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

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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

Photo by Todd Wil­liamson / Getty Im­ages

Di­rec­tor Jor­dan Peele, left, with ac­tor Daniel Kalu­uya.

Cour­tesy Univer­sal Pic­tures

Lakeith Stan­field, left, and Daniel Kalu­uya in Get Out.

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