‘Get Out’ w/ Ola Kalejaye
Full Transcript of Technicolor Theatre podcast: Season 2, Episode 2
In this episode of Technicolor Theatre, filmmaker Aditya Joshi and filmmaker Ola Kalejaye chat about tokenism, racism in the film industry, commodifying Black bodies, and the inspiring genius of Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning film Get Out (2017).
Aditya Joshi: Hello and welcome to Token Theatre, a podcast about representation on film. We are proudly part of the Mediaversity podcast network. Joining us today, now that he has finished running from his white girlfriend’s house, is Ola Kalejaye. How are you doing Ola?
Ola Kalejaye: I’m doing great, man. How are you doing?
Aditya: Great. So good to have you on the podcast. As you can probably guess, if you’re listening from the introduction today we’re talking about Jordan Peele’s masterpiece Get Out. But before we dive into the movie, Ola, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
Ola: Yeah, absolutely. So I am a writer/director originally from Lagos, Nigeria. It’s where I was born and raised. Then I moved to London, England, and went to school there for eight years. Then up in the States for college and grad school and beyond. So I’m kind of from everywhere.
Aditya: You are currently traveling in a van. Right?
Ola: That’s right. Yeah. My partner and I are doing the whole van life shindig. We were actually working on a documentary feature film this year, a travel documentary about people in the van life community before the old ‘rona took over.
Aditya: Well, I’m sure that it will add a lot of texture to the way that the film plays out.
Ola: Yeah, it’s one of those cool instances where it’s definitely not the film we set out to make, but it’s still a pretty interesting thing to follow.
Aditya: We’ll touch on this a bit, your partner is a white woman.
Ola: Yeah. So this is the best part. We had just started dating like late August 2016. So when the Get Out trailer, when it first came out, it was either late October or early November. It was weeks before I was headed to my partner’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving for the first time. And I swear down I saw that trailer and immediately that was the first fight we ever had in our relationship. Because I watched the trailer and I started freaking out like, “What are you not telling me? There’s something going on here?” It had me shook for real.
Aditya: “I can’t go, I think Jordan knows something.”
Ola: I’m like, “He’s sending me signs, babe. Maybe the universe is telling me something.”
Aditya: So when was the first time that you actually watched the movie?
Ola: By the time I’d finally seen it, I didn’t see it right when it opened. It already was a ton of hype, it had 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone’s talking about this amazing thing. I’m someone who really suffers from — I get super hyped and then I see it and it doesn’t quite live up to it, that can detract a lot for me. But I think just because of who Jordan Peele was and being such a huge Key and Peele fan, I was expecting a certain kind of movie. I think that really helped it. It was so far away from what my expectations were that instantly when watching it was one of the favorite movies I’ve ever seen in my whole life. When it came out and I watched it, I was in my first year of film school actually. Seeing that kind of movie and the whole story behind it, the small budget and this very specific story. And how well it did, was huge for a Black filmmaker in his first year of film school really trying to figure out how to navigate this whole industry of filmmaking and keep my identity and all that.
Aditya: It’s so funny because I had seen Keanu in theaters, which is hilarious, the Key and Peele movie from a year before. I had been covering South by Southwest for the Duke Chronicle. So at the time, I actually briefly met Jordan Peele on the red carpet and he was like, “Oh, I’m doing this horror movie next.” I’m like, “Alright, sure.” I hate horror movies so I saw the trailer. But then when I saw the movie, there was something so grounded and really great about the fact that the horror derives not from some random monster, but from people that we know. Situations that are so relatable and every day.
Ola: 100% I’m just like you — I’ve never been a fan of horror films really. You know, I kind of feel like reality is pretty scary enough. I don’t really need to go get my thrills from the theater. But watching this movie, like what you just said, it wasn’t just a bunch of jumpscares or just like a bunch of gory stuff happening. Everything was so thematically well layered. Everything that was terrifying about it was just taking your everyday experiences of Black men in America or in any Western country for that matter, because same deal but different circumstances in England. But take that experience and then take it to 11 — What’s the most extreme, terrifying, worst case scenario you can get from this? That’s where the film went and that’s really for me what makes it so genius.
Aditya: Before I think people even realized how good it was, there was just a lot of hype and interest around it being such a genre movie. We talked about Black Panther on the podcast a few weeks ago and I feel like often people of color are relegated to one two or three genres. You get your Black and brown romantic comedy, you get your Black and brown coming of age/coming of culture story and you get your—especially if you’re Black—your rising up against slavery story. You don’t really get anything else. Have you seen a lot of genre stories centered around the Black experience like this before?
Ola: Gosh, I mean, not really, because it’s kind of weird, right? In Hollywood, a Black film is itself treated as a genre. The genre itself tends to be more about maybe the stereotypes or just like the general misunderstandings. I kind of have a hard time with … I’m hoping not to forget anybody. But thinking about genre films, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to be the most authentic expression of humanity. That’s not what they’re there for. They’re there for, you know like Tarantino, who’s a filmmaker I really love. Just kind of crazy and off the wall. Get Out is a genre film but it’s also so grounded and so real. We’ll get into this a lot when we talk about certain scenes, but so many different parts of it. I have never seen myself or my life experience better represented on the screen. The fact that it’s a horror movie, like I don’t care. That’s kind of part of the genius of it. The genre is to me so second place to just how authentically it captures the experience that it’s kind of talking about.
Aditya: To me, it almost felt like a proof point. You can tell genre stories. You can tell stories that are specifically within the realm of things that are mostly meant just to entertain and still educate and still provide social commentary. And now Jordan Peele has become a genre in himself.
Ola: Yeah, exactly. The whole social thriller idea. Which I think that’s the biggest concept that when this movie came out, it just totally blew my mind apart. As I said, I was never a fan of horror films or never really loved any one specific genre like that. But to see someone take the framework of a genre, which I’ve as an artist have seen can be quite limiting, but use it to actually enhance the themes of what you’re saying. That was what was really just so amazing.
Aditya: Us came out last year and Candy Man is coming out. I’m sure that will be imbued with some social themes, even though it seems to be more of a straight up horror movie. But then also Janelle Monáe has this movie coming out soon called Antebellum, which seems to be of a similar vein even though it’s not Jordan Peele-related at all. He’s built a whole movement, to your point.
Ola: I don’t know if this is something that we would talk about later. I think specifically with Get Out, the whole kind of crux of the idea of what’s great is “Ok, we will make a movie that’s about racism at its heart.” It’s about this man’s experience. But as Jordan Peele said, he didn’t want to do the classic red state hillbillies or just over Klansmen or something. No. He’s like, “No, let’s look at the liberal elite, the people who would have voted for Obama for a third term, the people who are meant to be on our side.” Using the horror genre to explain how behavior that can seem so banal. It’s really what he did was he said, “Let me show you how microaggressions really affect people.” If you’re not a Black person, if you’re not a person of color, you may not understand how these things like the garden party scene or scene at the dinner table with the fam. You might not know why that hurts. He perfectly showed you that it’s part of this same train of thinking that leads to this grotesque stuff that you can obviously see as bad. That’s what makes it really appalling.
Aditya: The first one we did on this podcast was The Namesake. There’s a similar scene where he goes to his white girlfriend’s house and there’s a line in the movie where some white woman is like, “My daughter went to India for a trip, she came back thin as a rail.” That’s like the microaggression you get. You get that Kal Penn’s character is very tensed up about it. To someone, especially a white person, but honestly to anyone they’re like, “Okay, that sucks.” But you know, it’s not actually violent to your person. It doesn’t hurt as bad as some of the more visceral or visual things we have in our heads. Like the Civil Rights Movement and slavery and George Floyd more notably lately. But the nefariousness to your point of these little tiny things that even the people who are supposedly on your side end up doing is sometimes the worst because they enable other stuff.
