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Subverting the Racially Charged Tropes Often Found in the Horror Genre

Pacific Standard recommends ‘Get Out,’ the directorial debut of Jordan Peele from the popular Comedy Central duo Key & Peele.
Get Out. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Get Out. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Why would a co-host of Key & Peele, a popular sketch show on Comedy Central, make a horror movie? Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out follows Charlie, a young black man, as he meets the parents of his white girlfriend in her predominantly white hometown and learns that black people have disappeared after visiting. Oh, right: Sounds like some of Key & Peele’s most iconic sketches, including one following a hooded black man as he walks fearfully through a white, upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood and another showing Peele and his co-host adapting their speech to sound “whiter than Mitt Romney in a snowstorm” and help make white people feel safer around them. In his comedic work, Peele has long depicted black men’s struggle to reduce how scary they appear to other people — despite the fact that they themselves are often in danger.

In 2017, that message could hardly be timelier. In 2015, the Washington Post found that black people are three times more likely to die from police bullets than whites — and are more likely to be unarmed when fatalities occur. In the wake of the 2016 election, organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an uptick in racially motivated hate crimes measuring in the hundreds. That’s frightening stuff — and yet horror cinema has traditionally propagated racist stereotypes. The genre is known for casting black actors as characters as the “black mystic” or the easily killed off sidekick; its villains are often written as threatening “others” upsetting previously idyllic American life. Featuring a black protagonist, Get Out subverts these racially charged tropes — and offers insight into an irony of the black male experience.

This story appears in the March/April 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.