There are a great many films these days that you “have to see in IMAX” or “have to see in 3D”. Though sometimes this is an obvious marketing ploy, there are films that should only be experienced a certain way. I finally watched Dr. Strange, and can honestly say that watching it on my 6 inch Jet Blue TV with the sound going in and out was not the intended format.
Taking that into account, I can’t think of a better way to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out than the way I did: in the Magic Johnson Theater in the middle of Harlem.
Surrounded by a majority Black audience, watching a thriller based on fears shared by almost everyone in the theater, I felt the movie’s full power in a way I don’t think I would have elsewhere. I felt like a part of something bigger, though for the life of me, I couldn’t identify it. And part of that was seeing it with an audience that yelled at the screen.
I spent a good hour trying to Google if there was a term or name associated with yelling at a movie, and most of what I found out was that when a black person does it, it’s an excuse for racist comments, and when a white person does it, it’s called “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. But I also learned a little bit of history.
See, movies used to be a little like network TV. There was something new every day, it was cheap and easy after-work entertainment, and everyone watched the same thing, cheering and shouting advice to their favorite heroes. But as movies got pricier with the advent of sound, chains moved in, ticket prices jumped, and a more sedate, luxury experience became the norm. At the same time, African-American audiences were excluded thanks to higher ticket prices and segregated theaters. However, a lot of that changed in 1933 with the release of “King Kong”. King Kong is a giant ape who is kidnapped from his home by white people, held captive, and eventually escapes to exact revenge. Considering that referring to a person of African descent as a monkey was (and unfortunately still is) a common slur to throw out, it’s not hard to see why it struck a chord, playing to huge, cheering audiences of Black moviegoers.
And when you think about it, it had to feel good. For a long time, a Black person couldn’t speak up in America at all. Hell, there was at one point a practice of taking picnics to graveyards, GRAVEYARDS, just to avoid scrutiny. Being able to gather in a place where you could safely express and yell and scream – and be entertained – must have felt incredible.
I wish there wasn’t such a negative stereotype associated with this. When I asked one of my Black co-workers what she thought of it, she laughed, saying, “We’re just passionate.” But all I want to articulate is that I feel like it’s actually an intrinsic part of enjoying “Get Out”.
Beyond just cutting the tension of the film (and it’s really not scary – more startling, with a few jump scares), the engagement of the audience with the film added a whole new level to it. “Get Out” refers not just to the feelings of our lead, Chris, and not just to the warning he’s given at the mid-point of the movie. It also refers to that person in the theater yelling at “GET OUT!” Hell, every line in the movie from Rod, the hero’s best friend, perfectly channeled what the audience was thinking at the time. And it made this movie more than just “the East Coast liberal elite can be racist monsters too”. It created a more connected experience, from the beginning when a Black man is walking alone in a suburb, to the end where… well, let’s just say there were a lot of gasps of fear in the final few minutes when the greatest threat of all rears its head.
But my point is, sitting in that theater, the audience’s collective fears were my fears, and their triumphs were my triumphs. We were all on this ride together, a ride that, as an unofficial white man (I’m Jewish), I’d never ridden, only seen. A ride that was scary, but sometimes joyous, one that both informed and entertained. A ride that, hopefully, will leave some passengers with more empathy for some things that are scary, uncomfortable, or a sign of a social injustice or inequality.
Horror films are, in my opinion, at their best when they take a normal and relatable fear and amp it up to its zenith. From the first time I saw the trailer for “Get Out”, I was enthralled by its premise, which strikes a powerful chord considering the flaring racial tensions of the last few years. I wouldn’t call it a master class in horror, but I would call it a damn good film that truly reaches out to an audience to not just sit there silently and do nothing. It wants you to scream. It wants you to shout. It wants you to get up out of your seat and get out.
I loved it, and I highly recommend it.