Four Oscar nominations offer more proof that ‘Get Out’ is game-changing storytelling
I see Get Out as a truly groundbreaking film that innovates and elevates the horror genre in multiple, stunning ways.
by Andrew Keahey
Awards season is never much of a shining time for creatives of color. It’s consistently a celebration of white achievement while Black excellence and other visionaries of color are routinely ignored in favor of the same tropes and story telling devices that we’re used to seeing year after year.
These tropes become jokes in the mainstream; with pop culture routinely telling us, through both satire and serious analysis, that all that is needed to earn a nomination is either a movie about World War II, a thoughtful biopic about a well-known historical figure, a coming-of-age story told through a collection of nostalgic moments that (mostly white) audiences can easily identify with, or a poignant film about someone with a disease, disability, or more recently, a trans gender identity.
It seems that the only surefire way for Black storytellers and performers to earn a nod from the academy is with films that explore the Civil Rights Era, or slavery, or with otherwise “beasts of burden” Black characters.
There are exceptions to this unspoken rule, of course, but only one or two a year, if any at all. Rarely do they triumph, usually losing out to another Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, or a Daniel Day Lewis picture. There’s definitely a Cool Kids Club when it comes to hoarding Academy Awards, good actors, though they may be.
As a film buff, I always go through the motions around this time of year. I read the speculative articles in anticipation for the nominations release, and generally know what to expect. So, imagine my surprise when I looked at the Academy Award nomination list to find that Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece is tearing through all of those expectations with an astounding four nominations. These are not throw-away or constellation awards either. Get Out is in the running to win Best picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. I was stunned. It deserves to win them all.
Get Out completely breaks the mold in terms of films that typically receive recognition. Horror isn’t considered to be a legitimate genre in the eyes of many critics. Even though the films are designed to illicit emotional responses from the viewer, the instillation of fear is rarely considered nuanced enough to be taken seriously.
This isn’t the kind of Black film that the academy typically likes to recognize and award. Rather than venturing back to chattel slavery, antebellum times, or the Civil Rights era, it dares to speak to the issues that Black Americans face today. It does so without a white savior and in a way that makes a lot of white people uncomfortable.
All of this, and more, is why I see Get Out as a truly groundbreaking film that innovates and elevates the horror genre in multiple, stunning ways. It deviates from the new horror norms of cheap jump scares, found footage, and mass murder, and instead ops for a atmosphere that’s frightening in a way that’s all too familiar to Black people, and doesn’t center white audiences.
Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Chris Washington is rightfully up for a big win. His acting prowess shines as he reacts to the many micro-aggressions and outright life-threatening violences that endures in the Armitage house. He is also able to exhibit a forlorn abandon when remembering the death of his mother and the more you watch, the more you feel that his struggle is your own. His discomfort, pain, and fear were all familiar to me, because they are also my own.
Jordan Peele proved with this debut that he is more than just a funny man. The artistry in bringing the terrifying and iconic “Sunken Place” to life is not only beautiful, but terrifying in how well it illustrates the helplessness that Black people can feel in the face of biased legislation, and the prison industrial complex, and many other oppressions in this anti-Black world.
Of all the films nominated in each of these four aforementioned categories, Get Out tells the most unique story, coming from the most unexplored angles, with actors and actresses that not only play their parts but embrace them with zeal. The direction comes from a bold and brutal eye, with writing that comes from a lifetime of experience in situations around white people that are, indeed, scary.
I have seen the same ol’ thing be nominated over and over, and win over and over, and I have managed my expectations in terms of what victory Get Out might ultimately come away with on the night of the Academy Awards.
Still, I cannot help be feel that this recognition might be a turning point towards something better and more inclusive. I am hopeful that this will open up possibilities for more original Black storytellers, outside of Hollywood’s traditional expectations and permissions of Blackness, being recognized and celebrated with awards that they deserve.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry