‘Get Out’ May Be Funny, But It’s No Comedy

Jordan Peele’s breakout film, Get Out, will compete at the 2018 Golden Globes in its Musical or Comedy categories, a recognition recently bestowed upon classic knee-slappers like Wolf of Wall Street and Trainwreck.

News of the impending nomination, which will be made official on December 11 when the full list of nominations for the 75th Globes are unveiled, broke Tuesday via Entertainment Weekly, sparking intense debate among fans and critics alike around questions of which category would be appropriate for the extremely profitable social thriller. This morning Peele cheekily chimed in in a deadpan tweet.

In lieu of the existence of a more appropriate and flexible category to house the film, which  has been celebrated as an innovative horror sub-genre by the film community, it isn’t necessarily shocking that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has plans to lump Get Out into the comedy category. Ridley Scott’s The Martian, a fairly dramatic and suspenseful film starring Matt Damon, won Best Picture, Musical or Comedy category at last year’s ceremony, and it was even less traditionally comedic than Get Out. Also, as A.V. Club’s William Hughes points out, oftentimes being slated for a comedy nomination illuminates a film that would otherwise be overshadowed in a more crowded category, like drama, which recently crowned mammoth, big studio films like The Revenant and Mad Max. Universal Studios deciding to run with Get Out as a comedy was likely more a matter of business than it was a matter of context.

But that doesn’t change the fact that despite its laughs, Get Out‘s driving ideas and themes are far from funny.

I went to see the film in my home city of Norfolk, Virginia, a town beholden to traditionalist Southern values, known for its staunch and unconditional “patriotism” and its support of the American military. The showing was nearly filled to the brim with a buzzing audience that was probably equal parts white and black. During parts of the film, like when Stanfield’s character is revealed to be a brainwashed prisoner in a still-hidden bizarre race baiting scheme, the entire theater would erupt in laughter. For some, the laughter was hysterical. The type of hearty laugh that makes you swivel in your seat to make sure everyone is laughing with you. Others were laughing just as loudly, but without the hysteria. Those were nervous, anxious cackles, laced with caution and, in some cases, inspired by recent memories that eerily mirrored the events unfolding on-screen. The type of reaction one might have to a Grudge sequel, for example.

Following its January release, Get Out went on to become the year’s first blockbuster, and still stood as the year’s most profitable film as recently as August. It’s also recognized as a major influence within the black community, as Peele’s film did significant work to help highlight the aggression embedded in the appropriation and fetishization of black culture.

To many of the millions who flooded the theaters to witness Daniel Kaluuya live an through American nightmare was genuinely horrifying to watch. It wasn’t just a far-fetched sequence of events designed to entertain. It was, to lend some credence to Peele’s half-hearted wisecrack, a fairly accurate depiction of their own nuanced experiences, like being complimented furiously at a company holiday party by grinning bosses that look more like museum delegates at an art gallery than colleagues, or being one of the only black people in a setting, and feeling the person next to you—who barely knows you—elbow-nudge you when another black person enters the room. Get Out satirically illustrated the ill-intent behind such behaviors, which have become so normalized and rationalized, our so-called leaders are routinely guilty of it and excused for it.

That these behaviors, which have been alluded to and desperately highlighted by many an entertainer that came before Peele, from the late Dick Gregory to Azealia Banks, prompted laughter shouldn’t warrant a “comedy” tagging from the Globes. The outrage surrounding Universal’s Get Out decision, and last year’s Martian debacle, will hopefully make this fact clearer to the HFPA, and Peele’s historic debut will be the last thriller of its kind to be stripped of its complexity and purpose in this way.

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