Black film

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Get Out: Terror, Tension, and Race in the Modern Horror

Published March 5, 2017 by rmpixie

getout

Get Out (Blumhouse Productions, 1 hr 43 mins., 2017)

The buzz has been on about Get Out since late last year when it was announced that Jordan Peele, award-winning comedian and actor know for the hit comedy series Mad TV and co-creator of Key and Peele, had written and directed his first film, and not only was it a horror, but it carried a message . The hype machine ran rampant with accolades as usual, but this time, it was right. He’s made an excellent horror film that illustrates an everyday fear and paranoia once thought to be exaggerated by most, but now (one would hope) most likely understood by all in today’s politically and racially charged world.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young photographer preparing to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). They plan to visit her parents out of town, and Chris is concerned because Rose, and her family, are white, and he is black. When she reassures him that her parents will happily accept him into the fold, they head up her family estate. After a jarring experience hitting a deer and dealing with suspicious local police, Chris attempts to keep his cool as he is interrogated by Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and her strange brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). Things get even more awkward when a yearly party with their old school family friends conveniently takes place during their weekend visit.

Chris feels not only alienated and scrutinized during his time with Rose, her family, and their white friends, but also that something isn’t quite right. When his interactions with the extremely odd black house staff Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and a black guest (Lakeith Stanfield) at the party go south, his “spidey” senses tell him all isn’t as it seems at the Armitage gathering.

Get Out bridges horror with a mixture of Hitchcock-style suspense and Twilight Zone weirdness, nailing the daily horrors of being a person of colour navigating a systemically racist society at large. The social commentary was so well done that everyone person of colour can nod their heads as they relate to the micro aggressions in the film that are dealt with daily, in fact, there are many themes I want to touch on, but I’ll try to make each observation brief.

A young African-American man, an anti-everyman who is both feared and envied, as the vessel to convey the current social climate was bold, brilliant and well needed. Not since Night of the Living Dead’s Ben (Duane Jones) and that film’s supposed accidental social commentary during the Civil Rights era have we seen such a memorable character. Chris embodies the aspirations of every young Black man and woman who just wants to live unafraid and with all the same opportunities afforded to everyone else in the country touted as “the land of the free”. It’s a heavy load to bear, but Kaluuya plays the character to a “T”. I first saw him as a teenager in a British series called The Fades, where he played the best friend of a boy who had supernatural powers. Kaluuya was hysterically funny then, and his humour has matured with his portrayal of Chris that dripped with irony, while capturing the sincerity and sensitivity of a young man at odds with his acceptance in a literal and figurative sense. I also thought it was clever to make Chris a photographer as we see through his literal lens and point of view. Chris’s friend Rod (LilRey Howery) creates comic relief not to be missed as he personifies Chris’s inner voice telling it like it is. He’s a throwback to the “Black person in a horror film” joke. I was also thrilled to see Erika Alexander from the 90’s sitcom Living Single as the detective Rod tries to enlist for help.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Armitages as well. Keener and Whitford played the slightly off liberal parents with a subversive finesse, bringing to light Peele’s skill at writing them with a complexity that is not often expressed properly. Here, they represented the ingrained ignorance of whites as they assert their supremacy over people of colour without any thought to the person in front of them. It’s a brilliant display of how intent is often masked with a cloak of inclusivity, but only on their terms. While a generalization of White society, it also embodies how Blacks, and people of colour in general, have to pick our battles daily while struggling to keep and define our identities at the same time.

Peele’s use of an interracial relationship as the vehicle for his premise is a no-brainer. Where else can you question your place in society than with two people taking a chance and presenting themselves in the world as they defy archaic social norms? It plays on the paranoia, defensiveness and potentially hidden agendas for those involved in interracial relationships.

Lastly, the film is visually simple and clean, with nice camerawork and set design that stood out as effective signifiers of old money and privilege. He also treated Chris’s loss of control with dream-like sequences that were some of my favourite scenes and reminded me of the underrated Under the Skin.

Jordan Peele succeeds in giving us a smart, well-written thriller/horror filled with a great balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and a viscerally intense uneasiness. Without giving away spoilers, he captures the need for the incessant and historic commodification, exploitation  and abuse of African-American lives (literally and figuratively) with no consequence felt by those exploiters in this supposedly “post-racial” world.

See Get Out and discuss how it makes you feel with everyone you can. Perhaps a film created in a genre that is not usually accepted about a historically ostracized/demonized/shunned yet culturally mined people can open the doors to some sort of social justice, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the face of mainstream horror (and film at large) change.

Pixie Dust Project Gets a Reboot for the Web: An Update

Published May 1, 2015 by rmpixie

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It has been an interesting journey for Damon Colquhoun and his Pixie Dust project.

Not so long ago, I interviewed him as he started an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a fantasy film about a young girl, her mentally ill mother and a family secret.  While he didn’t make his goal, he did get accepted for a grant fellowship from NBPC 360, a funding initiative by the National Black Programming Consortium media arts organization that is committed to “educating, enlightening, empowering and engaging the American public.”  The Harlem based non-profit strives to “support diverse voices by developing, producing and distributing innovative media about the Black experience and by investing in visionary content makers.”  Since 1979, they have provided content for outlets like PBS and PBS.org among others, and invaluable mentoring for up and coming Black filmmakers.

With this opportunity presented, Colquhoun rewrote Pixie Dust as a 10-part web series including sample footage, and his treatment was the only entry with a script.  The project was almost cut due to its fantasy based subject matter since the committee focuses mainly on non-fiction.  Fortunately some well-known producers, namely Ron Simons who was behind Blue Caprice as well as Deniese Davis who produced the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, fought to keep Pixie Dust in the running.  After passing the muster at “Pitch Black”, the final pitch session where a group of seasoned producers and executives make their final choices, and with the help of cinematographer Arthur Jafa and director Terence Nance as mentors, Colquhoun will get between 50 and 100K for his project.  He is well on his way to a promising breakthrough for programming as the industry becomes more accepting of interesting and unique content for a growing niche market.

Damon Colquhoun pitching his ideas to top industry execs.

Damon Colquhoun pitching Pixie Dust to public television industry execs on April 23rd, 2015. Photo by Lindsey Seide (NBPC)

I am excited that a great organization has recognized the need for science fiction/fantasy in their roster, as many Black and other visible minority viewers crave content including people of colour in a genre that has been lacking in visible minority representation.  Congratulations to Damon as he embarks on his new route with Pixie Dust and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final series.  Stay tuned for more info!

Pixie Dust interview with writer/director Damon Colquhoun

Check out the NBPC site for more information on the organization and one of their series based on stories from the African Diaspora called AfroPop.tv.

 

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