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14 - This Is America: Race, Gender and the Gothic in Get Out (2017)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Summary

When Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick asserted in 1975 how ‘distinct and useable the Gothic is as a literary tradition’ (7), she might have been presciently predicting the success of the film Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017), over forty years later. The directorial debut by established television comedy writer and actor Jordan Peele, Get Out draws heavily on the Gothic in its indictment of predatory white culture.

The low-budget film was wildly successful, receiving positive feedback from critics and audiences alike and garnering unprecedented Academy Award nominations and wins. Jordan Peele became the first black writer awarded an Academy Award for Best Screenplay (only four have ever been nominated) and just the fifth black director nominated for an Academy Award (none have won). It was further unusual that Get Out was nominated for Best Picture: not since The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) had a horror film received such acclaim.

Peele, who himself labelled the film a ‘social thriller’ in the vein of Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), invokes the conventions of the Gothic. These conventions include the phenomenological, such as a ‘terrible house’, the term Carol Clover (1992) uses for the dangerous settings of horror films, houses in which time and space are undermined, which occurs in the basement torture chamber the protagonist of Get Out discovers. The film also features the thematic anxieties of the Gothic, including the dangers of sexuality and the terror of states of voiceless paralysis (Clover, 1992). However, the film extends the Gothic by foregrounding race and reversing a familiar US narrative of eroticised white female victimisation at the hands of dangerous black men; by contrast, Get Out features sympathetic black men preyed upon by white female sexuality.

The film begins with several incidents of violence: first, the unexplained kidnapping of a black man in the film's opening scene sets a threatening, genre-specific tone. The narrative then shifts to follow an interracial couple: Rose, a young white woman selecting doughnuts at a bakery, and Chris, a young black man who is a skilled photographer. Although the mise-en-scène and mood adjust accordingly, from low-key to high-key lighting, from menacing music to a more generic soundtrack, the couple are haunted by the violence of the first scene, even before the young man draws blood cutting himself shaving.

Type
Chapter
Information
Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 206 - 217
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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