"Get Out" Reading and Viewing List

By A.J. Muhammad, Librarian III
July 19, 2017
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The thriller Get Out has the distinction of being one of the highest grossing films of all time by a black writer/director, Jordan Peele. It galvanized moviegoers and sparked conversations about the film on social media. It is also one of the most written about films, with articles appearing in outlets ranging from Esquire to Vanity Fairand is credited with introducing the term the “sunken place” into our vocabularies.

Get Out centers on a young black male photographer, Chris, who is invited by his white girlfriend to spend the weekend with her and her liberal parents at their secluded suburban estate and uncovers a sinister plot in the process. One of the film’s themes explores African Americans being subjected to violence by vigilantes resonated with audiences.  Also, the film tapped into the malaise felt by some about the state of national and international politics.

Get Out was recently released on DVD, so what better time than now to unpack the many layers and images in the film with NYPL’s resources: some of which are available at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and others may be found at NYPL’s research and branch libraries. We’re also sharing some of the films that influenced Get Out, so that you can discover or re-discover them for yourself.

Books

Sociologist and author Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out that long before Get Out, there was poet and playwright Amiri Baraka’s explosive and allegorical subway train set play The Dutchman  from 1964. In the play, a mysterious Caucasian woman entices an African-American man into a conversation that escalates into a deadly confrontation. The Dutchman also caused a stir during its Off-Broadway debut and is required reading for anyone who wants to excavate the subtext in Get Out.

 

Frantz Fanon's important work Black Skin, White Mask, is a key text for those studying anti-colonial theory and psychoanalysis and the affect racism has on people of African descent including those who descend from territories that were formerly occupied by the French (Antilles and Africa).  In the chapter "The Man of Color and the White Woman," Fanon does a close reading of literary works written in French from the mid 20th century that depicts relationships between Caribbean men with Caucasian French women. Fanon's take in Black Skin, White Mask is surprisingly relevant to Get Out  as is Baraka's Dutchman.

bell hooks’  Black looks: race and representation, is a must read. She analyzes depictions of African Americans in the media. In particular, the chapter “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister” incisively calls into question Madonna’s relationship with African-American artists in her employ (including vocalists and dancers) and is a lens into understanding the Get Out character Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams.

In Robin Means Coleman’s Horror noire: Blacks in American Horror Films From the 1890s to The Present, she writes about African Americans in horror films during each decade of the 20th century. One of the chapters titled, “We Always Die First—Invisibility, Racial Red-Lining and Self-Sacrifice” echoes a common sentiment expressed by African-American film spectators who note that black characters in horror films often don’t survive the killing spree and make it out alive at the end of the movie.

No discussion about blacks in films, across genres, can be had without referring to Ed Guerrero’s Framing Blackness: the African American Image in Film, which is also a scholarly treatment on significant African-American film productions. Guerro also writes about allegories and metaphors in films by or about African Americans.

Carol Clover’s book Men, Women, and Chains Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, has been cited in countless works and she takes a feminist approach to analyzing films including Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Carrie.  Clover deconstructs tropes and symbolism in horror films including the use of unisex character names, cameras, knives, etc. Chris, the leading character in Get Out, is a photographer and both cameras and photography are integral to the film’s plot. Find out what cameras signify by reading Clover’s fascinating scholarship.

One of the villains in Get Out, Missy Armitage, is a psychiatrist who uses the power of hypnosis to control her victims. Missy deserves a book all to herself, but until that is written, you can read the chapter on women in psychotherapy on film in Celluloid Couches, Cinematic Clients: Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in the Movies.

Missy Armitage is also one of many in the long line of wicked psychiatrists on film. In Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal, learn how fact influences fiction regarding representations of headshrinkers on film.

Films

Prior to the release of his film, Jordan Peele curated a film series at BAM in February 2017 called The Art of the Social Thriller  to highlight movies that served as an inspiration for Get Out. If you missed the films, you can borrow them from NYPL. Here are a few of the movies that screened in Peele’s series.

One of the most obvious influences on Peele is the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner  featuring Sidney Poitier in one his most memorable performances. Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Beah Richards also co-star with Poitier.

The iconic low budget Night of the Living Dead  set a new standard in horror and influenced dozens of other films that followed since its release in 1968. It’s also memorable for its portrayal of race relations in a post-Civil Rights Movement America and was one of the first horror films to feature an African-American male lead character.

The Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), is one of the most unforgettable on screen psychiatrists. In the film, Lecter aids Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, an FBI agent, to catch a serial killer and could show Get Out’s Missy Armitage at thing or two about technique—if he doesn’t eat her and wash her down with a glass of chianti first!

Peele may have been paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock by making Get Out’s Chris a photographer,  like the character James Stewart portrayed in Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window. Peele is not the first director to seek inspiration from the master of suspense  and you’ll see why after you view one of Hitchcock’s most revered and imitated works.

Librarian Kai Alexis Smith created a Get Out resource guide for those seeking more resources to explore ideas and themes in the film.

What are some other films or books that you think audiences show know about to shed light on Get Out’s  reception and how we can frame the success of this film during this moment in time, socially and politically?