For two successive years, the most decorated award ceremony in the film industry, the Oscars, lacked a single non-white nominee out of a shortlist of 20, with snubs for the cast and crew of films such as Creed, Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton and Selma. Understandably, the lack of representation sparked the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, where those within and outside of the industry lobbied for more diversity in Hollywood.
Skip forward to 2017, and while there is still a long, long road ahead, there's no question the industry is taking positive steps forward. At this year's Oscars, seven of the nominated actors weren't white. A number of nominated films tackled subjects relevant to the African American community, from Fences to Hidden Figures, and in the biggest success, the award for Best Picture (eventually) went to Moonlight.
Another month brings more good news on the diversity front — Jordan Peele has become the first black writer-director to earn over $100 million with a debut feature, after his acclaimed satirical horror, #GetOut, made an estimated $21 million at the weekend box office, to take its total to $110 million.
Made on a modest budget of $4.5 million with horror studio #Blumhouse Productions, Get Out opened way above expectation, earning $34 million. Since then, it has broken the studio's record by becoming the quickest film to break the $100 million barrier, its 16 day achievement leapfrogging Split, which took 19 days to hit the same target.
Records and statistics often only tell half of the story, though. The impact of Peele's record-breaking debut is much more far reaching, and significant than simply celebrating financial success.
The Value Of 'Get Out' Is More Than Money
Get Out is #horror with a difference, a genre movie that astutely and delicately highlights issues with African American race relations within the US, told with a fair dose of humor and guile. Considering the current political climate — with newly elected President Donald Trump wasting no time in extinguishing the flames of hope lighted by Barack Obama — the timing has never been more important for cinema to step up.
Peele's narrative focuses on a microcosm of racial tension in America. Chris Washington (played by British actor Daniel Kaluuya), is a young black man who is introduced to his girlfriend's white parents. Within the seemingly idyllic neighborhood, though, something feels off, and what initially could be a case study on comedic awkwardness translates into something much more malevolent. As Peele said in an interview with The Guardian:
"I felt it was important first and foremost to get the entire audience on board with the inherent fears that a black man has."
Initially, the tone of racism is subtle, which causes Chris, as well as the audience, to err between apparent paranoia and following intuition. The significance of Get Out is that the discrimination depicted isn't Trump rally, in-your-face racism. Instead, it depicts middle class white liberals who propagate inherent, institutionalised racism, which eventually leads to a chilling climax.
Get Out provides an important illustration that movements such as Black Lives Matter are about much more than police brutality — instead, they also aim to repel the building blocks of microaggressions (defined as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership") that create a restrictive and suffocating framework around minority groups.
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The Dissemination Of African American Culture
Within cinema, the message is no longer inclusion for inclusions sake, but instead grants the audience with the assumption of understanding that daily racism is still prevalent, allowing for the exploration of the nuances of day to day discrimination, all within the paradigm of a horror film.
As apt and reflective of modern times as Get Out is, Peele wrote the script just after Obama was elected as President, when the outlook within the US was much brighter. Even then, he faced an uphill battle to get the movie produced, with the story dismissed as being too risky to be commercially viable. Now, of course, there are 110 million reasons why this isn't the case.
Get Out has become a commercial and critical hit that plays on the way African Americans are perceived, proving that films of such ilk can also make money. Peele himself highlights 2015's Straight Outta Compton as a turning point in Hollywood — the biographical film about rap group N.W.A grossed $201.6 million worldwide — from which the industry could "no longer hide behind the myth that black films don't work overseas."
In addition to the themes of racism, for Peele, the success will taste extra sweet; although he fell in love with comedy, making his name as a regular on MADtv before creating the Emmy Award winning sketch show Key & Peele, he'd dreamed of directing a horror film from the the age of 13.
Along with Moonlight's Best Picture Oscar win — it became both the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win the coveted prize — the success of Get Out points toward the ever-increasing dissemination of African American culture in cinema. There is still a long way to go, of course, but some records are made to be broken.
Have you seen Get Out? If so, how do you compare it with horror's finest?