Does Hollywood see racism as a joke?

Why it’s wildly inappropriate that ‘Get Out’ is in the Golden Globes’ ‘comedy’ category

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Contains spoilers

This week, it was revealed that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” will compete for a Golden Globe, as it should. It will compete, however, in the category for comedies, where it does not belong.

“Get Out” is about a Black man, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who visits the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), only to find that her “liberal” parents are running an underground operation, in which her father lobotomizes Rose’s Black romantic partners and replaces their brains with those of old white folks. Rose is not only fully aware of the goings-on in her family — with her mother acting as the hypnotizer, her father as the surgeon and her brother as their assistant — she actively pursues Black partners and coerces them into her home.

The film’s narrative tackles microaggressions, white complicity, fetishization and overt violence, while invoking historical patterns, symbols and motifs in its set and costume design. It’s a gorgeous and disturbing film, rich with references and hard-hitting social commentary.

Simply put, “Get Out” is about racism — but “Get Out” is anything but simple.

It is therefore more than unsettling that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA — the organization of journalists responsible for the Golden Globes — saw fit to place “Get Out” in the “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy” category. That’s the same category where “Deadpool,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” and category winner “La La Land” were cast last year.

The nomination process for the Golden Globes is as follows. Eligible films must be released and screened in the Los Angeles area for at least seven days between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the qualifying year. Studios or publicists submit the films for nomination within the preexisting categories — for “Best Picture,” that’s “Drama” or “Musical or Comedy.” Once the films are submitted, the HFPA can vote to change the categorization of nominees.

Categorization is determined by the resounding effect of the film. According to the HFPA’s guidelines, “Motion pictures shall be entered in the category that best matches the overall tone and content of the motion picture. Thus, for example, dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas.”

By submitting “Get Out” as a comedy and choosing not to change that categorization, Universal Pictures and the HFPA respectively are institutionalizing “Get Out” as a comedy. In other words, they either missed the point of the film, are actively trivializing it or are using this miscategorization as a strategy. In any case, the choice is sinister and unethical. What’s more, it undercuts Peele’s powerful directorial debut — and Black filmmaking in general.

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Audiences were “perplexed” and even frustrated by the classification of “The Martian” as a comedy. “The Martian” was funny in the same way that “The Big Short” and “Joy” were — in that each of these three films had comedic undertones, but the objective of the film itself was not to be funny. Rather, humor in these films adds complexity and depth to the characters. Yet, all three films were in the same category as Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” and Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” — films whose primary goals are to make people laugh. Still, space in the drama category was occupied by the likes of “Spotlight,” “Carol,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Room” and “The Revenant.” Thus, films with funny undertones were classified as comedies.

So, clearly the comedy category has been used as an alternative for films that the HFPA wants nominated but that can’t secure a spot in the drama category. It’s an obvious strategy that, while at times humorous, is downright inappropriate in the case of “Get Out.” It’s worth noting that this strategy also undermines comedy as a genre — as if the seriousness of drama elevates it as the primary entertainment of value, which is a separate (and elitist) problem.

“Get Out” uses humor as a device to facilitate white audiences’ identification with certain white characters. At the start of the film, we identify with the white characters we view as “progressive” and therefore “safe” for us. But, by the end of the film, all of the white characters are implicated in implicit or explicit racism — and “Get Out” offers no space for white viewers to separate themselves from that.

“Get Out” forces white audiences to face their own complicitness in racism — this is accomplished in part through humor, but by the end of the film, the joke isn’t funny anymore. In other words, “Get Out” is only a comedy if you watch the first 30 minutes of the film.

The HFPA would have never placed “The Silence of the Lambs,” a dark, grotesque and highly influential horror film from 1991, in the “Musical or Comedy” category. That would be absurd. It is even more absurd to place a game-changing film with an overt social commentary in the same genre as “A Bad Moms Christmas.”

The reason why “Get Out” isn’t scary to white people in the way that “The Silence of the Lambs” is, is because white people are the villains in racism — not the victims — so white people (white liberals in particular) are the villains in “Get Out.” This film is critical of the exact group of people who make up the majority of Golden Globe and Oscars voters. Hollywood’s inability to face this kind of overt criticism is the reason why “Get Out” has been miscategorized — but Hollywood and the HFPA need to take a good, long look at themselves.

A comedy win for “Get Out” is not a win, it’s a paradox.

By choosing to say that “Get Out” was more funny than it was serious, the HFPA is perpetuating racism. Instead of seeming like a tactic to make sure a film worth celebrating receives an award, this instead seems like a tactic to make an incredibly impactful film less impactful. When future journalists, filmmakers, etc. search up past awards, they’ll see that a powerful, nuanced film was casted as a joke.

It begs the question: Does Hollywood see racism as a joke?

Just as the racist characters in “Get Out” laugh off attempts to call out their racism, this categorization tries to laugh off the film’s critique of Hollywood’s racism. Making a joke to avoid accountability is the cornerstone of white privilege. But “Get Out” will not be silenced, and neither will its director.

From the beginning, “Get Out” refused to be limited by conventional genre categories. “I think the issue here is that the movie subverts the idea of all genres,” said director Jordan Peele in an interview with IndieWire. Peele’s tweet calling “Get Out” a “documentary” speaks to the fact that the point “Get Out” is trying to make is serious, and it would therefore be more appropriate to categorize it as a drama.

What’s particularly disturbing about the fact that “Get Out,” a film explicitly about the horrors and violence of racism, is just that. It’s wildly inappropriate for a film that depicts racism in its psychological, institutional and physical violence to be categorized as a comedy. It’s as simple and as complex as that.

Simple, because racism isn’t funny. Complex, because racism in Hollywood is rampant, and yet the Hollywood Foreign Press saw “Get Out” as a punchline.

Even LilRel Howery, who plays the film’s only truly comedic character, saw the categorization as unfitting — to which a fan replied, “You WERE the funny in this movie. Take you out and it wasn’t a comedy.”

“The major point to identify here is that we don’t want our truth trivialized,” Peele told IndieWire. “The label of comedy is often a trivial thing. The real question is, what are you laughing at? Are you laughing at the horror, the suffering? Are you disregarding what’s real about this project? That’s why I said, yeah — it’s a documentary.”

Sophie-Marie Prime is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].