This weekend is a very important weekend for genre film. Jordan Peele’s original Horror film GET OUT hits theaters nationwide. I was lucky enough to get into the surprise screening of it at Sundance and it delivers on so many levels. While there are funny moments in this film, it’s the tension created that makes it a must-see. I was not surprised about this because creating a joke is similar to building up to a scare - both require timing and patience. Beneath of all the tension and laughs lies some great subtext about liberal racism.
So, why is it important to see this film at the theater? Here’s a list:
1. It’s a great film! If you skip this and wait for it on VOD, you will regret not experiencing it as it was intended. There is nothing like sharing a laugh or a scare with a room full of people with popcorn breath.
2. There is so much to talk about after watching the film. Go meet some new people in the theater lobby or the bar after watching and talk about the experience. I have met so many of my friends either waiting in line for a film or in a theater lobby after a screening. Movies can be great icebreakers!
3. It is an original Horror script and not a sequel or remake. I preach every year at Other Worlds Austin about how important it is to share your opinions on social media about the films we screen. I say this because word-of-mouth is so important for independent films to find buyers. I know this is not an independent film, as it had studio backing to get it made, but it’s still an original idea that a studio took a risk on. Studios don’t tend to take risks because they're afraid they won't make money. We need to support this film to help change that!
Every year I tend to find my favorite Horror films on Netflix and VOD without getting the opportunity to see them on the big screen unless I catch them at a festival. The Horror films that get a wide theatrical releases are garbage like THE RING 3, RESIDENT EVIL 36 or poorly remade classics that Rob Zombie vomits all over. Don’t get me wrong, the studios do release original films here and there (like LIGHTS OUT last summer) but it’s not often.
There are two ways to help get the message to the studios that we want more original genre films to get wide theatrical releases. First is to tell them on social media and create buzz around the few exceptions that they make. Second is to go see the films at the theater. If original Horror films continue to bring in box office dollars, then the risk of making them will be less.
4. This film is directed by a black genre filmmaker. Jordan Peele said during the Sundance Q&A that when he passed his script over to the producers he called it a “script that will never be made.” He did not elaborate on why he said that, but there are a few reasons I can guess. First, he is known for Comedy and not Horror. Second, it’s an original idea and not a sequel or remake. Third, it deals with race in an interesting way. Forth, try naming ten black Horror directors or screenwriters.
As a festival programmer, the diversity issue with the Oscars last year made me really think about our festival promoting genre filmmakers of color. That poses a tough decision for programmers because we do not select films based on the gender, race, or religion of the cast and crew of the film. We select films by their quality and how well they fit into our festival.
So what can our festival do to promote genre filmmakers of color? To answer that, I tried to examine what is the cause of the lack of diversity. The studio heads and gatekeepers can take some of the blame, but I think there is a much larger issue because of all the genre film festivals I attend I rarely see black filmmakers even as a part of the shorts program. And studio executives rarely have anything to do with shorts.
Outside of being in the industry on the festival side of things, I still dream about becoming a writer/director. I’m a thirtysomething white male in the industry and I still have days where I think it is impossible to make it. Even producing a short requires money that I don’t have. I still lose confidence even though I have many people supporting me and I know about the opportunities out there. I’m not looking for a shoulder to cry on in writing this. But knowing this about myself made me wonder how impossible a filmmaking career may seem for a high school kid whose school doesn’t even have updated text books, let alone an art department at their school.
We as an industry need to change that confidence. We need to promote opportunities and inspire our youth to pursue a career in filmmaking. That all starts by making the impossible dream seem attainable.
The best way to inspire kids to become filmmakers is to give them a hero that they can relate to. There has been an epic rise of Hispanic genre filmmakers that I feel goes hand in hand with the career of Guillermo del Toro. It helps that he embraced his success and used it to help other younger filmmakers.
I think Jordan Peele could inspire more young black filmmakers to dive into filmmaking in general, but also specifically in Horror. That is what I think our festival can do to help the diversity issue in Hollywood. We can help get the word out about the writers and directors that could be the next del Toro regardless if their film played our festival.
So get out and see GET OUT at the theater because it was meant to be seen there. It will help you make friends in the theater lobby, it will help convince the studios to back more original Horror scripts, and it may inspire our youth. Just do it for the kids! Damn it.