Ola: Yeah, and like you just mentioned, you know, George Floyd especially. Rewatching this movie and the current time we’re in where a lot of these things that Black people and people of color have been screaming for centuries now is finally breaking through to some people. So rewatching it under that context was really great because I haven’t seen it in a while. He takes those little slights that I kind of think of it as like death by 1000 cuts. That’s what microaggressions are like. Another thing that I really love about this film and why it’s so special to me is that in talking about Black film and Black representation and that sort of overarching thing, we get a ton of slave movies.
We’ve had a bunch of those and 12 Years A Slave, it’s really well directed. I think Steve McQueen’s a genius. But the issue I have with a film like that is that it is coming along with this signpost that says, “Hey, this is racism, exclamation point, underline, underline, underline.” First of all, I’m not trying to talk to anybody who needs the grotesque nature of slavery explained to them. You’re really lacking humanity if you need that. Let’s not even worry about those people. But what’s much more damaging is the amount of people that have come to me the last couple of weeks in the wake of George Floyd and been like, for whatever reason, they never got it. They never saw it until now and a lot of people are genuinely apologetic about that. But I think part of the reason why people are just seeing it now, why people didn’t understand this was still happening was because they’ve been trained by the very many slave movies and all that kind of media that racism basically looks like slavery. If you’re not getting hosed down or dogs sicced on you or you don’t have Massa whipping you at your back or whatever then it’s just not racism. Then you’re just being sensitive, you’re playing the race card, whatever.
The huge problem with that is that there’s actually very little racism that looks like that in the lives of most Black people in America. Most of us aren’t getting physically abused, necessarily. But to put the bar of racism at physical abuse and slavery is so egregious and so ridiculous. So I think that’s a danger when you get some of those movies that push those narratives. Get Out, which makes that connection with the every day, which is the stuff that we really need to address in our modern day. Watching Get Out, that’s the racism that I experience all the time. I know a lot of these movies that are about the struggle, they can be inspiring and everything but at the end of the day, it doesn’t reflect how I wake up in the morning. I don’t wake up in the morning and reflect on my Blackness and how terrible it is. I just get up and I’m a human being. Get Out felt more in that vein of “We can even make a movie that’s about racism and about what is done to Black people but still not have to make the racism itself melodramatic in order for people to understand that it is racism.”
Aditya: Right? I think there are like two things in there. One is the 12 Years A Slave kind of movie is the traditional Black-centered Oscar movie that we think about. Which is the thing that more so than ever the capital-R racism is like, “How much can we amplify Black suffering to have it like even though it’s a slightly totally different time?” I think Precious is another movie where it’s like, everything that could possibly happen to this girl happens to her. To the people who are like the gatekeepers of Hollywood, that’s like capital-A art. As long as they suffer as much as possible. So to your point that makes the everyday experience seem so not worth exploring or not the thing that we care about.
The second thing that you said which I really want to dive into because I think Get Out is really good about this is that idea that you don’t wake up and think, “Man, I’m a minority. Doesn’t that suck.” The people who do think that way sometimes who are like “Man it must be so hard for you like being Black in America” are the people who even sometimes go out of their way to help are the most dangerous. I think the one that comes to mind first is where Rose is defending Chris from the cop, right? The first time you watch it, it’s really stand up. You’re like, “Oh, this girl really cares.” She’s woke, she knows what goes on with cops. Then as you watch it a second time you’re like, “Well, she was performing.” It was like a performative level of activism and support, because she doesn’t want the cop to know that he’s coming upstate.
Ola: Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy, because that’s one of the biggest takeaways I had from watching it this most recent time, which might be a reflection of where my mind’s at with George Floyd and everything going on. In the whole movie, there’s two white people that treat Chris with real humanity when they speak to him. It’s Rose and it’s Jim Hudson, the guy who ends up taking his body. I thought that was so poignant. They’re almost the people who he is suffering the most for in this instance, the person who brought him into the situation. The whole reason he’s there in the first place. Then also the reason he’s there in terms of the buyer of his body. Those are the people who are like, “No, we are not racist, we’re not even ignorant. We’re not racist. We know what racism is.” Jim Hudson’s first line to Chris when it comes out to the garden is like, “Ignorant.” He’s like, “Who?” And Jim says “All of them.” He’s already saying, “Look, I’m not like those other ignorant white people. I get what you go through, I get your struggle.” So in the end, it makes it that much more heartbreaking that he’s like, “No, I get what you go through, I just don’t care. I just want to use you.”
Rose kind of has that similar thing where Rose is the wokest white character in the movie and she’s defending him. I think Jordan Peele talks about how using that to distract you from the fact that she’s in on it the whole time because she’s the most obvious suspect. It hurts the most sometimes when it’s the people you expect the most from who seem to know better versus the people who are just totally ignorant in terms of who’s actually damaging to your psyche or to your safety.
Aditya: Right. The Jim Hudson thing is so … you feel it so much because every other white character at that party is commodifying Chris in every possible way. They’re like, “Man, you must be so fast.” “Oh, look at those biceps.” Then Rose’s brother says, “You must be so strong with your build and genetic makeup.” Jim Hudson is like, “Oh, your eye,” and it’s the thing that he values the most is this thing that Chris is super proud of. It’s separate from what he looks like and what he is perceived of the world. It’s just his innate eye for photography. But at the end of the day, he’s still commodifying part of Chris’s body. He’s like, “That’s what I want.”
Ola: 100%. A lot of the ways that I’ve most experienced racism in the last couple years of my life have been through Hollywood, essentially. Through being at film school. Through trying to get a manager. Just going through the motions of trying to get stuff moving. That scene with Jim Hudson and Chris is so indicative of this very specific racist/not racist capitalist weird energy you find as a Black person pitching your stories to white executives. There’s something so poignant about how this is a blind man who’s admiring a photographer. So fundamentally, there’s a barrier between Jim. Jim can literally not actually see Chris’s work. He cannot actually see Chris’s world. He can’t actually see his life as portrayed through his art. I think the line is something like, “You know, my assistant described it to me in great detail.” He doesn’t have that emotional visceral connection that you have to art that moves you for the art because he can’t see it. But what’s moving him is the abstract idea of the art itself. I’m sure you kind of feel this as well. But I don’t know if someone who isn’t like an artist of color or like a female artist or someone who’s been shut out a lot, that experience of like, he says, “I just want those things you see through your eyes.” It’s like all these executives and these producers, they want my eyes. They want the way I’ve seen the world. They want my life experience. But they want it to be separate from me. They just want to take me out of that as much as possible and leave me with what I can go and make money with. That’s so well expressed in that exchange.
Aditya: It’s this thing that’s happening now, especially with all the movement that’s happening around us is Black creators are being asked by every brand imaginable, “Hey, can we get you to do this?” Then you know, it’s been coming out obviously, that a lot of them want creators to do it for free. A lot of them have been paying Black creators less than the whole time. So that’s the same thing. It’s, “We just want to use your perspective because we can’t have it. We want to use it because it advantages us but we don’t actually care about your humanity.” There was one white character who was like, “Black is so in right now.” I feel like that is another indictment of the way that people talk about not just Hollywood and art but every industry. But I especially feel it in Hollywood. Anyone that that we talk to is like, “You know, not only is this a great story, people are really looking for this kind of story right now.” People love The Big Sick. We want the story now. Not necessarily because we think that more stories like yours deserve to be told, but because there is a demand in the market.
