Recently I had one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in a cinema.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts.
When I arrived in the cinema to take my seat (assigned seats – why haven’t we always done this?) there was a handbag on it. The white woman (I wouldn’t normally point out someone’s race, but it’s relevant) to whom the handbag belonged was perfectly pleasant, but clearly also a little put out that I’d asked her to move it. I appreciate I am not as precious a piece of cargo as a handbag, but I had paid for the seat and it seemed fairly reasonable to not want to share it with a heavily branded piece of leather. The lights went down, the movie came on. At the end of the movie Handbag Lady left with less of an air of confidence. What had had this effect? The movie. Get Out. In the movie British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays an African American who visits his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend. In an early scene we discover she hasn’t told her parents that her boyfriend is black, but it’s cool because her white father ‘would have voted for Obama a third time if he could’.
At the sprawling family stead, Chris Washington, Kaluuya’s character, feels something is a little off. The story unfolds like a thriller-horror, but has so much to say about social politics – and it is seriously entertaining.
I won’t explain any further for fear of spoilers... Writer-director Jordan Peele has done much more than make an astoundingly good movie with Get Out. Seven years in the making, Peele finally pulled together the $4.5m dollars needed to make Get Out last year. While I appreciate in the real world this is hardly chicken feed, in movieland it’s pocket change. It took him such a long time to get the money because, as everyone in the movie business knows, stories about the black experience with black leads just don’t sell. The box office takings for Get Out currently stand at $154.4m. I’m going to see it again and add more to that pot of profit. Why did it have such an effect? Why did Handbag Lady arrive with so much confidence and leave with much less? It’s a movie told from the black perspective. And when you see a movie from the black perspective, you realise how often movies are told only from the white perspective. Only an ethnic minority could have made this movie. The cultural specificity is what makes it so incredibly powerful – and hugely empowering to an ethnic minority who has experienced many of the moments Peele captures so brilliantly in his film. And it gets critical acclaim and massive box office. Now there’s a thought…