Review: Get Out

*minimal spoilers*


 

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Horror is so often in the mundane—the turn, in an instant, from a walk in a pleasant suburban neighborhood to violence that can end a life. Horror movies have been built on this trope since the beginning, but it is also a potential daily reality for black America. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut underlines this point immediately, layering both classic horror cues and a situation that immediately recalls the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Having established this metaphor—which is less a metaphor than a brutal, direct statement—we meet Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are headed to her parents’ estate for a weekend. “Do your parents know I’m black?” Chris asks, thinking ahead to a potentially uncomfortable first meeting. It’s a question that most interracial couples have encountered, if not always out loud. “They’re not racist,” Rose replies. “I would have told you.” The idea that Rose can see her own privilege through the veil of her place within the family made me scoff, sitting there in the theater. Chris let it go. It laid the perfect groundwork for the questions the movie would raise: about refusing to see what is in front of us, and about blinding ourselves with more comfortable or more convenient truths.

At every turn, the film explores how the sinister can be folded into the seemingly ordinary, through the specific lens of racialized interactions. As the weekend progresses, Chris attends a party thrown by the Armitages for their friends—wealthy older white people who wear Chris down with a barrage of uncomfortable comments that feel all too realistic. From an older woman who goes straight for Chris’ arm muscles, to a comment by Rose’s brother containing the phrase “genetic makeup,” there’s a growing burden on Chris to smile through it all. The premise lends itself brilliantly to horror—after all, aren’t moviegoers already primed to feel a slightly sickening sense of unease and dread when it comes to the sight of a young black man alone in a crowd of older white people? We don’t even need the context of a horror movie to know that historically, and in the present moment as well, there is potential for racialized violence there. Is the awkwardness caused by “benign” racism fueled by mere ignorance? Does it mask, like a KKK hood, the real racist beneath? Like all good horror films, Get Out heightens a particular social anxiety to the point of frenzy. In this case, it’s about accurately judging the depths of a person’s discrimination. Being able to tell the difference between an awkward social encounter and a more sinister racist depth is everything.

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It also delivers a pointed send-up of the microaggressive well-meaning white liberal, since racism is not, in fact, the sole domain of southern evangelicals. The film makes a point of emphasizing Rose’s sympathy for Chris’ situation and her father’s insistent ally-ism (including an absurdist moment where he discusses an ancestor happily losing to Jesse Owens under Hitler’s watchful eyes). Well-intentioned civility can, and does, coexist with the kind of casual cruelty and uncaring evil that will put the good of the tribe first—even among the educated and self-proclaiming liberal.

These are signs that Chris chooses to ignore, or to subsume, time and time again. In his character, we get not only a stand-in for the threatened black male body (among a white cocktail party, or on the side of the highway facing a white cop), but also a figure for the kind of accommodation that white supremacy exacts. We can get along well, the movie says in the beginning, as long as you’re willing to bend a little. Overlook moments of discomfort so that everything will go smoothly. Eventually, this is a road that leads him straight down a nightmare, as the stakes of his attrition rise higher and higher. Chris spends so much of the movie accepting his own discomfort, in situations that seem plausibly microaggressive, that he can no longer see the true nature of the threat in front of him. The other black characters at the Armitages’ house are so accommodating, genial, and blank that the audience is supposed to know something is wrong—but they’re not the only ones bending over backwards just a little too much.

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It’s difficult to discuss the movie further without giving away its biggest plot twists—but rest assured that, though the actual plot isn’t exactly subtle in the end, it is immensely satisfying. There is, as a friend noted when we left the theater, absolutely no redemption for white characters in this movie. And that’s ok. This is one movie, out of hundreds and thousands of movies, where the discussion begins and ends on the side of the black characters. The discomfort is insistent, vivid—a perfect counterbalance to the kind of palliative conversations that revolve around white supremacy and “the alt-right.”



Verdict? Five stars. Watch immediately.

 

 

 

Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)

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Image via Sony Movie Channel

With the scent of pumpkin spice and school supplies in the air once more, I finally feel justified in offering a guide to the Addams women. Go rewatch Addams Family Values not only because it’s a case study in sequels that trump their originals, but also because it gives the world the misandrist triumvirate of Wednesday Addams, Morticia Addams and Debbie Jellinsky.

Continue reading “Which Addams Family Misandrist Are You…?? (A Quiz)”

Weekly Dance Break: Ayabambi!!

Today: my favorite high-fashion voguing lovers (literally)! There are not enough exclamation points for Aya and Bambi. It’s slick and beautiful and pretty much everything.

