TANANARIVE DUE ON GET OUT, THE SOCIAL MEANING OF THE SUNKEN PLACE, AND THE RISE OF AFRICENTRIC HORROR (MF GALAXY 148)

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I don’t know if there’s anything like Jordan Peele’s blockbuster horror film Get Out. Oh, there have been low-budget Africentric horror movies before, and this one was definitely low-budget: it cost only $4.5 million when the average Hollywood film is around $80 million.

But Get Out has earned a quarter of a billion dollars around the world, which further puts the lie to the Hollywood claim that audiences in Europe won’t watch films starring African casts or featuring Africentric stories. Plus, Get Out is an extremely political film.

I don’t mean it’s partisan, though: the villains in the film would seem at home at any US Democratic Party fundraiser or power-play. I mean it’s political, in that it’s an unforgettable and horrific satire on US Whitesupremacy. The film and its ideas are so powerful that its central metaphor “The Sunken Place” has entered our culture and vocabulary.

And for all those reasons and more, horror writer and UCLA film studies instructor Tananarive Due knew she had to teach a course built around Peele’s film. She called it “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival, and Black Horror Aesthetic.”

Due worked as a journalist for many years, and is also the author of many celebrated novels, including The Living Blood, Devil’s Wake, and Joplin’s Ghost, and the short story collection Ghost Summer. She also co-wrote Freedom in the Family, a memoir of the 1960s US human rights struggle from the perspective of her mother, Patricia Stephens Due, who’d been an activist in it.

With her novelist husband Steven Barnes, Due writes the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series in partnership with actor Blair Underwood. She holds a journalism degree and an M.A. in English literature from Leeds, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar.

Due has won the American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Kindred Award. In 2004, along with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Due received the “New Voice in Literature Award” at the Yari Yari Pamberi conference co-sponsored by New York University's Institute of African-American Affairs and African Studies Program and the Organization of Women Writers of Africa.

Tananarive Due spoke with me by Skype on November 20, 2017 from her home in California. We discussed:

  • The amazing story of how a Jordan Peele practical joke became the best film studies guest lecture ever
  • Why Tananarive Due’s UCLA film course The Sunken Place has become her most popular course ever
  • How the metaphor of the Sunken Place has entered our culture and its various dimensions of meaning
  • What the film says about who appears innocent while being completely complicit
  • African women in Get Out—are they more heroic than they first appear? And
  • The controversial Golden Globes categorization of the film as a comedy

Of course today’s discussion is 100% spoilerific, so if you haven’t watched Get Out yet, pause the podcast, watch the film, and come back to listen.

tananarivedue.com

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