Ola: I don’t know if you’ve heard this one. But this is what I heard while I was in film school like, “Oh, it’s so tough being a white male writer right now because everybody wants a woman’s stories and Black stories.” Just look at the numbers and you can prove it’s wrong. It’s such a preposterous idea. But absolutely. Black is in fashion. This whole podcast could just be on the garden party scene and I could talk for it for five hours because it’s so layered. I keep coming back to why the film moved me so much. This perfect explanation of your racism is not just this basic thing of like, “Oh, I’m a Klansman. I’m a white supremacist or I’m a Nazi and I just hate Black people. I hate people with different skin colors.” It goes so far beyond that. That’s like the kindergarten-level understanding of racism. When you really understand it is when you understand like, “Hey, this person who’s giving me compliments and is on a surface level seems to be praising me, it’s just another form of abuse. It’s just another form of exploitation. It just has a friendlier face on it.”
Aditya: It feels like you always have to worry. There’s always some level of skepticism, and mistrust. Do they want something for me? Is there some inherent value that they see to me that I think people feel almost always anyway, but is amplified when you are wary of people using you that way.
Ola: I was having this conversation with a friend of mine who’s in the industry also a couple days ago. Just about how now’s a great time to get read because every single studio and agency and their mother wants to prove that they’re not racist. So they want to take Black clients on. They want to sign Black projects on. But I said to him at the end of the day, I’ve had the experience for my whole life almost of being the token Black person. It’s just such a psychologically taxing place to live. It’s never worth it and it feels like damned if you damned if you don’t. Like, yeah, I want to get myself made. I want to make some money, I want to do this thing I want to do my whole life. But I don’t want to do it at the cost of my humanity. I don’t want to have to go in and tap dance for a bunch of studio execs in a pitch. Some of that is just not worth it.
What’s the point of earning something if it’s just because you feel like this idea in somebody else’s mind that isn’t actually who you are. And that idea of who you are really doesn’t take into effect that you are a person, a complex person. It’s just taking a tiny sliver of who you are, namely your race and being like, “Alright, let’s run with this.” That’s kind of what Get Out is like, that’s the crux of the whole operation, right? The procedure is like, “Oh, you guys have something that’s useful, but you don’t know how to use it properly. Let me take this and I can really excel with it.” It’s like the idea of mind slavery. I know what to do with your body better than you know what to do with your body. Give your body to me and then we’ll be better off because you can’t handle it anyway. That’s what it can feel like a lot when you’re trying to share Black stories. They like the idea of it, but they don’t really like the thing itself.
Aditya: Back to your point about white writers, white male writers are like, “God, it is so hard to be white and male. If only I was a Black woman, I would be rolling in jobs.” That’s how they think about it. It’s also a little bit of a reflection of this narrative that we see a lot in music which is Black artists with a white manager who’s like, “I’m the puppet master.” The Straight Outta Compton character who’s behind the scenes manipulating.
Ola: Right, exactly.
Aditya: The Black musicians for profit.
Ola: Chris Rock has that joke, “Shaq is rich but the white man that signs this check is wealthy.” That’s kind of how that space is. It’s scary to feel as a Black artist that for you to reach the pinnacles of your profession of your craft, it’s almost impossible to separate that from being exploited. It almost seems like it’s more of an issue of making the best out of it and like, “How can I be exploited the least?” The way the industry works, you’re never gonna get away from that. It’s always gonna be part of the story. It’s just a matter of like, “How can I limit this from affecting me?” It’s kind of how you operate being a Black person in the world just in general. You’re like, “Yo, I’m gonna face a whole lot of stuff. Let’s hope it’s not the worst.” Kind of the way Chris moves through this movie a lot. This is something that maybe it’s funny, something about this film is that it’s so specific. Not just that it’s a Black man, but at the time I watched it I had my first white partner and was going through all those anxieties that come with that. And having lived in very white spaces for my entire adult life. Most of my life, it was so specific that I was like, “Would people who haven’t experienced this even fully understand this feeling because it’s so specific?”
What Chris is going through, that idea of like, “Yo, I only have the worst expectations going into this. I’m just hoping that it’s not that bad.” He throws away the line, “I don’t want to get chased off alone with a shotgun.” But in your mind, as a Black person, you’re going to your white partner’s family’s place for the first time and you’re thinking like, “Yo, as long as they don’t chase me off with a shotgun then all right. I got out. I’m good. I’m alive.” You have to set your bar and your expectations for what will happen to you kind of low just to protect yourself. Because if you go around expecting that everyone’s gonna be really nice to you and gracious, then you’re setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment.
Any questions people have as to why Chris is putting up with this, why he doesn’t get out sooner. It just all made such perfect sense. Because I was him, watching it. I was like, “I’ve experienced that. I’ve been there. I’ve been in a party that I didn’t want to be at but I was like, it’s not as bad as it could be. Let’s just not raise a scene because then we don’t want to be seen a certain way. Let’s just try and keep them moving. Because what other option do we have?”
Aditya: Of course the ironic and hilarious thing that Jordan Peele does is that he does end up getting chased out a lot.
Ola: Right. Exactly. Yeah. No, it really is that.
Aditya: The other thing that you touched on there is it’s not just how can I get through this. It’s how much do I have to compromise and dilute myself to get through it. The fact that they cast Bradley Whitford as the dad is hilarious, because he plays the most well-meaning liberal of all time. That “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” is not just a performative display of allyship or of non-racism. It’s also a subscription by that character and by all those characters to a specific ideal of what they think a Black person should be like.
Ola: Uh huh.
Aditya: Which I think I feel less acutely as an Asian American, but you kind of want to make sure that you are as close to what people think you should be to navigate those spaces with as little friction as possible. Which I think contributes to Chris putting up with the whole thing. He’s like, “I’m just gonna be the perfect boyfriend because I need to be this Obama Black person.”
Ola: Really what it comes down to as a Black man in America more than any other Western nation, you’re just fighting against so many preconceived notions on who you are. As a Black artist at the end of the day, the thing we want more than anything else isn’t for someone to be like, “Oh, you’ve had it so rough. I’m so sorry for you. I pity you so much. Oh, I really see your struggle.” I just want to be treated like a person.
My biggest ambition creatively is I just want to be a great filmmaker. I don’t want to be a great Black filmmaker. I don’t want there to be like, “This is the box that we’re putting you in. This is your sunken place. You are never getting out of here.”
Donald Glover has one of my favorite quotes which is, “White people have no idea the lengths I go to to make them feel comfortable.” And I think that just captures the pain of everyday existence. I’m like 6’2". I’m a big dude. How do I explain to somebody that if I’m in an elevator and it’s just me and a small white lady, I have to physically shrink myself. Physically trying to make myself seem smaller. Because I know that if the wrong white person finds me intimidating that I could die. I could just be dead because somebody thought that I was scarier than I actually am. We can talk more about the sunken place but like that metaphor for being a passenger. Your body’s doing all of these involuntary actions, you’ve learned to keep yourself alive in a hostile world in such a way that it doesn’t really allow you to fully experience just being yourself. Because you’re just constantly making all these calculations of like, “How am I being perceived? How are these people thinking about me? Are they racist? Are they not? Am I safe?” All these years of constantly assessing all the time. And man, it’s exhausting.
Aditya: I actually really do want to talk to you about the sunken place. Is that how you interpret that metaphor? That visual?
