Get Out's 2018 Oscar Nominations Are A Landmark Step For How We Talk About Race In Hollywood
After losing out at the 2018 Golden Globes despite being one of the most lucrative and critically-acclaimed films of last year, Get Out’s Oscars prospects were in doubt. However, on Tuesday, Get Out received four Oscar nominations, and not only in categories like Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, but also in the big categories like Best Actor and Best Picture. Considering the backlash the Academy Awards has received in the past for the inherent whiteness and maleness of its nominees, this feels huge. But it feels even bigger when you consider the fact that Get Out is a horror movie where the true monster is microaggressions and positive discrimination, a particularly insidious kind of racism that many people who don’t experience it still don’t quite understand today. For it to be represented at the prestigious Oscars alongside films like Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, breaking all kinds of records in the process, just proves its status in many people’s minds as one of the most important films of the decade.
It's a common misconception that horror movies are frequently snubbed by the Academy Awards, but it's a misconception that's based on some truth. When you think of the stereotypical Oscar bait — period pieces, war dramas, movies about Hollywood — genre films, and especially horror movies, don't seem to fit in. And more horror movies have been nominated for Oscars than have actually taken home the win; in fact, horror-thriller The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and psychological thriller Rebecca (1940) stand as the only horror movies in history to have ever won the Best Picture Oscar that Get Out has been nominated for. Horror movies, like most genre movies, are more commonly represented in the behind-the-scenes categories in their nominations and in their wins, like Best Art Direction (Sleepy Hollow, 2000) or Best Original Score (The Omen, 1976). The genre seems to fair better when it's paired with a little something extra — and Get Out definitely has a little something extra.
Best Director nominee Jordan Peele broke down the message of Get Out in a October 2017 interview with Deadline, starting with the opening scene where a black man is tailed by a car at night and then suddenly abducted. “Black people would recognize that fear — it’s part of the black identity and the horror America,” he said. "There are things we are cognizant of because we have to be. For white audiences, they see how it is to be a black man in a suburban neighborhood at night." However, in the end, it's not the suburban white people who are the monsters of the film: "The system itself is the monster."
And many of the reviews of the film praised the way that Peele had subverted early expectations by making the "evil racists" in the movie not the obvious slur-flinging, hate-filled ones so common in media, but the quieter, subtler, more liberal kind of racists: the kind that leads white people to believe that people of color are inherently more talented (at running, at basketball, at dancing) and thus have it easier than they do in America.
That kind of "positive" discrimination in the film is taken to the absurd level of switching out black men's brains with that of aging or ill white men who want their skills — black comedy at its finest. But, in real life, the belief that white people are disadvantaged compared to black people, that white people are entitled to what black people have managed to accomplish, can lead to things like the 2017 Charlottesville attack and to the ongoing controversy over the Black Lives Matter movement. In the former case, white nationalists protested the removal of a Confederate statue by marching with torches while shouting "white lives matter" and "we will not be replaced." In the latter case, many white people have criticized the name of the movement (because "All Lives Matter") more than they've allied in protest of the unarmed black men and women who have lost their lives to police brutality and whose lost lives spurred the need for the movement in the first place.
So for Peele's film to make the point that the belief that black people are inherently better than white people is just as racist — and can be just as dangerous — as believing that black people are inferior to white people, felt groundbreaking. "I felt like there was this void in the way we talk about race," he told CBS in November 2017, and he wasn't wrong. Even in Hollywood, there have been numerous examples to show how far we as a society have to go in our understanding of racial issues and microaggrestions.
In October 2017, Rose McGowan, an outspoken feminist, was criticized for a tweet in which she called out James Corden's jokes about the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations by saying, "Replace the word 'women' with the n-word. How does it feel?" After fans pointed out that it was a perfect example of the dangers of white feminism to equate the word women with a racial slur — and that black women and children had a statistically higher rate of experiencing sexual assault at some point in their lives — McGowan apologized: "I am profoundly sorry. I hear you."
Similarly, though 2017's Wonder Woman was heralded as a victory and a milestone for women, feminists of color noted that it was a milestone for white women; black people, for example, found it hard to join in the victory when there were only four lines spoken by black women in the entire movie and they disappeared after the first 20 minutes.
And, overall, statistics in Hollywood have hardly favored people of color. Despite all of the conversation about the need for diversity in Hollywood, and the existence of shows like black-ish, grown-ish, The Chi, and Black Lightning, a November 2017 report by UCLA's Darnell Hunt found that only 4.8 percent of TV writers were black, which meant that, of the 234 broadcast, streaming, and cable shows studied during the 2016-2017, two-thirds of them had no black writers at all.
Get Out can be seen as somewhat of a response to all of the above — to otherwise well-meaning people fumbling at intersectionality, to otherwise milestone films prioritizing the visibility of white women over all others, to calls for diversity being met with stagnant action. And that's hardly a surprise, as horror movies are often broad commentaries on social issues. From 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers acting as a response to the anxiety and xenophobia exacerbated by the Cold War to 1992's Candyman examining prejudice and systematic racism under the guise of a chilling urban legend, horror movies and social commentary go hand-in-hand. And Get Out's a perfect entry into that hallowed tradition, reflecting that, in our modern world, racism is as much about positive stereotypes as negative ones, because those stereotypes divide us just as much.
So, it's no wonder that Get Out made over $200 million at the worldwide box office, it's no wonder that Get Out has a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it's no wonder that fans complain when it's snubbed at the Golden Globes and rejoice when it racks up four Oscar nominations. This was a movie with something to say, at a time that the world desperately needed to hear it. It's a horror movie with a message that is very current, very reflective of our times, and very worthy of continued examination and discussion. With these nominations, even if Get Out is ultimately snubbed again on the win, that message is still legitimized and this period in American social history is still expertly captured — and by a horror movie, no less.