. The couple is introduced engaging in a loving, playful, intimate relationship. Inviting Chris to meet her parents over a weekend symbolized the trust and commitment that the couple shared. Once arriving to the home, Rose’s parents warmly welcomed Chris. Soon after a rapport was built over dinner, Dean Armitage, (performed by Bradley Whitford), Rose’s father, comments on the obvious, that the people of service to the family, by means of a grounds and housekeeper, were both individuals of color. Speaking to the apparent race dynamics and admitting, “I get it, white family, black servants, it’s a total cliché” and offering, “I hate the way it looks”, suggested that there was a level of self-awareness, insight and sensitivity that the family had regarding race. By acknowledging his feelings about the staff, it also served to minimize and assuage possible concerns that there may be unspoken undercurrents of exploitation and racist views that the family held. Despite this notation provided by Mr. Armitage, Chris remained wary of the relations the family had with individuals of color. In response, he began to initiate conversation with the staff in hopes to better understand their relationship with the Armitage family and to apprehend the reason why a single tear rolled down their cheek when they shared their experiences with him.
Detective sergeant Helen Godos, tactical advisor for the National Crime Agency’s modern slavery human trafficking unit, was quoted in Out of the Shadows authored by Helen Bird (2017) where she stated, “The message I like to put across is that if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t” (p. 38); and Chris appeared in agreement. After multiple mysterious events, Chris informed Rose that he wished to leave her family’s home which resulted in Rose becoming hurt that he would suggest returning to his home without her. Though being warned to “Get Out” by an unbeknownst enslaved peer, (performed by Lakeith Stanfield), Chris remained commitment to Rose, reassuring her that he would not leave, and confessing, “You all I got”. Consequently, Chris continued to endure puzzling occurrences and exposure to Rose’s charming manipulations, which collectively led him to be vulnerable to becoming the family’s next enslaved captive.
As the weekend progressed, Chris learned that his suspicions were warranted. Specifically, he discovered that the family was engaged in enslaving young, African American individuals for indefinite service. He learned that Rose had manipulated him, as she was in agreement to his dreadful future outcome. Further, he realized that becoming hypnotized by Rose’s mother, without his consent, placed him in a position to be exploited while in an altered susceptible conscious state denying him of his free will. Being able to take ownership and control over his emotional capacity and physical being under hypnosis primed him for the permanent removal of his global liberties. Under these conditions, Chris was sold to the highest bidder and prepped to undergo a procedure that would merge him and his purchased owner with one another permanently. The successful relocation of Chris’ soul to endure the “sunken place” for the remainder of his days would leave Chris with sub-optimum living conditions and his power and control forever lost with no end to the arrangement.
Within Paz-Fuchs’ (2016) description of the attributes that constitute the structure of relationships between captors and enslaved, she elaborated, “it does not suggest that each badge (the seven offered) is necessary nor sufficient for the assertion that slavery exists” (p. 762). However, there is an understanding that the enslaved are “subjected to violence and abuses, to contain them, to control them, to extract their labour against their will and prevent them from leaving their employment”, and more importantly, that situations of this nature still occur even today” (David, 2015, p. 151).
Get Out, a complex layered theme film highlights the onset of a relationship characterized by criteria of slavery and one’s fight to remain free. Manipulation, the quest to enslave, envy of another’s characteristics and the relentless desire for freedom all have equal relevance to the make of this film. Frederick Douglass stated, “there is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him” (1852). With that knowledge, once Chris became privy to the scruples of the Armitage’s family, his will to protect his liberties moved him to engage in what humans have typically done in yesteryear and currently; persist and effortlessly work to become victorious in the pestilent battle for freedom.
Bird, H. (2017). Out of the shadows. Community Practitioners, 90(3), 37-39.
David, F. (2015). When it comes to modern slavery, do definitions matter? Anti-Trafficking Review, 5, 150-152.
Foner, P. S. (1999). Frederick Douglass Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Lawrence Hill, Chicago.
“Liberty.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web 12 Feb. 2018.
Paz-Fuchs, A. (2016). Badges of Modern Slavery. The Modern Law Review, 79(5), 757-785.