GET OUT and a Brief History of Horror at the Oscars

Get Out was the film of 2017. The psychological horror was a timely take down of racism, white privilege, the commodification of black bodies, and the violent complicity of liberal whiteness. A film that studios would’ve long deemed niche–hence its February release date–Get Out became a worldwide smash, both critically and commercially. Jordan Peele became the first African American writer/director to helm a movie to make a 100-million-dollar debut, and he’s now cemented that success with nominations in four of the Oscars’ biggest categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. This is a rare feat for a horror film, let alone one that’s so focused on race and critically assessing whiteness.

Horror has long been ignored at the Oscars due to the connotations of the genre; it’s seen as exploitative, schlocky, and cheap. But Get Out–and other Oscar nominated films before it–proves that is a reductive interpretation. However, the result of that outlook is that fewer than 20 horror movies have won awards over the past 89 years, most of those in technical categories such as makeup and sound editing. You can fit almost all of those winners into a pretty swift list: Alien, Aliens, The Fly, Rosemary’s Baby, Misery, JawsAn American Werewolf in LondonThe OmenBram Stoker’s Dracula, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Grey,  The Exorcist all won awards, most of them technical.

Until Get Out, only five horror films were ever nominated for Best Picture in the 90 year history of the Academy. The Exorcist, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, Black Swan and The Sixth Sense are the groundbreaking movies that moved the Academy enough to win big on Oscar night. Out of these five, only one actually made it that far: Silence of the Lambs. Not only did Jonathan Demme’s psychological horror film win Best Picture, but it’s also one of the few films in Oscar history to win the big five: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Get Out could come close to that record as it’s nominated for four of the big five, and if it does a clean sweep, it would be a huge upset in the horror-phobic world of the Academy.

But genre isn’t the only thing holding the film back from Oscar night. Get Out is culturally resonant film that Oscars desperately need but don’t necessarily deserve. The film received near unanimous critical acclaim, but critics are far from the only gatekeepers in Hollywood. In a perfect show of institutional negligence, the movie was wrongly submitted as Best Musical or Comedy to this years Golden Globes–where most genre films end up–by its own studio. The established machinery could not make heads or tails of Get Out, to the detriment of only one of those parties. In its own way, this was one of the many points the movie asserted so deftly. So could the Oscars rectify this mistake? Even if they award Get Out in all applicable categories, the answer still doesn’t seem as simple as that. But it’s the right trajectory.

So what makes a horror film break through the Oscar barriers? Historically the Academy has recognized films by seminal directors like Spielberg, whose ’75 blockbuster classic Jaws was nominated for four awards, or William Friedkin, who won Best Director two years before when The Exorcist was up for eight of the golden statues. It’s also about the kind of stories they tell, often intimate in theme but grand in scope. Horror films that receive Academy recognition elevate the often shock-heavy genre into something engaging, daring, and beautiful. They feature characters whose stakes elevate the film beyond genre: Clarice facing off against Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs or Chris fighting for his life against the Armitage clan in Get Out. This is where Get Out truly shows its credentials as an Oscar nominee. It’s a film teeming with psychological, cultural and visceral dread, driven by Peele’s fantastic direction and a stellar cast. Sure, it terrifies with violence and scares, but the haunting notion that you know people like the Armitages, that maybe you are like them is the driving horror that makes this film transcend.

It would be radical to see Get Out follow in the footsteps of the Silence of the Lambs and pick up four Oscars–after all Jordan Peele has already broken Oscar records by being the first African American writer/director to get the trifecta of Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Get Out is also the first Oscar nominated horror film with an African American director and lead. It’s vital that Get Out is recognized for it’s timely, urgent message but also for its fantastic cinematic chops. So hopefully on the big night we’ll see Get Out break the no-horror curse the Oscars has been under for the past decade and make history.

We’ll be rooting for Get Out to win on March 4th, but who will you be cheering for? What’s your favorite Oscar nominated horror movie? Let us know in the comments!

Images: Blumhouse, Orion, 20th Century Fox,

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