Tipped only days ago by the Metro as the next James Bond, Bafta award winning Daniel Kaluuya is surrounded by hype. He is up for an Oscar for his role in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and is a constant on the red carpet for premiers of Black Panther. He seems to be hitting the ground running as a fashion icon with shoots in both GQ Magazine and the Guardian newspaper. How did this happen to the boy from the council estate in Camden, and is it a good thing?
Kaluuya has always been a natural comic. His recent invitation to Stephen Colbert’s Late Show provides a platform for him to make a few jokes about white racism.
Watching that clip I felt that he had not changed much since he was my student on A level Drama and Theatre Studies at Camden School for Girls (we took boys in the sixth form). There is his cheeky grin, and his willingness to put others on the spot. There is his London accent and dialect (not slang) and an articulate seriousness and focus. There he gently deigns to explain the new version of the key line in Get Out, ‘I would’ve voted for Obama three times if I could’ve’. Now one of the ‘weird things that white people say’ to prove that they are not racist is ‘I’ve watched Get Out three times’! He mocks Colbert’s body language mercilessly but refers to Christianity, like his mother’s, as something to be respected.
Although, unlike Black Panther, Get Out is not made entirely by black actors and black crew it is not, in my view, racist (although Kaluuya has something to say about white people like me policing racism i.e. they shouldn’t). Get Out is not racist because it is fundamentally and in-yer-facedly about racism. Despite the excitement in the black community about the power of Black Panther it is, when all is said, a superhero movie.
I have seen Get Out only twice – but I would’ve seen it again if it had not left the town cinema. In Get Out Daniel had a decent part like the one that Roy Williams wrote for him in Sucker Punch. He was playing with white actors, but he was not there only to support them, as he was when playing Emily Blunt’s sidekick in Sicario.
It’s not that Reggie, in Sicario, is a completely pallid character; he is to some extent, as Kaluuya argues, the moral compass of the film.
But when you look at the clip you can see that for the most part he is a shadow flickering behind three white characters – holding his nose because there is a smell of rotting corpses. When Emily Blunt, playing the lead, and apparently too strong to be affected by the stink, sends him outside, he starts to gag. Then he is blown up. Watching this film to see Kaluuya act, I was bitterly disappointed.
It felt the same at the screening of Black Panther – which I have seen only once. I was wincing when he was onscreen. He played a stereotypical African chief – yes I know it was a Marvel story and I know that the character may develop in future versions of the franchise. BUT… Kaluuya’s character, W’Kabi, had few moments on screen. He had to stand around a lot looking African but was rarely given an opportunity to use his skills. His character changed his mind in an instant without any explanation. I felt that these was no underlying motivation to his role. I know, I know… It’s just a version of a comic. The war-rhino was a nice touch but Kaluuya isn’t really a horseman and didn’t look comfortable on it.
As I white woman I don’t want to disagree with Zack Linly in the Washington Post when he writes of Black Panther, ‘we’ll be watching a black movie that doesn’t rely on caricatures and recycled tropes’. Get real! Black Panther absolutely does rely on ‘caricatures and recycled tropes’ and its presentation of Africans, if not Oaklanders, is deeply embarrassing.
Get Out is a different kettle of fish. Jordan Peele’s script is brilliantly conceived and written. The idea at the core is very clever and the black actors playing the ‘vehicles’ carrying the ‘passengers’ emit a horrifying creepiness. Chris Washington (Kaluuya) realises that he is surrounded by died-in-the-wool racists in sheep’s clothing and then sees them strip their fleeces before his eyes and become wolves. It’s as if Obama was stripped down to reveal Trump beneath the skin.
The gore and violence with which the film ends is more or less unnecessary. Perhaps the alternative ending would have been better? In this Chris becomes a ‘vehicle’. And if I were to be truthful I would have advised Peele against some of the final shots. Kaluuya can communicate with his eyes, face, voice and body. He does not need the aid of arty lighting or camera angles to be terrifying.
During an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Profile on Kaluuya presenter Mark Coles told me that no one they interviewed had a bad word to say about him. Of course not! I just hope that, as a white person, I did not say anything too weird myself.
The Kaluuya Challenge irishwriting.wordpress.com
Is it cos I is black? josephinefenton.wordpress.com