Ola: I’ve thought so much about it. Let’s just throw it up. That’s one of the best images in cinema history. Just hands down. I would use it to explain what visual metaphor is to anybody, because I think it’s just so perfect. The way that racism operates in today’s America, 2020 21st century America is not to necessarily enslave you in an obvious way, but to make your everyday experience that is just in this other realm. I almost don’t know how to describe it because I don’t know what the alternative is. It’s been a long time since I left Nigeria and there are a whole bunch of issues there. I don’t necessarily know how it feels to just do whatever you like, moving around and just doing whatever you want. Not worrying about it. I don’t know what that feels like. I think that that’s what it’s speaking to. It’s funny, it took on a life of its own. Obviously, like people say, people like Ben Carson or Candace Owens, it just kind of became a replacement for what you might have called an Uncle Tom and back in the day. Uncle Tom, just like someone who’s kind of given up the fight. Like Chris says, “All the Black people here seem like they missed the movement.” That’s how he describes the sunken place. It’s like, “Oh, you just missed the whole thing. You’re just going along with this craziness.” It’s very rich and complex and lead but ultimately what it comes down to is not having full autonomy over your lived experience. There’s just certain limitations that you constantly have to deal with. The fact that it’s white influence that is what’s specifically keeping you from the lived experience that you really wanted to see for you.
Aditya: That’s really interesting. I don’t think I’d ever thought about it as that first explanation you gave. I think I’d always thought about it more as like the meme-ified Twitter version of it. But I really like the idea that you lose the ownership of your own story and your own narrative. You made the slavery comparison. And now, to me, it sounds almost like an invisible set of chains. It’s like modern day being chained within your body. I don’t wanna say it’s more harmful but there’s something really dangerous and scary about people not seeing the way that you’re chained up.
Ola: I don’t think you’re wrong in saying that it’s almost more dangerous because at the end of the day, like if you’re just whipping someone to death in a field, there’s no way to get around that. Like George Floyd — if you’re watching a man kneeling on another man’s neck for nine minutes, there’s really no way you can get around that. It just is what it is. But if you’re a Black artist complaining about a lack of agency and creating your art because of your white label owners if you’re a musician or studio execs or whatever it is, no one’s gonna pay you any mind. You know, “Suck it up. This person is complaining, what you have to complain about — if you don’t like it do something else.” That thinking because it’s not nearly as visible, it’s so hard to challenge because not everybody’s seeing it. If you’re not looking at what I’m looking at, then you’re not going to see the problem that I’m seeing. Then how can we even have the conversation about how to fix things, if you’re not even in a place where you can see what I’m saying to begin with?
Aditya: Right? It’s another form of what-about-ism. There’s definitely layers to it. There’s the literal murder of Black people at the hands of police. Then there’s the mass incarceration system and the war on drugs. And then there’s things that are a bit more to the lived experience. The microaggressions. The 1000 cuts that you feel every day. None of those things are any less important or any less valid. To your point earlier, the media and just the general way we talk about race in this country has trained us to think about racism as this really visceral, visible evil thing. When in reality it is still evil but it’s much more nuanced and much more under the surface.
Ola: Exactly. You know, it’s not this mustache twirling and that’s what I love about all the villains in the movie. It would have been so easy to just like for the Armitage grandfather to just be a literal Klan member. That would have been a really easy choice. He’s like, “The Black race is inferior and you don’t deserve the gifts you’ve been given.” But the fact that the way he addresses it is like a partnership. Like, “Oh, this is symbiotic. I’m helping you and you’re helping me and this is the version of the happy, integrated world that we can live in is one where we literally inhabit your bodies.” Like it’s so easy there. It’s like, “You’ll get to ride along. It’s gonna be so awesome.” It’s so fucked up and that’s what makes it so hard for people to see it sometimes. To understand that a compliment can be just as cutting can be more cutting than someone who’s calling you n****. You know, it can be a lot worse. I can’t tell you how many garden parties I’ve personally experienced in my life. It really takes a toll.
Aditya: I mean, you went to two of the most well-known white private schools in the world.
Ola: Going from Harrow which is famously Winston Churchill’s old school. If you want to know what it’s like, just read about Churchill and the kind of person he is. The kind of person he is is the kind of person that they’re all like, which is not a very great thing to be. I went to this British boarding school with a Harry Potter-type setup and I was the first Black dude to be in my boarding house. There was overt racism. There were people who said horrible things and did horrible things. But what there was much more of and what ultimately weighed much more heavily on me was the people who were like, “Oh, you shouldn’t worry about that. You should be happy you’re Black. You’re so big and strong.” Like you said, “Everybody loves Black people. Black people are so cool. Like you can say n****. You can rap. You can do all these really cool things.” It hurts. Because again, it’s like you are taken away from humanity. It’s like, I don’t ever get to be a human being with these people. I’m just a stand-in for whatever they think is awesome about Black people. Which really hurts your mental state in a very specific way.
Aditya: This is a little aside from Get Out but I am curious about it since you’ve had this experience at both Harrow and Duke. Coming from Nigeria to Harrow and then coming from the UK to Duke, did you feel like you were granted some exceptionalism?
Ola: Oh my god. 100% It’s not even a question. When I got to Duke, I was the Black British Pitchfork. The Pitchforks are my acapella group in college. I remember I felt that shift from being at Harrow and experiencing just outright white supremacy, basically. Then going to Duke and receiving the exceptionalism and that puts you in such a weird space too. It’s like you said, you’re in these white settings a lot of the time and you’re like, “Am I here because I have a British accent and that makes me safer for them?” That’s something I struggled with for a really long time because I didn’t quite fit the stereotype. I was close enough. I was like Drake, I was half Jewish. Sounds Black enough, but not too Black to be scary. That’s kind of what it felt like getting into Duke.
Aditya: I feel like there’s this thing and I definitely was guilty of this growing up like. I grew up in Kansas City. There were not very many Black people where I grew up and the most academically prolific Black person I knew was like a close friend of mine from choir, who also happened to have Ghanaian parents. For a lot of my young childhood I always thought about like, “Okay, there’s a difference between people who grew up here and people who grew up abroad because they end up being more like us.” Then I realized that it cuts all the different ways. When I got to Duke, you see this with Asian people. When you’re in a fraternity and rushing fraternities, it’s like there’s the Asian kids and Indian kids who went to prep school in Westchester and play lacrosse. Then the Indian kids who are in Comm Sci and you’re like, “Oh, those are the kids we don’t want. We want the ones who are basically like rich white kids whose parents work at banks. Those are the kids we want.” It’s like, “How many white or elevated attributes can we throw on you? And attach to you until you are one of us?”
Ola: Exactly. It’s another thing that almost connects to Get Out very much in this idea of a white person inhabiting a Black person’s body. How can we sanitize your existence so that it makes us comfortable? Like the Jim Hudson thing, he’s not experiencing Chris’s life but it’s being described to him in language that he can understand and is probably in the back of his mind converting to capital. Like, “Okay, this is valuable, because I can put it up in the gallery. It’s not valuable, because it’s expressing the pain of this man’s existence, you know?” So in order to get the things out of you that they would like to have, they need to sanitize the dangerous aspects. He’s like, “Oh, he’s big and he’s Black. He’s kind of scary, but then he opens his mouth and then he totally disarms.” It’s like, “Okay, he’s safe. The guy sounds like Downton Abbey. He can’t be a gangster. He can’t be a thug. He’s not gonna hurt me.”
Aditya: Then the minute that you start to become aware of that honestly is like rising out of the sunken place. The minute that you start to understand what’s happening there. I’m gonna make a strong tie back to Get Out here. There is a sense of white fragility that then attempts to push you back into that box.
