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Inspired By The Film, "Get Out," UC Riverside Prof Offers Courses On Afrofuturism

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A professor at the University of California, Riverside has launched two courses inspired by Jordan Peele's film, "Get Out."  KVCR's Isel Cuapio spoke with Professor John Jennings to discuss the significance and relationship between speculative fiction and social issues.

Best known for starring in the Comedy Central sketch series Key and Peele, Jordan Peele made his directorial debut with the horror thriller, Get Out. It stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, who discovers an unsettling secret when he meets the family of his white girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams. 

Inspired by some of the themes and issues in the film, UCR professor John Jennings is teaching two courses approaching two forms of contemporary media: horror films and comic books from the perspective of Afrofuturism. The courses are "Afrofuturism and the Visual Cultures of Horror" and "Afrofuturism and Comics." 

Afrofuturism draws on fantastical elements to explore the black experience in the wake of the African diaspora, often pointing towards a more hopeful future. Professor Jennings shares that the film Get Out  validated years of research and thus inspired the courses, 

 "Now as far as the Afrofuturism and Comics course goes, it was influenced by a lot of the research I was already doing, but also by Get Out. To me, Get Out, it was the validation I needed in a lot of my work because I've been looking at, well on one side, we have Afrofuturism where you're thinking about this idea of "We're going to be free in the future or we've already beat this tension and disruption and we've been freed," which is a very radical notion." 

Jennings adds that Get Out also provides us with the visual vocabulary and language to unpack notions of space, race, and identity. He explains the film was evocative of the ethnogothic, a term he helped coin which refers to the idea of using horror, supernatural, or gothic themes that give us a space of catharsis and provide us with the languag to talk about racialized trauma and discrimination. 

"So if you look for instance, the all black town that gets destroyed in the 1920's or if you look at redlining in Chicago, or the idea of being across the tracks or in a sketchy neighborhood, we're always affixing the black body as an index for a scary place. So mostly spaces white people don't want to be in. There's always a conversation and connection between race and space. Even when you think about the black body as an index for the "dark continent" all these things are continuations that are totally fictitious and made up in the imagination of people who are oppressing black people." 

Instead of a traditional final exam, students will illustrate their own versions of the "sunken place," the space of psychological imprisonment the protagonist in Get Out experiences while under hypnosis.  

"I thought why not get creative and do something that actually gives us a space to talk about these images and the things that we've seen in a physical form. Because, essentially the monster is the physicality and embodiment, so let's embody these ideas which can conflate space and race together because in our society, space and race are always immediately tied together. Even the idea of the "sunken place" is a signifier around ideas fo segregation and degradation of the black body through spacial disruption." 

Jennings found that these types of courses generate conversation that allows students to build common ground, 

"I think that a lot of times, people look at the differences between each other and not what we have in common, which is a shame. But I think what happens is that art and the arts and humanities are where we can find connections." 

John Jennings is a professor of media and cultural studies and a Cooperating Faculty Member in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. His work centers around intersectional narratives regarding identity politics and popular media. He is co-editor of the Eisner Award-winning essay collection The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art and co-founder/organizer of the Schomburg Center's Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem. He is also co-founder and organizer of the MLK NorCal's Black Comix Arts Festival and also SOL-CON: The Brown and Black Expo at Ohio State University.