 

Black Women and Mental Illness: Talking about “Fog” with Chelsea Woods

One of my favorite things about running Acro Collective is our ability to shine a spotlight on attention-worthy works in progress. Below, filmmaker Chelsea Woods discusses her exciting new project and its ties to a pressing issue in the black community. 



1) First, please tell us a little bit about your project, Fog. What is its focus?

Fog tells the story of Valerie, a successful African-American corporate lawyer. To most people, it seems like she has the perfect life — she’s on the brink of a promotion to partner at her firm and her college-age daughter is returning from school — but Valerie suffers from depression and anxiety which manifests itself as a fictional ’90s sitcom that follows her around her house. The film focuses on two days in her life where she is forced to confront her crumbling mental state and the consequences of trying to hide for so long.

2) What inspired you to make this short film? What kind of sources did you draw on?

Early last year, I went through a period of depression. I had been unemployed for months and what started as frustration turned into something much more emotionally complicated. Fast forward to the end of the year — I’m employed, I finished my first feature film script, I’m feeling good — and my mother and I had a conversation about that early part of the year. I finally admitted to her that I was depressed and while she was supportive, she also said “I just don’t understand how a Black woman could be depressed. That’s not in our nature. That’s a white people problem.” And that’s a mindset that is prevalent in the African-American community. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of African-Americans have mental illnesses that go undiagnosed because of the social stigma against treatment. It’s terrifying. So, I decided to write this film not only as a way for me to share my experience but as a way to portray mental illness as naturally as possible. So often mental illnesses are portrayed as epic meltdowns or violent outbursts. The reality of my depression manifested in the moments that were completely mundane — the intense struggle to get out of bed, breaking down as I searched through job postings — so I hope that bringing an honest look on screen can perhaps help other African-American women and men understand what they themselves or someone close to them might be going through.
3) What are your personal inspirations when you conceptualize new projects? What films/filmmakers are among your favorites right now?
When it comes to conceptualizing new projects, I usually start from some feeling or issue within myself. With Fog, it was my experience with depression. With my first short, Elevated, it was the question of racial identity and inhabiting both Black and White spaces authentically. Sometimes it comes from a desire to see just something different. The feature I’m currently developing stemmed from my love of graphic, masculine films like Fight Club and Pulp Fiction but a desire to put a woman in the driver’s seat, to see a woman have that wild adventure where she can cuss, be unladylike, and maybe even save the day.
The list of filmmakers and films that I love is very broad but at the moment I’m especially enamoured with the work of French director Celine Sciamma. She released a film called Girlhood (French title: Bande de filles) last year and it was moved me very deeply. I’d say it was my favorite film of the year. I’m also a huge fan of Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, True Detective), Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher) and Jill Soloway (Transparent, Afternoon Delight). Recent films I’ve enjoyed include Mad Max: Fury Road, Eden, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. I try to make sure I watch a wide variety of movies and TV shows.
4) Tell us a little bit about where you started as a filmmaker, and how you got to where you are today.
I was born and partially raised in Pasadena, California, just outside of Los Angeles, and while growing up I actually despised the film industry! I wanted to be an astronaut and go to Caltech to study astrophysics. But around my thirteenth birthday I realized that I didn’t want to be an astronaut, exactly — I really wanted to be a Jedi like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The Star Wars films had inspired me so deeply and had actually shaped my life up to that point. At the same time, I had an amazing English teacher who encouraged me to write and I discovered that I had a passion for writing for the screen as well as directing and I’ve never looked back. I graduated from the University of Chicago in 2011 and moved back to LA where I worked in television as a costume assistant for shows like Criminal Minds and Agents of SHIELD before leaving that behind to pursue my true passion. Earlier this year I was selected as one of ten directors for the AFI Conservatory’s Directing Workshop for Women where I’m set to shoot Fog next month.

5) Are there any resources out there you’d recommend for aspiring filmmakers, especially for women of color?

The number one thing you have to do as a young filmmaker is to make work and build a portfolio. Now mind you that’s easier said than done, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The best way to learn is by getting any camera you can get your hands on — even if it’s just your phone — rounding up friends or scouring the internet for other folks and going out there and making something. Do not let the word ‘no’ stop you ever. Instead use it as an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and find a new way. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Always remember that beyond ego and accolades, the true mark of a great film is the story, so know why you want to tell the stories you want to tell. Know that and you’re cooking with gas right out the gate. Women and women of color are among the most incredible storytellers, yet we are massively underrepresented. As much press that’s out there about the predicament of women, it’s important for us as female filmmakers to not let the burden of history keep us from creating a present and future that is fruitful for diverse filmmaking. We cannot let that handicap us. Instead we have to take those statistics and use it as kindling so we can burn through this industry, make something fresh and inspired, and create real and lasting change. It’s not a crazy idea; it’s a reality that desperately needs to happen.