Aditya: I felt for the first time I really noticed that with the grandfather who’s inhabiting the gardener’s body, the fragility that he has by just being beaten by Jesse Owens the one time and then using that to construct this whole elaborate way to take over a Black body is really relevant and resonant for the way that white people think about what it means to step outside of your box. When you cross them, then suddenly you’ve crossed from that safe and sanitized version of yourself into something that puts their lifestyle and their comfort at risk.
Ola: The fact that all of this essentially boils down to one old white dude just being bitter about a Black man beating him in a race. That that led to all of this is so poignant and so speaks to white fragility and white insecurity. That’s of course tied to the white supremacy because the reason he couldn’t get over it is because a Black man beat him at something. The only way he could continue with his life was to say that, “Oh, well, he only beat me because God gave him this body that I simply cannot compete with. It’s like me trying to beat a cheetah. So if I can just put my brain in him, then we’re taking off.”
Just that arrogance of, “I can’t actually accept this. There has to be something more to this.” It’s the same way when it’s me going into a good school or me getting a good job, whatever. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t accept the people who rage about affirmative action. I can’t accept that you were just better than me.” People will pretend like they don’t know racism exists, but they really know. It’s like Karen in Central Park. She voted for Obama and Hillary Clinton. But she knew that if I say an African American man is threatening my life that police might come and get this guy the fuck out of here. People know that we have to fight so much harder. People know that we have obstacles. They don’t want to admit it because when we succeed, it’s like, “Yeah, look, Look at what I had to overcome and I’m still here.”
That’s really the heart of white insecurity. That’s why I think the media loves showing pictures of starving kids in Africa and loves showing Black on Black whatever. That bullshit statement, “Black on Black crime in Chicago” and all this weird stuff that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. You know, they’re not going into bumfuck Arkansas and shooting a bunch of white people in a trailer park for a reason. Because they need to feel like the people suffering are Black. They need to feel only Black people have to worry about those things. Because they need to feel that way, when they see us still succeeding it’s just like, you can’t handle it. You can’t take that and so you have to defeat it. You know, that’s where something like Black Wall Street in Tulsa comes in. The way we frame our lives cannot exist if we don’t do these things to subjugate you and keep you away to where we think you need to be.
Aditya: Right. It’s an awareness and especially now it’s an awareness of the societal structures that keep minorities down and then using that awareness. I mean, Amy Cooper, I think is her name, the woman in Central Park, she just weaponized it. Like she knew it. If you learn these things, if you take an African American Studies class and a gender class and all these things at school. Then you are fully aware of all the things that are going on in the world, it makes it so easy for you to weaponize them. Which is again back to Get Out, the well-meaning liberal being just as dangerous as the hick with the Confederate flag.
Ola: Exactly. That’s probably my one critique of the movie is that clearly Rose’s character’s name should have been Karen. That’s obviously what should have happened. She is the O.G. cinematic Karen. You know, the person that looks like an ally, that moves like an ally. But when push comes to shove, they’ll sell you out just as soon as the most racist person. Racism isn’t just as simple as being a good or bad person or being mean or nice or whatever. I’m sure that there’s context that Amy Cooper has interacted with Black people and been fine. But she was in a specific state of mind where the brainwashing in the media and the training that she’s had to think of Black people in a certain way came out. I don’t even think she was fully conscious at that moment. That’s like the white version of the sunken place. You tell yourself why you’re different, but they just regress and you just regress to your most basic fears. A lot of the basic fears in this country are based around the idea of Black people just being scary. But ultimately, I think that’s the recurring theme in all of these like police killings. It’s like, “Oh, I feared for my life.” Well, “Why did you fear for your life?” And it’s because there’s this image of Black men being some crazy weird superhuman beings that don’t feel pain and could overpower like five men with guns.
Get Out is amazing because it takes that thinking which is clearly wrong. It’s like, “Hey, do you see how this connects to this?” Like, “Oh, train your body and you’ll become a beast.” Like Jeremy Armitage thinking that if he just had a Black body, he’d be really good at jiu jitsu. A white police officer who’s thinking that this Black kid on his knees can still somehow overpower me. It’s the different branches on the same tree. So that’s why it’s so important to make those corollaries and help people understand how these forms of racism that we’ve accepted and really propped up in society are just a way to keep up all of the terrible stuff that we can see is clearly wrong. You can’t take out racist police killing Black men without taking out objectifying Black men’s bodies as being animalistic or whatever that weird mentality is.
Aditya: I want to make a slight shift to something that I only noticed on this rewatch. There’s a Japanese guy.
Aditya: You were just talking about the way that society is trained to think about Black people in a certain way, as a dangerous animalistic individual. I think it’s happening a lot now. There’s a reckoning happening in the Asian American community, in the South Asian American community especially, about how there are some absurd anti-Black tendencies for a group of people that came post-Civil Rights Movement. It’s all clearly societally learned. It was so smart of Jordan Peele to nod to that, because there’s so much of an effort of other minority groups to jostle with each other. “Crabs in the Barrel” is the phrase that I’ve heard. Sid actually just sort of wrote a screenplay about this about Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus in this small white town. It’s like, “How do we make ourselves feel as palatable as possible to the white people to control society because we want to be upwardly mobile? Well, we will just be different than or we’ll just compare ourselves always to the people that they are scared of the most, which in this case is African American people.”
Ola: It really speaks to what racism is really about. Kind of what I was alluding to earlier, racism, the actual institution of it, is not about the kindergarten level, “Oh, you have different colored skin. I don’t like you.” Not some basic prejudice, it’s a system. That system exists to prop certain people up directly at the expense of other people. Take the most egregious example we have. Slavery, right? Why does slavery exist? You can talk about race science and you can talk about white supremacy but at the end of the day, we know that all of that was just an excuse to implement this system. What it was really about was, “Hey, free labor is awesome. Free labor is great for business. I want to be really rich and if I can have some free labor that would help me. How do I get that? Oh, I’ll tell them that there are animals. It’s basically the same as having a cow pull your tractor.”
White supremacy, the ideology of it, the hatred or the inferiority part, that’s actually secondary because it helps prop up what is really about which is, “I want to benefit off of the exploitation of other people.” That’s where the model minority thing fits in because it’s like, “Okay, I know that I’m not at the top here. I’m not at the top of the pyramid, I’m still suffering. But I’m really happy that I’m not at the bottom.” It’s almost a “keep you in check” kind of thing, like, “Hey, you don’t like it, you want to be down there?” You know, that’s the unsaid part of it is, “You really want to be over there with those n*****? You want to be doing that?” That’s part of that driving anti-Black sentiment. So then at that point non-Black minorities also have a vested interest in upholding that system, because things could get a lot worse for them if they suddenly were lumped in with everybody else. That’s not just non-Black minorities. That’s also poor white people.
This whole system of “Let’s stop the poor itinerant Irish workers from realizing that they’re getting really screwed by shifting all the blame and the fears and all of it on to just like free Black labor.” It’s all part of the same power game. That’s kind of what it makes me think of. I think bringing in other minorities is helpful to the understanding of what racism really is versus what people think of it as. Just the “I don’t like you because you’re a different color.”
Aditya: Right. There’s that the dominant theory, obviously, anyone who’s taken a race class at school would know the racial triangulation thing, right? There’s white people are valued and local, Asian people are less valued but still more valued than Black people, but foreign or alien. Then Black people are local but undervalued. It’s a triangle. Asian people have historically found it to be more advantageous to put a barrier on their part of the triangle so that they can move up and no one can come up and usurp them. To your point, it’s really just a distraction from the systems of inequality that pervade the whole system. It’s interesting to see a Japanese guy show up and he asks one random question, which is of course the question that the Asian guy would ask which is, “Do you find it better or worse being Black?” Because in reality we get here and we don’t know, right? Like, Asian American immigrants who came here. They don’t know and then they learn really quickly what the system does to people who are Black versus what the system does to people who are white. One of the big criticisms, especially of South Asian men is that we adopt all the Black cultural signifiers without any of the Black societal signifiers. Without considering the other aspects of the thing.
