Get Out revisited

Emma Seely, Managing Editor

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Almost three years ago, writer-director Jordan Peele released his genre-bending classic film, “Get Out.”Starring a then-unknown Daniel Kaluuya, who has since gone on to appear in other high profile projects like “Black Panther” and “Widows,” the film follows an African American man who visits his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. At times representing the genres of horror, psychological thriller, comedy, and social commentary, “Get Out” took the world by storm at the time of its release and continues to impact conversations around the possible reach of popular storytelling today. As Halloween approaches, there is no better time to look back on what makes this story so scary, and so eerily relevant. 

Although “Get Out” is filled with enough suspense, gore and jump scares to satisfy even the most dedicated horror fan, it also exists as an example of what is possible when art uses its structure to take on larger, social questions. Its resonant horror, in other words, comes not from ghosts, but instead from a tale of the struggles of living as a black man in America, told through various imaginative genres.

“It’s a great film, a film that will stand the test of time,” says Dr. Jacinta Saffold, Assistant Professor in the UNO Department of English and Foreign Languages. “I think it fuses a number of different genres, and emerging genres, in ways that are truly groundbreaking.”

By exploring these different genres, artists like Peele can use the full extent of their imagination to create whatever stories they believe need to be told. With “Get Out”, for example, Peele creates a film that deals heavily with race but doesn’t allow itself to be restricted to only a racial conversation. It’s a horror movie, and an engaging one at that. 

“Those sorts of questions around how blackness fits into the horror genre become lazy questions, lazy in the sense that technological innovations have allowed for greater imagination,” Saffold says. “We can dream up new and different worlds and bring them into reality, which then makes questions that reduce art down to a race, or gender, or a specific demographic reductive, rather than amplifying and attempting to show the nuances of life.”

There is no artist better than Peele to be creating these genre-crossing worlds. As Saffold mentions, Peele had already established a fan base through his irreverent Comedy Central show “Key and Peele at the time of “Get Out”’s release. But even to his most loyal supporters, “Get Out” was something new. 

“Jordan Peele, before releasing this film, perfected humorizing blackness for a white audience,” she says. “When the movie came out, I think that fan base expected it to be similar to Key and Peele when in fact it took a lot of what was there, that was kind of surface-level humor, and really dug very deeply and forced a kind of self reflection within the story that I don’t think the audience was ready for. It truly took the audience aback because it was forcing them to do the work, and not the work happening on film.”

Besides its horrific imagery and vividly imagined world, “Get Out” also makes an impression by forcing its audience to actively participate in their own understanding of what the film is trying to say. The question, though, becomes how to keep the relevant conversations alive after that initial shock. 

“ [‘Get Out’] was really good as a conversation starter in a time where people are intentionally, avoiding difficult conversations about race and identity and privilege and oppression,” Saffold says. “And this film opened up the channels to be able to have those sorts of conversations, but we’re still living in a time where people don’t want to have those sorts of conversations. How do we use this [film] as an entree into conversations that we’ve been needing to have for a very long time? And how do we keep it going? I think those are really difficult questions that don’t have simple solutions.”

As audiences and critics alike wrestle with the question of how to keep conversations surrounding “Get Out” alive, it is important to mention that, as Saffold says, since “Get Out”’s release in 2017 there has been an increase in “campaigns that media networks have been launching to intentionally increase black leading characters.” Although “Get Out” didn’t necessarily cause this positive change, Saffold does believe that the increase of black stories and characters is related to the “campaign towards this opening up of different genres” seen in “Get Out”. 

For those who want to continue engaging with stories like “Get Out”, Saffold recommends going backwards into the classic African American horror that inspired the film. This may be the best way to understand how the film fits in with its predecessors, and all the ways that it is revolutionary. 

“‘Get Out’ really called into question the history between African American film and the horror genre,” she says. “It has been said that there is not a very strong connection, which is, I think, untrue, and unfounded. And so my recommendations would be to look at some older black horror films which include Vampire in Brooklyn, with Eddie Murphy, Tales from the Crypt, I think that’s with Snoop Dogg, and Candy Man.”

Of course, there is no better way to engage with the horrific blend of genres presented in “Get Out” then to revisit the film itself. Saffold truly believes that it will be worth your time. 

“It’s a masterpiece,” she says. 

