There’s a scene in the breakout hit movie and instant cult classic, Get Out, directed by comedian Jordan Peele (half of Comedy Central‘s Key & Peele), that resonates with Reesheda Washington (half of the duo behind L!VE Café, 163 S. Oak Park Ave.).
The comedy/horror film follows a black photographer, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), during a weekend trip to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Washington’s trip quickly mutates into an Inferno-like descent into what might be described as the “Heart of Whiteness.”
Within a span of a few hours, Chris experiences the entire time-space spectrum of how whites have responded to the black presence in America — from faux empathy to liberal indulgence to downright barbarity. In Peele’s heart of whiteness, racism is in the subtleties; its content and consequences, like sex, mostly hidden from the knowing mind.
In the film, Peele explores racism’s latent reality to pitch-perfect effect in what might as well be called the “sunken place” scene.
Chris arrives at the “sunken place,” the very heart of white America’s subconscious grappling with race, involuntarily after Rose’s mother, Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), hypnotizes him by deftly stirring a spoon in a teacup. Rose is the person who gives the “sunken place” its name.
There’s a lot of cultural symbolism (Dante’s various circles of hell come to mind with Missy’s circular stirring) and racial history to unpack in this film and this scene is perhaps most representative of that depth of meaning.
So it helps when flesh and blood people get together to share what the film’s abstract complexity means to their three-dimensional, lived worlds. Washington, who along with her husband and business partner, Darrel, is African American, shared her experience with the film during a March 26 panel discussion on Get Out, convened at L!VE.
“I work at a coffee shop. … That teacup and that spoon was a metaphor, an image, for something that happens in all different kinds of spaces, using all different kinds of mechanisms,” Washington said.
Then she asked the first of two five-person panels what kind of mechanisms they see in society that are used the way Missy used her teacup to hypnotize Chris.
“I think buzzwords like ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity,’ and there’s even this thing where its sexy to talk about how, in 2040, when the demographics are going to be different, that’s going to be the end of white supremacy,” said Josiah Daniels, a biracial resident of the West Side who attends Northern Theological Seminary.
“For someone like myself, who lives in the black world and the white world and has this double consciousness,” Daniels said, “I want to but I can’t ever imagine in my lifetime where just because there are interracial bodies that populate earth, that somehow that will defeat racism.”
The 2-hour discussion featured a diversity of panelists, many of whom saw the movie at least twice. Washington, who said she’s seen the film three times, convened the discussion after engaging in a Facebook dialogue with friends about the movie.
“I love facilitating conversations, but I hate that they happen on Facebook,” she said, adding that the film offers a transformative opportunity to “connect with one another, person-on-person, life-on-life.” But don’t get L!VE Café confused with a safe space, she said.
“We are not trying to cultivate a comfortable space,” Washington told the audience of at least 50 people who packed inside of the café. “We’re not here to be comfortable.”
Instead, she said, the event was meant to be a place where people shared their real, raw feelings, and where they would, perhaps, hear “things that strike you.” To talk about race, still something of a taboo, is to flirt with failure, she said.
Get Out, which has courted controversy from critics who claim that it revels in reverse racism, cannot, by definition, be a romance. The horror is real, particularly for blacks who, like Washington, must live with the sound of the stirring that leads to the “sunken place.”
“I’m scared for all of us,” she said.