Ola: I don’t think there’s necessarily reading that comes out in Get Out in any specific scene. But I think it’s important that like—We all get the same propaganda. We all are fed the same images. It’s not even like, you know, the model minority. It’s not only white people who are watching propaganda of scary Black people in the hood or whatever. Asian people are watching it, South Asian people are watching it, Black people are watching it also. It’s affecting all of us. Chris Rock has a joke about that as well, the Black people versus n***** thing. He’s like, “I’m looking over my shoulder for that person too because I’ve been watching the same TV as you. That same TV that you’ve been watching is brainwashing me with the same thing.” So when we talk about problems in our own community and self hatred and all these different things.
That’s what’s crazy is like people who say like, “I’m not racist.” Like, no, I’m not even above it. At the end of the day, when I’m 12 years old and I’m in this place where everybody fucking hates me and it’s telling me that I’m less than human and I don’t deserve to be there. It’s not possible to not have some self hatred creeping. It seems like it’s gonna be something that you deal with. It’s something that I did deal with for many years afterwards, trying to unpack and relearn and re-shift. Nobody’s above this. Nobody is outside of this. Nobody gets out of this. We’re all dealing with the same shis. Obviously, it’s just easier for me to see it and call it out because I’m suffering from it. Whereas someone who’s not suffering from it, they’re not gonna see why it’s a problem.
Aditya: Right. I actually think there is a part of Get Out that I read from which is where Rod goes to the police.
Ola: Oh, yeah. Good call.
Aditya: And it’s a Black woman officer. Then she calls over I think a Latino guy and another Black guy. They just don’t take him seriously. It’s, I think, representative of the way that minority communities are taught to think about their own suffering.
Ola: Definitely. Yeah, that’s a great take. It’s funny, because I put more emphasis on that during this last rewatch than I had previously. I was like, “Oh, it is really interesting that the three offices are all people of color.” I just kept asking myself, “Why did he choose to do that?” It seems obvious that it’s just three white people. But the fact that it was people who had more reason to be on his side shows how they’re also like, “Man, forget about it.”
It begs the question, if I have the same female detective and someone’s like, “My 19-year-old white female friend is missing,” does that get dismissed immediately as well? Or is it like, “Oh, it’s a Black dude.” Even the joke, she jokes, “Oh, yeah, those white men, they’ll get you, these white women will get you.” That’s also again, on a very personal level, being in an interracial relationship, specifically a Black/white interracial relationship. There’s so many little things that would drop in in Get Out that again, I don’t know if everybody would pick up on or relate to or care about. But for me personally meant a whole lot. You know, that line “Those white women will get you” and specifically when Chris is trying to explain to Rose that Georgina might have unplugged this phone because she doesn’t approve of them being together is so specific.
I say that like being an interracial relationship opened my eyes, to a whole extra spectrum of racism and just that whole space because one, I get more attention now because I have very dark skin and my partner has very white skin. So just looking at us, we draw attention to ourselves more so than if I was just me or me and a Black partner. It’s not just white people looking at me more. Black people are looking at me more too. That’s something that I also have to be cognizant of. Because I think Chris is literally lying. He says when talking about Georgina, he says, “It’s a thing.” And it is a thing. When you’re in an interracial relationship, as a Black man, specifically, you do feel like, “I have to prove to people that I’m still about it.” You know, like, “I didn’t forget where I came from. I don’t hate us, I love us. It’s just something that happened. I just happened to fall in love with this person who was this color.”
Get Out is the kind of movie that I had never thought I would have seen if I didn’t write it myself. Especially when I’m at film school and I’m pitching stories and I’m constantly told that they’re too specific. Nobody would get this and you don’t raise social issues. It’s storytelling, all this stuff. Then to watch a film that did something so specific that I could relate to specifically that was so successful was so great to see. So I’m like, “Okay, I can talk about my specific experience.”
It’s so hard when white executives or teachers or whoever it happens to be or colleagues, they try to get you to change parts of your lived experience to fit their narrative of what a Black person is better. So that’s really tough. I don’t know if that line just addressing that makes it in that movie if he’s not with someone like Jason Blum who’s giving him enough creative control and being like, “Hey, even if I don’t get it I’m giving you the reins, go ahead.” That was amazing to see.
Aditya: Jordan Peele is obviously in a white/Black marriage with Chelsea Peretti. I don’t know if you and Rachel talked about this. I wonder what Chelseea Peretti’s reaction was when she saw the movie because they must have been together.
Ola: When my partner and I watched it, it was the third time I’d seen it, actually. It was her first time seeing it but I was super excited to get her to see it. I think in a weird way it’s kind of educational, almost. It’s kind of like, “Hey, this anxiety that I’m having a hard time trying to describe to you what it is … Here it is.”
Aditya: That goes back to this idea of how important it is to have people who understand you as an artist, reading your work and being gatekeepers for getting your work made. I have been meeting with people about some of the new scripts because a couple of them got featured on this like Blacklist website, whatever. We need some managers and agents or whatever. We met with someone who was South Asian. We have a script that we’ve met with a couple producers about last year, and the South Asian woman is the first person who’s really gotten it. Other people have been like, “Oh, I’m not sure. Maybe if the arranged marriage thing was bigger, maybe if this or that, I don’t know if there’s enough drama.” Then the South Asian was like, “No, it’s a perfect example of the experience that I’ve lived in and that you’ve lived. I think that that is the important part of the story.” And you’re like, “Do you not think you should change XYZ thing?” And she was like, “No, because that would change the experience of the story and the voice that it’s giving.” That was just so refreshing. That’s kind of what you’re saying is that there’s something very heartening about people validating your experience. It sounds like seeing Get Out was a validation of your experience for you.
Ola: Oh, 100%. It was just proof that it’s not about the specifics that you might not necessarily understand and you need to fit some narrative. It’s about what the whole thing is and appreciating something for what it is versus what you want itto be or think it is. For me, what personally has been a big barrier is what people are telling you, other people will think it is. An Asian might tell me, They might not say like, “Oh, Black films don’t sell.” They’ll say, “Oh, producers think Black films don’t sell. So that’s why I’m not going to take you to producers.” I wrote a script, which to me was, it’s my favorite script that I’ve ever written my whole life. I think it’s great. But because it’s a story set in a college about a Black person, it’s taking a lot of my experiences from Duke. Everyone was just like, “Oh, man, this is such a great script, like, this is awesome. But Dear White People exists.”
What pains me is that so much of my script is about is almost in reply to a Dear White People concept. It’s like, “Okay, let me show you this whole side of a Black collegiate experience that is completely different.” It’s more about an immigrant experience but in a college setting than like a Black story, but the person happens to be Black. But that’s the problem is that we’re not allowed to have films with someone who happens to be Black. If they are Black, then it needs to be because they’re fighting some kind of oppression. Like I said before, the reason why that hurts is to see as a Black person is that that’s not what our whole lives are centered on. The majority of your existence that you want to portray in your art you’re not even allowed to because people just want you to talk about the suffering or whatever.