Saffold, who studies African American literature, sees “Get Out” as a product of rapidly progressing technologies that affect the ways we consume stories of all kinds. 

“I think, in 21st century African American literature, the lines between what is text are obliterated in a number of different ways,” Saffold says. “A lot of that is thanks to technological innovations and the ways that stories move. The creation of the electronic book, the creation of the iPhone and other smart devices revolutionized the ways that we read, not just African American literature but literature more generally. The ways that we encounter literature look different, and I think stories like “Get Out” are able to profit from that. They’re able to take advantage of these new ways of accessing stories, and it allows for synergies to happen.”

I just remember, Get Out coming out around the same time that Moonlight was released as well as campaigns about award shows blackballing black films and not giving credence to really good quality work, because it was misunderstood. I think that there is a response that we’re seeing now so that was 2017 where there was this hubbub about what do we do with these black films and I’m putting black in quotation marks intentionally. These black films which is a whole nother conversation for a different day.

What do we do with them, and the reaction that we’ve been seeing is a good one, is a positive one, the amount of campaigns that different media networks have been launching to intentionally increase black leading characters. So you have the Netflix campaign with strong black leads and you have Hulu doing something very similar with streaming movies and TV and then you have long standing networks that are doubling down or their commitments to ensuring that shows like Blackpish remain. Not only is black ish still in production. Now we have Mixed-ish which began this year. And then we have Grown-ish. And so we do see a kind of proliferation of black ideas black people working in television and film, and that is most punctuated by the new Tyler Perry film studios in Atlanta, Georgia and that being one of the, the premier film studios in the world now and it is larger than most American studios and its intentionally centering black people and black stories and that is, I think, all in this sort of campaign towards this opening up of different genres.

 

“Because Jordan Peele, before releasing this film, perfected humorizing blackness for a white audience. The Comedy Central Key and Peelse show really created a fan base for this film, created a certain sort of fan base and then when the movie came out, I think that fan base expected it to be similar to the Key and Peele show that was on Comedy Central, when in fact, it took a lot of what was there, that was kind of surface level humor and really dug very deeply and forced a kind of self reflection within the story that I don’t think the audience was ready for. It truly took the audience aback because it was forcing them to do the work and not the work happening on film. 

And so I think that it was a shock value that this was new and different and very timely in a way that a lot of people didn’t know how to digest it immediately. And I think those things that we don’t know how to swallow whole really stick with us in ways that if we know exactly this is a romantic comedy, we know what to do with that and we’ll put that in a box with all the other romantic comedies that we love. But when it’s something new and exciting and different and we don’t know what to do with it, it holds our attention a little bit better, I think.

“I feel like a lot of the times audiences don’t want to be challenged. But they did with Get Out.”

“I would be very curious to know how many people have returned to get out. So, you know, I think it was really good as a conversation starter in a time where people are intentionally, avoiding difficult conversations about race and identity and privilege and oppression. And this film opened up the channels to be able to have those sorts of conversations, but we’re still living in a time where people don’t want to have those sorts of conversations. So I think my question would be: what about this film brings people back? And I think that’s really important thinking about this, this work, two years after its release. So, what will be, get out after lives? How do we ensure that this conversation doesn’t remain that kind of conversation opener, how do we use this as an entree into conversations that we’ve been needing to have for a very long time. And how do we keep it going. I think those are really difficult questions that don’t have simple solutions.”

“And I think we’re going to see more psychological thrillers coming to the floor that really get at perverse questions around discourses of difference that we have not considered through the lens of film as critically as we probably should, especially given the current political and cultural climate of today.”

“This is true of the music industry and any industry honestly : your sophomore project is always the most difficult project. Not to say that this is necessarily Jordan Peele’s ophomore project, because he has worked on a number of TV and film projects over the years, but this is the second kind of project that he’s working on where there is this massive spotlight around him. And so I think we’re kind of in a wait and see pattern; let’s see what what he brings in and I think we will be dazzled I’m sure.” 

Recommendations 

“Get Out really called into question the history between African American film and the horror genre. It has been said that there is not a very strong connection, which is, I think, untrue, and unfounded. And so my recommendations would be to look at some older black horror films which include Vampire in Brooklyn, with Eddie Murphy which is hilarious. Tales from the Crypt, I think that’s with Snoop Dogg, and Candy Man.”

It’s a masterpiece.

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