With guest appearances from Jordan Peele and the Candyman, this UCLA program unpacks how you can turn horror into empowerment
As we previously established, Get Out is the smartest horror of the decade. Following its truly deserved Oscar nomination, Jordan Peele’s cinematic debut is set to be the focus of a program at the University of California, Los Angeles. For fans who don’t study at UCLA, there’s an online course that’s now open to any member of the public with $348 to spare.
Subscribers to the course can live stream the “Sunken Place” seminars, screenwriting workshops and fly-in visits from the crew behind the film as well as the stars of its major influences, like Tony Todd from Candyman. Another massive plus: the professors will set homework but the course won't be graded or contain exams, so you can’t fail.
Professor Tananarive Due and her husband Steven Barnes taught a similar program last year on campus. When they snuck writer-director Peele into one of the classes a video of it went viral. Due explained the day to Dazed: “The way I kept them distracted before sneaking Jordan into the room was showing the clip where Rose says, ‘You know I can’t give you these keys, babe. That scene where you realise he has no allies in the house? They had had an extensive discussion about that – and the messaging in the film around the complicity of white women – in the previous class. So, I knew if I put that clip on, we could have an earthquake and they wouldn’t notice.”
The overwhelming interest means their attendance has over doubled in size, and while they struggle to find a room to host their on-campus seminars, they decided to open up the updated syllabus for a worldwide audience.
So why is everyone falling over themselves to learn about the horror-comedy? “It is the first really successful black horror film, which meant its themes resonated broadly, dealing with black fears of assimilation,” Barnes told Dazed.
In the very early days of American cinema, black representation was almost exclusively stereotypical roles filtered through the white gaze. One of the first cinematic releases was 1915’s The Birth of a Nation, where white men in blackface played unintelligent, sexually aggressive villains who the Ku Klux Klan heroically oppress. Many credit this film as a triggering factor to the resurgence of the Klan – that’s how important representation is.
Barnes agrees. The transition between archaic thrillers and a film like Get Out is staggering: “In Birth of a Nation, we were the monsters. In Get Out we got to kill the monster. It is critical not to allow other communities to define you.” And film allows you to take that power. “Films like Blacula were a stepping stone, even if it is usually remembered with laughter because it doesn't hold up as well. But it’s still important.”
It’s been a big year for African American cinema, and rather than just analyse film history Due and Barnes tell us they hope the next generation of black filmmakers get inspired by their contemporaries.
“Of course I want them (the students) to have more appreciation for the history and depth of the field, I want them to understand horror, black horror, from the inside out so that they can create their own dreams.”