So I was thinking, people reading the script that’s a comedy about a Black kid from a different country coming into America. Trying to understand what being Black in America is also while just being a college student and trying to figure that out and not being able to get recognition for the fact that that is a fundamentally different story than a Black American who’s experiencing racism in their college.They’re night and day to me, but to a non-Black person they’re like, “Oh, this is just the same thing.” I actually specifically had a meeting with a manager who asked and I was trying to do my due diligence. I was like, “Okay, well, what’s something you would see me doing?” He had read my script and loved it and said, “Oh, well, obviously, I need to get you writing for Dear White People.” He said that and I immediately knew that I wasn’t gonna sign with him because I’m like, “Okay, that shows that you don’t get it. You don’t get the whole point of why I wrote this in the first place. So how can I trust you to represent me?” It’s a real thing, trying to be trying to be authentic and find your authentic self and communicate that but not be allowed to be because you need to fit into this box.
Aditya: Yeah. stories about people of color don’t always get the benefit of nuance and the benefit of well-roundedness. I mean, white people, not to have made this too much of a “bash on white movies” party, but like, white people get the benefit of Lady Bird and 50 movies like Lady Bird that are slightly different. And you get like one or two of those if you’re a person of color and then you’re like, “Oh, we’ve seen it already. We’ve seen Dear White People, so we don’t need any more Black people in college. Like that’s it.”
Ola: That is the last Black culture that will ever happen. We’re never doing it again. But it’s like, there are people, white friends of friends that I heard about watching Moonlight like, “Oh, seriously, another movie about like a gay Black dude?” And I was like, “Firstly, how many movies about gay Black dudes are there?” When has anyone ever said like, “Oh, another movie about a straight white guy.” That’s never happened in the history of fucking cinema. No one’s ever said like, “Oh, well, we already have a movie about a white family in Brooklyn going through a divorce. We don’t need to do Marriage Story.” Why does Noah Baumbach get to do the same movie over and over and over again and be called a genius. But if you’re Black, if anybody has done something remotely similar to what you’re proposing, like, “Nah, sorry, can’t do it. We’ve seen that before.”
There’s this artificial quota on Black stories. It kind of kills me that like, such a huge part of my life, being in an interracial relationship that’s affected a lot of how I just see the world and has impacted me hugely. I’ve never even bothered to write that movie. I’ve never even bothered to think about what that movie would look like. Because I know, there’s going to be a mountain of people who are like, “Bro, Jordan Peele already did it. It’s not happening again. Forget about it.” That sucks, because a white person would never have to worry about something like that. A white person will never be like, “Oh, shucks, they’re not going to take another story about a Jewish family in New York.” That would never happen.
Aditya: It’s like a “Crabs in a Barrel” thing again, you only get so many. So you’re happy when these movies about people have experiences that are like yours come out. Because like, “Damn, okay, that’s one more checked off. What’s a different experience that I’ve had that’s not just nuanced from this, like totally different from this?”
We’ve been talking a lot about the themes of the movie. There’s one more thing I want to talk about really quickly, which is the way that the movie talks about Chris’s mom and her like dying alone on the street, a victim of a hit and run with nobody looking for her.
There are so many other things going on the first time or two that I watched the movie, I didn’t really think about that. But this time, it really stuck with me. Because to me, maybe this is a reach, probably not with Jordan Peele, it’s symbolic of the way that society discards Black women. We’ve seen this all the time lately, women disappearing and people having to raise the alarm and no one going looking for them. That’s the thing with Chris — he waits for hours and his mom is dead, because he didn’t go out looking for her.
Ola: Yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned that. Because I think one of the best things about rewatching this movie is that you really get to focus. It sounds weird but I think the first time you watch it you’re just so taken aback by the big flashy stuff and the racism of it all, the overt racism of it all and trying to unpack the mystery. But rewatching it, you really get to focus on Chris as a character and what his trauma is and what he’s fighting through in the movie emotionally and symbolically versus literally fighting for his life. And so I also was thinking a lot about his mom this time around, because that’s such a pivotal part. That’s what the Catherine Keener character uses against him to control him, is his trauma. What does that trauma say about the state of his life at large?
He makes the fatal mistake of going back for Georgina after he runs her over by accident on his way out. He literally is in the film, he’s arguing with himself. He’s like, “Come on, man. Don’t do it. Just go, just go.” He literally can’t bring himself to do it. That’s so poignant. Even in the face of this person trying to kill him or her family trying to kill him. Even him, knowing that’s not really her. There’s a great split second flashback in that moment where it goes back to the scene where she’s crying and she’s fighting. You know, whoever the Black person is that’s inside that body is fighting to get out, he remembers that there’s a Black woman trapped in there. So he’s going back for that Black woman because his whole life trauma is he didn’t do anything. Someone should have done something for his mom. Of course, society wasn’t going to, like some randoms. The person who hit her wasn’t going to do anything.
If his mom was someone who was more cared for in society, if society was set up to care for her, she would have been taken care of. So I think in that moment, it’s like he physically cannot help himself from going back to Georgina, because in that moment, she’s his mother. Yes, the brain is of a white person is trying to kill him. But the soul and the body is of a Black woman who is in this position in the first place because society didn’t care enough to go find her when she went missing. He can’t let that go. I think that’s a really such an important part of the movie that’s really comes out the more you watch it.
Aditya: We talked about 20 things that are just so there and nuanced but you only catch because you know what’s coming. So you can pick up on all the other small moments. It’s really hard to make a thriller or a horror movie rewatchable if you know all the scares. But this movie I was just on the edge of my seat the third time watching, which is crazy.
Ola: As much as I can be objective from a writing standpoint, just the amount of layers and there’s not a single line in this movie that’s wasted. That’s why it’s such an amazing movie. Almost every single thing, every line of dialogue, every offhand comment, every look, every weird tick that just seems like generically creepy pays off at the end. It’s such a masterfully constructed script. It’s funny, because when people think screenwriting they think dialogue just because that’s what you think if you’re not involved in movies. But the real way you can tell that a script was really incredible and this script won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. I think it’s got to end the Oscar actually. But the reason why is because the plot movements and the story beats, none of them are wasted. Every single one of them has thematic relevance, all of them tie off at the end.
So taking out the racial component, taking out any of that stuff, just from a cinema purist perspective, the way that he gets everything to the payoff in such a way that I think this last time I watched it must have been number six or seven. I’m still finding things that I didn’t find before. I still think I have five more viewings before I can say I am tapped out. There’s so much to go to, it’s not a surprise, when you look into it that he spent something like nine years writing the script of a period of time while he was doing Key & Peele. Because you’d need that long to put this much into this script. It’s not discovered by accident. It’s by construction. You can tell that he’s a writer who did many drafts and went back to his final scene and said, “How can I make this thing that I do in the final scene? How can I lay the groundwork for this in minute 25?” Every little thing and the more you watch it, you only gain appreciation for it. It’s such an incredible job that he does like, you know what’s coming. And you’ve learned something that was tipped off that you didn’t know the first time.
Aditya: You know, I said in the beginning, I liked Us better when I first saw it. I think having rewatched Get Out a couple more times, I don’t feel that way anymore. I guess I might have to rewatch Us now like three more times and see if I can find all the same things. But I think that’s actually a good transition into talking a little bit about the lasting legacy of the movie. We talked a bit about at the beginning, you know, there’s now a whole Jordan Peele social thriller genre. What else do you think is the lasting legacy of Get Out on the broader cinematic landscape, but also maybe on being a Black creator?
