Jordan Peele’s Get Out has already made Oscar history
Tuesday morning’s announcement that Jordan Peele’s “social horror-thriller” Get Out had earned an impressive four Oscar nominations came as a delightful surprise to the horror community.
Historically speaking, Get Out’s nominations are significant. To start with, Peele is just the fifth African-American to ever be nominated for Best Director. He is also only the third person in Oscar history to receive nominations in Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay categories in the same year.
The film, itself, managed to earn a Best Picture nod in a genre typically overlooked by the Academy. The 90-year history of the Academy Awards has seen only a handful of horror films earn a Best Picture nomination: The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1976), The Silence of the Lambs (1990), The Sixth Sense (1999), and Black Swan (2010). Not even Alfred Hitchcock, the horror legend himself, was able to break through and earn an Oscar win during his career, despite having directed some of the most influential films of his era – let alone the genre.
The Academy has not overlooked the horror genre entirely — a number of nominations and awards have been handed out to horror films over the years — it’s just that the large majority of these have been in the technical categories, specifically, the audio and visual categories. Horror films certainly shine in these departments. Costuming, make-up, sound editing, and visuals are the backbone of a movie meant to thrill. But the inability of horror films to succeed in the more prominent categories stems from the Academy’s bias towards more “serious” movies.
Dramas, epics, historical bio-pics: these are the genres the Academy has, historically, been drawn to when it comes to Best Picture, Best Director, and the like. However, there is a shift happening within the voting community; broader cultural conversations, and calls to diversify both the membership of and nominations within the Academy are slowly starting to take effect.
Still, the few horror films that have successfully broken through in the major categories have done so primarily through outstanding individual performances. Kathy Bates earned a Best Actress Oscar for her work in Misery (1990) – shockingly, the only award given to a Stephen King adaptation in Academy history – yet the film was unrecognized in any other category. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were both nominated for their roles in Carrie (1976), however neither won and the film did not receive any other nominations.
The sparse history of horror films being recognized in their entirety makes it hard to overstate the significance of Get Out’s nominations. Through superb writing, directing, and acting, Jordan Peele’s quasi-horror film has — nearly a year after its initial release — managed to supersede other, more obvious, nominees as a top contender for Best Picture, even sitting ahead of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which looked like a shoo-in for the award in the summer.
Had Peele given us his debut film even just a few years ago, this may not have been the case. But, with a strong push towards diversification in the Academy, and the timely nature of Get Out’s dark, satirical commentary, it stands a real chance at making (further) Oscar history.