By: Zach Fulwood
I think all of us can agree that Get Out was an amazing movie. From the playing of Childish Gambino’s Red Bone at the beginning to the subliminal messages that filtered through the entire movie, it’s hard to argue that Get Out wasn’t one of the more thought-out projects to make it to the big screen in 2017. With a total box office number of $175,484,140 as of July 10, 2017, it’s pretty evident that the general public found itself thoroughly entertained by the horror movie. On the flip-side, The Birth of a Nation, which came out in the fall of 2016 only grossed $15,861,566 as of July 10, 2017. And before you say that one was made by a well-liked comedian in Jordan Peele while the other was made by an accused rapist in Nate Parker, lets remember that’s the same rape case that he was acquitted of over 10 years and was never talked about when he was side by side with Denzel Washington in the 2007 hit The Great Debaters. So with that said, how can two movies that deal with the same racial components differ so much when it comes to their respective box office earnings?
Well, lets take a closer look at the two movies. In regards to Get Out, the central theme of the movie is based around the very real perception that there is an underlying racism that exists within American society. There were numerous times throughout the movie where the Black characters would make snide comments about the White characters. One scene in particular was at the very beginning where a Black character is in what appears to be a predominantly White neighborhood. He walks nervously around the neighborhood until a white car begins to slowly pull up beside him. At that point, he turns around and begins to head home saying “I know what they do to n*ggas out here.” Now as a Black man myself, I’ve definitely found myself saying something like this when I would go wondering around at night in West Virginia but that’s a story for another day. The point here is that these types of comments were able to be so prevalent throughout the movie because they represent the mentalities that exist in the minds of a lot of Black folks which obviously stems from the racial history this country has. Not to mention this movie itself was a fictional tale that was filled with many humorous moments to break any tension that may have existed as a result of the racial dialogue. I mean it’s pretty hard to take a White woman going around and scouting out Black men to date and ultimately bring home so they could be brainwashed, lobotomized, and then auctioned off too seriously as a story line.
Then we have The Birth of a Nation that was a historical documentation of a slave by name of Nat Turner who famously lead the only successful slave revolt in U.S history during the 1800’s. Needless to say, this was a movie that was probably much harder to stomach because of the graphic nature of the film and it’s overall highlighting of the dark history of slavery in this country. There were rape scenes, whipping scenes, lynching scenes, and a host of other aesthetically displeasing scenes that the human side of you just wouldn’t want to see. One would assume that the idea of another nauseating slave movie that makes the Black people watching begin to question their White friends and have White people apologizing endlessly for something they had no hand in, would justifiably not be a movie that people would be clamoring to see. However, Django, an overly exaggerated version of The Birth of a Nation, grossed $30,122,888 in it’s opening weekend debut back in 2012. So I ask again, why was The Birth of a Nation such a box-office failure?
In my opinion, I think the answer is pretty simple. The Birth of a Nation was real. It really happened. A slave actually said “enough is enough” and chose to fight back against the injustices made against his people and his reward was a public lynching, followed by being decapitated and skinned for the purpose of creating souvenirs for some White families. Gruesome, I know. But also very telling that when the fictional Black protagonist fights back against the fictional White antagonist and wins, it makes for great theater and garners much applause. However, when the real Black protagonist fights back against the real White antagonist and faces real consequences that were so normalized for hundreds of years, no one claps and even less go to see it. Why is this? Why are multiple movies about race perceived differently? Maybe consumers really care about the assumed character of the person directing the movie. Or maybe, it’s just easier to watch fictional stories about race and slavery where there is a happy ending than it is to watch real historically documented events that ends in the same hopelessness it started with.