But there are also a lot of diversity programs out there. For women, the AFI Directing Workshop for Women is an incredible opportunity. There’s also Film Independent’s Project Involve which is open to women and men of color as well as members of the LGBTQIA community. The major networks and studios also have programs for writers and directors as well as guilds like DGA and WGA. There’s a lot of opportunities out there but sometimes it means a lot of digging.


Follow the film: facebook.com/fogtheshort  and @fogtheshort
Chelsea on Twitter: @TheOriginalCW

#SayHerName and #BlackWomenMatter

Today is a National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls (though of course, this is an issue for every day and not just today). We know #blacklivesmatter, and that the issue of structural violence against black lives is a conversation that needs to keep happening. But all too often women are left out of the narrative, especially because a particular image of police violence circulates in the popular imagination—where the victim is usually a young black man. Colorlines published a great article that offers resources and a reminder of too-often forgotten women. If your city has a march, consider taking your participation beyond the level of discourse.

Colorlines: “We’re Dying Too” (an article by Andrea Ritchie)

Freddie Gray and Baltimore

There is A LOT of information out there circulating around the protests happening in
Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray, and the state of police power as a systematic tool of oppression. We won’t try to provide any kind of summary—a quick perusal of #baltimoreriots will give you that.

Photo @TheDailyBeast // Twitter
Photo @TheDailyBeast // Twitter

We will, however, draw your attention to both the riots and their “bigger picture.” Violent looting and rioting is difficult to outright condone, but it is understandable once you begin to think of the context in which such actions occur. Baltimore is not an isolated incident (neither was Ferguson), but a culmination of a long, violent system of exploitation and abuse  rooted in racial oppression.

Photo @Slate // Twitter
Photo @Slate // Twitter

This article from The New Inquiry puts it better than I could, and I urge you to read it and consider the rhetoric that drives media accounts of “looting,” as well as the perverted logic that presents violence done to property as far more worthy of our outrage than violence done to human beings.

As the Vox article below states, the situation in Baltimore also highlights the way race and class intersect to create systems of oppression—because the police force in Baltimore is racially mixed, this is not just something that can be “boiled down” to black citizens versus a white police force, though that is certainly still operative. It is rather a reminder that violence against black communities is perpetuated not only through physical violence, but economic isolation as well.

Further reading:

The Guardian on (racialized) economic violence: “We cannot breathe if we can’t eat”

The Baltimore Sun documents the striking history of police brutality and undue violence in the city. 

Mic.com highlights the media’s double standard in presenting “black looters” 

Vox looks into a history of police distrust and brutality

Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses the issue of nonviolence

On the death of Freddie Gray


First published April 28, 2015.

Updated: April 30, 2015. May 2, 2015.

“Ethnic Castings”: Hardly Enough of a Good Thing

…there was that unsettling remark in the Deadline article that reduces the popularity of shows featuring minorities to a trend. It questions whether the “the trend of ethnic casting” will come back with a vengeance next season.
As the Vulture article points out, Kylie Jenner’s lip liner is a trend. Furbies, gel pens and MySpace are trends. Race is not a trend. To suggest that it is insulting. It undermines the importance of having TV and film that fairly represent the demography of the world we live in. It implies that Hollywood is rightfully a white industry, and that the surge of “ethnic shows” we see is a passing phenomenon.
It should and will be quite the opposite.

Just when we thought Hollywood couldn’t get any whiter, well… it did. Remember when Neil Patrick Harris announced that we were honoring Hollywood’s best and whitest — oops, brightest — at this year’s Oscars? Can’t forget that one. It may have been one of the more memorable moments in an otherwise snoozy media event.

The 2015 Academy Awards were so lacking in diversity that they got a special hashtag, #oscarssowhite, that trended all over the Internet long before the big night. It lived on during and after the event, sparking much-needed awareness and discussion.

While minorities were largely absent from those Oscars ballots, they have been making appearances all over network television this year. As we know, film has historically trailed behind TV on that front, but the contrast was notable.

Continue reading ““Ethnic Castings”: Hardly Enough of a Good Thing”