In early 2016, a woman emailed me to say a comedian was filming a movie at her house in Ashland Place, and she thought it was interesting. And it was.
This year, that film is nominated for Best Picture in the 2018 Academy Awards. “Get Out” has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Jordan Peele, and Best Actor for star Daniel Kaluuya.
Keli Mazza, a Mobilian who was the production secretary on the film, had this response to the news: “The local crew and cast, who played an intricate part in the production, are celebrating these nominations. ‘Get Out’ used 124 Alabama residents, made up of 67 crew members and 57 background actors. From top to bottom everyone has a role to play, and our communities are playing a large role in the success of filming in Alabama. The making of ‘Get Out’ impacted the local economy by using over 70 local businesses in some way during production.”
This low-budget film set several records even before the Oscar nominations came in. It is the highest-grossing original debut ever, and became the most profitable movie of 2017, enjoying a 630 percent return on investment. Peele is the first black writer-director with a $100 million film debut, and with his Oscar nominations, he is the first black director to receive nominations in the writing, directing and producing categories for his first feature film. Only two other people have ever done that.
It’s a huge deal that all this magic happened right here in Mobile and Fairhope, but since most of the publicity around it concerns how hard it is to categorize, with a controversial nomination in the Golden Globes “Comedy” category, you may well ask what this film is about.
Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a black photographer dating Rose (Allison Williams). When the film begins, she is attempting to allay his fears of how her white family will react to their white daughter bringing home a black boyfriend. Despite her assurances that they all love Barack Obama, it isn’t long into their weekend before Chris tells Rose “I told you so.”
Kaluuya’s performance is pretty brilliant in the way he modulates his behavior around different characters in the film, and his reaction to the suspicious people he meets is really the backbone of the story.
Rose’s family, the Armitages, live in a huge house attended by black servants. Open-minded liberals that they purport to be, they explain that these employees are really more like family. There is a truly terrifyingly robotic maid and a preternaturally cheerful yard man who runs really, really fast.
“Get Out” takes the discomfort and fear Chris feels as he negotiates this complex setting and makes it literally horrifying. Fears of being misunderstood or disliked are amplified into a wonderfully grotesque reality when Chris discovers the truth about his girlfriend’s family and friends, and that is where the social satire and comedy becomes a true, bloody horror film. The cleverness of blending these genres, with a racial commentary that is razor sharp, is what got and kept people talking about “Get Out.”
Rich symbolism, mining both pop culture and history, is to be found everywhere. In some respects, Peele does not miss an opportunity to build the story with symbolic details, such as cotton, long a symbol of slavery in the Southern United States, serving a vital purpose in the film’s climax; but in other ways “Get Out” is a compelling concept that was slightly underwritten.
Of all the nominations, however, the most deserved goes to star Kaluuya. His performances outshine the others in terms of executing the complexity of this material.
If only the subtlety Kaluuya brings to Chris was present elsewhere. Chris’ best friend, played by comedian Lil Rel Howery, is heavy-handed comic relief, his over-the-top wackiness landing with an amateurish thud whenever he is shoehorned in. And if a co-star whose performance approached Kaluuya’s had been in the Allison Williams role, this film would have been even better.
Nevertheless, “Get Out” is more than worth checking out as it returns to the big screen this week and is also available to rent. There is so much to think about and talk about here, and beyond its social context it is a fun and chilling thriller with some pretty awesome twists. And, for our town to bring in such an unprecedentedly successful project, we should all feel a thrill being a part of the phenomenon.