Racism in movies is a contentious topic, particularly in the American context. Perhaps no other film in the recent memory has been able to capture the terror of it while delivering the distinct cabin-on-the-woods horror effect that comedian, actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele achieved with the 2017 Oscar-nominated Get Out.
While there are many eye-grabbing, horrific moments in the Daniel Kaluuya-starrer, the film arguably has one of the most hard-hitting opening sequences in recent cinema history. A lanky Lakeith Stanfield, playing the unassuming Andre Hayworth, is walking down an overwhelmingly white neighbourhood at night. You cannot make out anything except the looming trees and shadows of shrubs which surround Lakeith. The dim light of the street lamps doesn’t help, and this is how Peele creates the atmosphere that has audience gripping their seats as the man on the screen walks the road. Andre is a Black man in a white area, and the streets he is walking on is completely deserted. Andre is isolated and obviously scared. The one-take shot contributes to a sense of panic that our character is already feeling. You know something horrible is going to happen to him. “F**k this, I will just go back the other way,” he says at last, losing his sense of control. And that is when the white car turns, ominously playing Flanagan and Allen’s “Run, rabbit, run.”
A man wearing a bizarre-looking helmet emerges from the shadows, knocks out Lakeith aka Andre unconscious, who is then bundled into the back of the car. And if the beginning is petrifying, the rest of it, one correctly assumes, would be that much harder to digest.
Speaking about the part with Directors Guild of America in an earlier interview, Jordan said, “First scene of the movie is very important, it’s very important not to do too much. What you’re trying to get across is a feeling. I feel like you’re trying to offer a promise to the audience of what is to come, and it became important for the audience to be immersed, in the experience of a Black man walking down the street in a white neighbourhood. This is the feeling, that ‘I am the wrong person to be in this neighbourhood,’ which through other’s eyes is idyllic and welcoming. From that point, the audience would know that race is the monster we’re fearing, everything else is coloured with the terror of it.”
To do a horror movie with jump scares and multiple twists and turns would be an obvious route to take. But to make a feature in the genre that makes you squirm and laugh out loud, all the while making an important social commentary without preaching, is an art. An art that debut director Jordan Peele (yes, I said debut) perfected, so much so that Get Out was nominated for not one, but four Academy nods, out of which it earned the coveted statuette in the Best Original Screenplay category.
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Here’s a trivia for cinephiles: According to IMDb, Jordan Peele directed Get Out while impersonating popular personalities like Barack Obama, Tracy Morgan and Forest Whitaker.
You can stream Get Out on Amazon Prime Video.