Night Doctors in the Sunken Place: Jordan Peele's Get Out and the Psychic Hold of Slavery

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:40 AM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Dexter Gabriel, University of Connecticut at Storrs
A great deal has been written on director Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a horror film that uses a mix of humor and speculative fiction to tackle modern issues of race. Yet, the movie also draws on older themes that derive from popular memories of slavery and trauma: from depictions of body-snatching that mimic histories of fugitive slave catchers and folkloric tales of Night Doctors, to recreations of the idyllic plantation home and the antebellum auction block. In Get Out, the slave past intrudes on our present, as black bodies once more become saleable, useable commodities for white consumption and Orlando Patterson’s “social death” takes its ultimate form in the Sunken Place.

My paper analyzes Jordan Peele’s Get Out through both the history of slavery and the lens of our popular memories of slavery. It roots these remembrances in a host of divergent sources: our filmic depictions of the slave past; the convention of the slave narrative; and the oral histories of slavery passed down in stories and folklore. It as well examines how these slave-era themes are translated in the film into twenty-first-century discourses on race, gender, and power. Get Out in many ways speaks to what scholars Soyica Diggs Colbert and Robert J. Patterson have termed “the psychic hold of slavery,” in which the legacies of the “peculiar institution” inform a present where inequality, violence and racial terror remain a part of the African-American experience.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation