The announcement that Get Out will compete in the comedy-musical categories at next year’s Golden Globes has once again thrust Jordan Peele’s directorial debut to the forefront of conversation, nine months after it hit theaters. Get Out, of course, is one the year’s most successful films, a horror-thriller that explores disturbing themes about race in America and which grossed more than $250 million against a $4 million budget. That’s why its award-season categorization as comedy is hitting all the wrong notes. For one, the film’s scathing critique of white privilege and racial injustice is no laughing matter.
Lil Rel, the breakout comedian who was responsible for most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments as a scene-stealing TSA agent, tweeted in response, “But if I can be honest this is weird to me… Their is nothing funny about racism… Was it that unrealistic lol.” Peele also chimed in on Twitter, suggesting that for minorities in America, his film is more fact than fiction. “Get Out is a documentary,” he tweeted.
In order to understand why Get Out is being reclassified nearly a year after it hit theaters we need to look at the organization that made the decision, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. As far as Hollywood’s awards go, the HFPA, which hosts the Golden Globes, is regarded as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s jovial, boozy uncle. While the Globes do often predict which films will take home hardware at the Oscars—Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave and Argo all won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Drama before taking home an Oscar Best Picture—the show overall isn’t rooted in critical tastemaking. With a voting body comprising some 90 international journalists, the organization is more interested in producing a star-stacked ceremony than it is in being seen as a legitimate journalistic entity. Why the HFPA divides the top film prizes into two categories—best drama and best musical/comedy—then is simple: the more inclusive your awards show, the more celebrities who will show up.
Even so, the HFPA doesn’t make the initial decision as to which of the year’s films will compete in which category—although it does have the final say. That’s up to the studios, which are in charge of submitting their best works for consideration. In recent years, some studios have taken advantage of the Globes’ dual categories to better position a film that might otherwise be overlooked. The most recent example is when Ridley Scott’s sci-fi saga The Martian competed as a comedy in 2015 against Spy and Trainwreck. The accepted explanation was that 20th Century Fox submitted The Martian as a comedy to avoid competing in a crowded dramatic field, a move that rubbed comedy stalwarts like Judd Apatow the wrong way. “Trying to dominate the comedy category when you are really a drama afraid of dramatic competition is a punk move,” he tweeted at the time. The Martian went on to win the top prize, which forced the HFPA to adjust its submission guidelines by stating “dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas.”
Two years later, we’re already having the same conversation after Universal declared Get Out a comedy. This much is true: Like The Martian, Get Out is a genre movie, and those do tend to be ignored by award-show voting bodies in favor of more prestigious films. Since its February release, Get Out has been defined as everything from a straight-up horror to social satire. Peele simply refers to it as a “social thriller.“
Part of what makes Get Out both fiercely entertaining and innovative is the way it snakes between genres to give us something that feels fresh and unexpected. It is a film that ultimately defies categorization, and since horror movies are typically left out of the year-end awards conversation, to some extent, Universal had no other choice than to submit Get Out against campy contenders like James Franco’s The Disaster Artist and Margot Robbie’s I, Tonya less it go head-to-head with World War II sagas like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Gary Oldman’s Darkest Hour.
At the very least, Universal knew its categorization would get press and shove Get Out back into the zeitgeist. Still, the studio is now suffering the wrath of director Peele, who said he wasn’t consulted about the decision. Peele is now on a sort of speaking tour to ensure the public knows the movie’s core ideas aren’t to be laughed off. “What the movie is about is not funny,” he said. “I’ve had many black people come up to me and say, ‘Man, this is the movie we’ve been talking about for a while and you did it.’ That’s a very powerful thing. For that to be put in a smaller box than it deserves is where the controversy comes from.”
Perhaps therein lies the problem. Award categories are by definition limited. Categorizing Get Out as a comedy doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s vital social commentary about race in America, but it doesn’t do it justice either. When the history books are written, Get Out will endure long after this year’s awards shows. All that really matters is that we remember it.