Racism is the true horror
Comedian Jordan Peele, who makes his directorial debut with acclaimed film Get Out, and British star Daniel Kaluuya tell Kaleem Aftab how the movie tackles the complex issues of race relations through horror
Alook at box- office figures leaves little doubt that Get Out is one of the movies of the year so far. Made at a cost of just US$4.5million (Dh16.5m), the film has already earned $150m in the United States alone.
Its success means Jordan Peele not only is the man of the moment, but also the first black writer/director to earn more than $100m at the box office with his big screen debut. Peele was previously best known as one half of comedy duo Key & Peele, whose TV show invented Barack Obama’s infamous “anger translator”.
For his film- directing debut, 38-year-old Peele mixes his comic genius with a dose of horror, in a bid to tackle racial politics head on. The result has been described as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets The Stepford Wives.
Get Out stars British actor Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, an American photographer who is apprehensive about meeting the family of his girlfriend Rose, played by Girls star Allison Williams.
When they visit their estate for a party, Chris encounters a liberal white family, the father of which immediately reveals he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could. Yet it doesn’t take long for Chris to experience casual racism. As the weekend develops, he discovers dark secrets that highlight a family less at peace with racial equality than it appears.
“This is a movie that reflects real fears of mine and issues that I’ve dealt with before,” says Peele, who is married to fellow comic and Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Chelsea Peretti.
The idea for Get Out came to Peele during Obama’s presidency, as he shook his head at the suggestion America might now be a post-racial society. It is an idea so overshadowed by subsequent events, including the Black Lives Matters movement and the presidential election, that even Obama, in his farewell speech, debunked the term as unrealistic. Get Out has managed to capture the zeitgeist in the same way 1968’s Night of the Living Dead resonated with audiences after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s hard because you have a guy at a party who is experiencing this passive racism and not doing anything,” says Kaluuya about Chris.
“How do you draw that line with him not being a coward, and also trying to be respectful at a girlfriend’s party?”
The film looks at how people often have two personalities. In private, emotions and frustrations can be vented externally whereas in public, there is decorum and etiquette that demands certain behaviour. The trouble with keeping hot topics bottled up is that eventually they are likely to boil over.
This is Kaluuya’s first lead role in a feature film. He cut his teeth in the popular British teenager drama series Skins, and won theatre awards before attracting international attention with roles in Black Mirror, Kick Ass 2 and Sicario. His first conversation with Peele was a Skype call, during which they discussed the universal themes of the film.
“Jordan was talking about the themes of the film and I told him about my experience with racism,” says Kaluuya.
In addition, they spoke about how miscegenation – the interbreeding of those considered to be of different racial types – is frowned upon by many societies around the world.
“I’m from Uganda and there are loads of Ugandan weddings, and that brother who brings a white girl, that’s a thing,” says Kaluuya.
Peele believes the best horror movies are those grounded in reality. He cites films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives as templates for his film.
The big question these classic Ira Levin-scripted stories raise for the audience is whether the protagonist is being paranoid and imagining the threat, or the horror is real.
“What needs to be believable is the protagonist’s intentions,” This movie is about how we deal with race. As a black man, sometimes you don’t know whether you’re seeing bigotry, or it is a normal conversation and you’re being paranoid Jordan Peele director says Peele. “This movie is about how we deal with race. As a black man, sometimes you don’t know whether you’re seeing bigotry, or it is a normal conversation and you’re being paranoid.”
Paranoia also fuelled the furore that erupted this month when Pulp Fiction star Samuel L Jackson questioned whether Kaluuya was the right man for the role, because he was British. “What would a brother from America have made of that role? Some things are universal, but not everything,” Jackson told New York radio station Hot 97.
He went on to suggest, as he had during a talk during the Dubai International Film Festival, that British actors were used by Hollywood because they are cheaper than American counterparts. The comments provoked immediate condemnation on social media and put Kaluuya – who is now filming the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther – in the middle of a media storm.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson’s argument does not hold much sway with him. While he has the utmost respect for the veteran actor, who has given him great career advice and help in the past, he says that to “call a black person cheap at this time is crazy. And there is no African-American versus Black-British dynamic either”.
In terms of the film, the debate surrounding Jackson’s comments simply confirmed just how relevant Get Out is, and why the idea of “post-race” society is indeed absurd.
is in cinemas from tomorrow. Check tomorrow’s Arts&Life for our review
Director Jordan Peele, left, with actor Daniel Kaluuya.
Lakeith Stanfield, left, and Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.