Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Racial Dynamics in Get Out vs. The Invitation

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Racial Dynamics in Get Out vs. The Invitation

Watching Get Out in the theater in 2017, I couldn’t help but think about the movie The Invitation from the previous year. Both films have a similar setup: an interracial (specifically, black and white) couple heading to a remote get-together whose hosts turn out to have dark ulterior motives. They even share a similar scene early on in which the couple (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out and Logan Marshall-Green and Emayatzy Corinealdi in The Invitation) accidentally hits an animal that runs out in front of their vehicle during the journey. From there, the plots diverge, but in this era of heightened, highly publicized racial discord and misunderstanding, it’s interesting to compare them in terms of their approaches to bridging the racial divide.

Get Out, of course, is well known for its blunt commentary on race relations, its central conceit an indictment of racial attitudes that’s so in-your-face, it’s impossible to ignore. Followup conversion is virtually mandatory. But it could be argued that The Invitation‘s hands-off approach — never even mentioning race — could be an equally effective strategy for long-term racial understanding. That is, simply casting a black lead or co-lead (Corinealdi) amongst a mostly white cast — even though race, on the surface, is not an issue in the plot — helps normalize such occurrences (not to mention, in these instances, normalizing interracial relationships).

The power of movies like The Invitation — or, in a much higher-profile genre example, The Force Awakens — is that they don’t make a big deal about race; they present it as just a reflection of reality. And the black characters don’t fit any particular stereotype or easily pegged role that’s reliant on race. They’re people, first and foremost, and aren’t defined by the color of their skin — a message that Get Out likewise delivers, but in a decidedly more pointed manner.

Get Out and The Invitation represent two ways to skin a racist cat. Direct commentary is forceful and unambiguous but runs the risk of coming off as too “on the nose” and preachy. A gradual assimilation approach can prove an effective means of indoctrination but might be too subtle to register and could be perceived as falling into the “color blind” trap that inevitably ends in a tone-deaf misstep that fails to account for any level of racial sensitivity.

The best strategy is no doubt a combination of the two. For every Get Out, we need an Invitation. If Get Out is the protestors on the front line getting their heads bashed in front of national TV cameras, The Invitation is the legal team pushing reform through the courts. Both are necessary for meaningful change to occur.

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