Ola: I think so first from the broader cinematic landscape. I really think a lot of what people were hoping would come as a result of Black Panther is actually more much more likely to come as a result of Get Out. And the reason why I say that is because Black Panther is another movie that I absolutely love. I think Get Out just to compare the two behemoth Black films of the last decade. Get Out is my favorite, but part of that is like, you know, with Black Panther, it is and it’s also mostly like, you know—At the end of the day, it was gonna make a billion dollars no matter what, it’s a Marvel movie. It was a setup home run. Nobody’s looking at Black Panther and thinking like, “Oh, I had no idea.” Like, “No, you knew because it’s a Disney movie. Any Disney movie is going to do Disney numbers.” That’s not shocking.
Get Out is this little $4 million movie from the Key and Peele dude comedian. Nobody was expecting this. Nobody was expecting that this movie was gonna… It’s funny, you talked about Keanu like, when’s the last time you thought about Keanu? You know, nobody’s thinking that this is a film that’s gonna be dissected and really take part in cinematic history for the rest of time. Nobody was thinking that going in.
So the fact that it did that as a Black film and not just a Black film, but a Black film where at the end of the movie, you’re cheering for the Black hero to murder a bunch of white people. For that movie to be as successful as it was I think really once you watch that, you have to be like, “Okay, maybe there’s more to this.” I mean directly, a Queen and Slim doesn’t happen without Get Out. You know, I mean, Daniel Kaluuya but also just a smaller Black movie … How do you pitch a Black Bonnie and Clyde without having a Get Out to prove that it can be successful for us? Sorry to Bother You, which is another one of my favorite Black movies in the last decade. Hey, if you want to have me back on, let’s do that. That’s another one that I think what Boots Riley actually even said, “Get Out gave me the confidence that this could be a thing.” That idea that we can make a movie that’s specific and nuanced and that you can make money off of it. It doesn’t have to be like a tiny art house project. It can have a wide, massive global appeal and still be authentically Black. That was huge. I think that’s like the legacy of Get Out.
For me, personally, you know, I am still fighting that, still trying to find that for myself. Those doors haven’t been as open wide as people think they have in a post-Black Panther post-Get Out, post-all this stuff. Hollywood is still at its core a racist institution that doesn’t really care about creators of color, artists of color, or female artists. I don’t know if you can compare the two, but female artists are also really underserved in Hollywood. It can be frustrating at times. I don’t think it’s been long enough to say for sure. But it can be a little frustrating thinking like even with the success of a Get Out, even with the success of a Black Panther, it still hasn’t done enough to prove that what we’re saying is true.
All we’re saying is that, “Yo, just give us the chance to make the movie that we want to make. And don’t tell me that I can’t do it just because you think people don’t want to see people that look like me on screen. Because that has been thoroughly disproven, at least.” Black people shouldn’t have to write one of the best screenplays and create one of the best directorial debuts in Hollywood history just to be able to make films. Because there’s a whole bunch of white filmmakers that are pretty fucking mediocre that keep getting chance after chance after chance and we’re still waiting for our first go at bat. And so it’s hopeful. It’s frustrating. It’s a reflection of being Black. You know, it’s all of those things rolled into one. It makes me proud. It makes me angry. It makes me hopeful for the future. It makes me cynical about the future. But it’s all of those things.
Aditya: I think the mediocre white director rise to stardom after a couple okay movies now it’s a trend that’s been thinkpieced to death. But I mean, any of these franchises — Star Wars Jurassic Park, Marvel, you’re pulling … I mean, I like Safety Not Guaranteed. I like the Duplass brothers. But Colin Trevorrow getting to run Jurassic Park after one small movie that made maybe like a million and a half dollars on VOD after Sundance is crazy when you think about it. It goes back to, and I’ve talked about this a couple times with a couple of different filmmaking friends on this podcast now, but the standard that minority movies are held to generally is just so high. The burden of proof like “I’m a sustainable, artistic institution” is so high. But I do feel to your point, this movie is like opening doors for people like Boots Riley to just to prove at least, even if the standards are so quite high for sustainability, to prove that they are worth a shot.
Ola: That’s when we’ll know for sure what the lasting impacts is when we get to see more mediocre Black films. That’s when we’ll know that the job is done. I’m racking my brains. Talking about Jordan Peele, he is to me getting to the level of creating powerful imagery that Stanley Kubrick was at and that’s something rewatching this like, The Shining is one of his favorite movies. That becomes very obvious when you rewatch it a couple times how much he takes from Kubrick. But that’s one of the greatest directors of all time. You know, like Ryan Coogler is the new Steven Spielberg that’s arguably the greatest commercial filmmaker of all time. That’s an impossibly high standard to try especially for someone like me who’s right at the beginning of my career, fresh out of film school, just trying to get started. That’s a lot of pressure for me to feel like I have to come like Ryan Coogler. Otherwise, I’m never gonna get a chance. That’s a lot of pressure on my process and what I’m trying to do. But again, it’s like the experience of being Black. You kind of know from the start you just gonna have to be exceptional. And that’s kind of how it is.
Aditya: Yeah. It’s like the five Black directors that everyone knows are like those two, Ava, Barry Jenkins. People who have made these huge Oscar-winning Steve McQueen films.
Ola: Yeah, incredible like, just the best of the best. You have to be that or we’ll never hear from you again.
Aditya: Okay, last question that I asked everyone on this podcast. How has this movie, you talked about it a bit, but influenced you as an artist and with the work that you’re creating and writing?
Ola: So I think pretty much for 18 months after I watched this movie for the first time, essentially, all I was trying to do was write a version of Get Out. I was just like, “There’s no point doing anything else. I just want to make a social thriller that communicates the Black experience in a way that people who aren’t Black will get it.” That was a weird space to be in because like I said, I never liked horror films. I’m not like a huge thriller person. It’s difficult because I feel like the kind of films that I have always wanted to make, Black people have never been allowed to make them. I’ve never gotten a chance to see what my version of a P. T. Anderson movie looks like. I just have no idea because that’s so far away from what I would do because of my lived experience.
Aditya: Totally. I have a list on Letterboxd that is movies I wish I made and I think like 95% of them are just random white person movies.
Ola: Exactly. So I think it inspired me too. If it’s not the social thriller thing, you know, how can I find that kind of movie that I’ve always just really been drawn to but then put in it the full experience of being Black? And what does that mean? How do I communicate the struggle without making the whole thing just about the struggle and fetishizing it? I think that’s kind of the biggest thing that I’ve been still trying to imitate. How do I communicate what that is for me?
Yeah, but it was such a wholly inspiring film just to trigger these conversations. Because like I said, I think before I watched it, it’s one of those … You have certain albums, or certain movies or whatever it is that like interacting with them makes you see the world differently afterwards. I think I saw the world differently. After I heard good kid, m.A.A.d city, I saw the world differently. After I heard Channel Orange. I see the world differently often having seen Get Out and it just opened up a whole new world of things that seemed impossible before suddenly are possible. It’s like, “Yo, you can go to the genre whose claim to fame is that it kills off the one Black character in the first…” That’s what like we think about horror films, we think about Black characters dying. You can go to that and you can flip that to make it like a masterpiece that’s about the Black experience. That’s the most inspiring part to me.
Aditya: Awesome. Ola, thank you so much for being here.
Ola: Yeah. Thanks for having me, man. It’s been a great time.
Aditya: You have been listening to Token Theatre, a podcast about representation on film. We are proud to be part of mediaversityreviews.com, a website dedicated to film criticism that takes diversity into account. You can find us on the Mediaversity website as well as Spotify, Apple, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcast. Today’s guest was filmmaker Ola Kalejaye, you can find them on Instagram @kallyjay [Note: @kallyjay is a new handle]. My name is Aditya Joshi, @aditya.mov on Instagram. Our producer is Amanda Llewellyn. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next week.