HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!

Storm and Missy’s teacup: The furore over the categorisation of “Get Out” is misjudged

Share this page on:

COMEDY is a multiplicitous genre. It is both “low”—farcical, vulgar, reliant on physical gags—and “high”, dealing in sophistication and witty repartee. There are both “Old” and “New” forms, one offering political commentary and the other relying on archetypal characters and everyday situations. It runs the gamut of styles, from stand-up to situational; slapstick to cerebral. Some writers, like Shakespeare, managed to bring many of these different elements into harmony. But it is largely true that what constitutes humour, and therefore what defines the genre, is in the eye of the beholder.

Because this definition is so slippery, arguments inevitably break out about whether a certain work deserves the label. Nowhere is this argument more ferocious than in the world of film around awards season. The latest round has centred upon “Get Out”, the work of Jordan Peele. It was announced last week that the film will be competing for a Golden Globe as a comedy (unlike the Academy Awards, the Globes splits its best-picture contenders into Comedy/Musical and Drama). With distributors eager to get their films a win—any win—accusations of “category fraud” have become prevalent in recent years. In 2015, Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” was submitted as a comedy (left for dead on Mars? Ha!). In 2010, the Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie flunk “The Tourist” fell under the comedy umbrella (perhaps they were taking advantage of the guffaws of disbelief).

The distributors of “Get Out” are not that cynical. Though it tells the story of a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who endures an escalating series of racial horrors while visiting his white girlfriend’s family, it mixes sharp-edged satire with crowd-pleasing thrills. It offers big laughs—often for catharsis and comic relief—and leans heavily on the horror genre (using genre tropes like jump scares and bloody attacks to accentuate its scorn). Its social and racial satire places it firmly within the comedy bracket.

Critics of the decision to categorise it as a comedy have argued that doing so diminishes its power as a social document. It gives white viewers, the argument goes, the opportunity to distance themselves from the thorny reality it depicts. It is to be regarded as a serious film, a sentiment that Mr Peele reinforced on Twitter when he half-joked that “‘Get Out’ is a documentary.” He elaborated further during an interview: “The major point to identify here is that we don’t want our truth trivialised. The label of comedy is often a trivial thing.”

This is a particularly strange argument coming from Mr Peele himself, who, before “Get Out”, was known exclusively for sketch comedy. “Key and Peele”, which won a Peabody Award for its contributions to the public discourse, approached difficult arguments about race and gender with humour. It dramatised observations and situations that the news media could never find a way to discuss. Most famously, Mr Peele played Barack Obama in “Obama’s Anger Translator”—a skit in which he spoke political platitudes directly to camera, while Keegan-Michael Key, his partner, ranted in the background as Obama’s raging id. He gave full (and funny) expression to the frustrations that a black president was not permitted to express.

Indeed, “Key and Peele” is part of an established comedic tradition of using the cushion of laughter to broach serious topics. Charlie Chaplin used physical humour to undermine the mythology of the Third Reich in “The Great Dictator” (1940). Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove” (1964) used black comedy to comment on the hysteria of the nuclear age. The comedy itself in these films isn’t revelatory but it is effective, gaining its power from its setting. 

Other arguments against the classification of “Get Out” as comedy pursue the line that in so doing, its chances at a best-picture Oscar are hurt. Here the critics are on firmer ground. There is plenty of evidence (see chart) that a film entered as a drama at the Globes is much more likely to enjoy success at the Oscars. Analysis from FiveThirtyEight conducted in 2013 found that 48% of winners of the Drama category at the Globes went on to win at the Oscars. Only 16% of winners in the Musical/Comedy bracket did. 

But that does not mean the Academy holds comedy in contempt. Both “The Great Dictator” and “Dr Strangelove” were nominated for multiple Oscars, including best picture. In recent years, films such as “The Big Short”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Nebraska”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Up in the Air”, “Juno” and “The Artist” have all received best-picture nominations. While only one of those—“The Artist” in 2012—converted that nomination into a win, “Get Out” is generating plenty of buzz.

Indeed, last year’s choice of “Moonlight” for best picture indicated a sea-change in the priorities of the Academy, and potential rewards for compelling, experimental storytelling. For the last decade, it has made an effort to transform the makeup of its membership, bringing in younger members like Andrew Garfield, Kristen Stewart, Freida Pinto, Gal Gadot, and, yes, Mr Peele. The old Academy would almost certainly have picked “La La Land”—and did, for a fleeting moment—but if its new members can honour an independent, deeply personal film about race and sexual identity in inner-city Miami, who is to say that a genre-bending, incisive film like “Get Out” can’t win either? 

The opposition to the film’s classification ultimately demeans the role of comedy, not just in awards season but in society as a whole. The discussions in “Get Out” about the commodification of black bodies are difficult to have in person. It’s easy to imagine a conversation in the pub becoming heated and defensive, but laughter deflates the tension and makes space for a reckoning. Great satirists throughout history have understood this—Jordan Peele among them.

NextThe incredible inventiveness of Hedy Lamarr
Would you like to share your opinion?
  • I entirely agree (0.00%)
  • I entirely disagree (0.00%)
  • I somehow agree (0.00%)
  • I somehow disagree (0.00%)
  • I have no opinion (0.00%)
  • I don´t care (0.00%)
  • This is bullshit! (0.00%)
Follow mr

Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
Follow mr





Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: