It was a balmy late February, a typically sleepy season for film releases, when the comedy-horror parable Get Out set the internet ablaze with its highly meme-able commentary on the perils of well-meaning white liberalism. The film centers on a young black man meeting his Caucasian girlfriend’s family, whose overeager reception betrays a terrifying agenda. While the main target of the film’s satire was Obama-era white magical thinking (“Racism solved!”), the critical and commercial raving served as a salve for Trump’s presidency—and seemed to signal a turning point in Hollywood’s treatment of race: that weekend Moonlight won best picture and Get Out dominated the box office.
But the film’s star, 28-year-old Londoner Daniel Kaluuya, doesn’t entertain fantasies about the impact one movie can have. “I feel what the film’s done is articulated an experience. It’s a touchstone where people can go, ‘Yeah, this,’ and feel like they aren’t crazy,” says Kaluuya. “But I can’t say it’s changed the political landscape.”
Indeed, more chilling than any Hollywood horror was the real-life violence at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August, which, came as no surprise to Kaluuya. “Everything that’s happened [this year], it’s like, yeah, racism exists. As a black person, you feel it.” But, says Kaluuya, blatant racism and social satire are two sides of the same coin: that any illusions of a post-racial America are gone. “[It’s] not that Get Out has brought [racism] to the fore, but it’s come to the fore because it’s there,” says the actor. “I just think the veil is slipping.”
Kaluuya has always been interested in uncovering the truth. He wrote his first play at nine, and from 13 to 16 studied improv at a community theater. His big break was joining gritty British teen drama Skins as a staff writer at 18, drawing on his own experience growing up in London. Acting on the show followed, and Kaluuya eventually achieved crossover notoriety in the gut-punching second episode of sci-fi series Black Mirror, about a world governed by a Candy Crush–like VR game, when it hit Netflix.
Next up, Kaluuya can be seen in Marvel’s highly anticipated, Afrocentric Black Panther followed by Steve McQueen’s Widows continuing his streak of high-impact, yet highly accessible, hits: “Someday I might feel like making 15 films that only Lithuanians watch,” he says. “But right now I feel like doing stuff for my friends.”
Main image credit: Jennifer Balcombe