Brooke Gladstone: This is On the Media's midweek podcast, I'm Brooke Gladstone. When Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out hit theaters in 2017, it was a critical success and an unexpected blockbuster. The movie follows a Black man named Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya who visits his white girlfriend's eager parents in the country.
Get Out: By the way, I would've voted for Obama for a third term if I could — the best president in my lifetime hands down.
Brooke Gladstone: Soon Chris senses that the Armitage family is not what it seems; plus the other Black people he encounters act strangely. Spoilers ahead: slowly we learn that the Armitage is part of a cult of aging affluent white people who hijack and inject themselves into young Black bodies. Their victims are still conscious but trapped in the sunken place unable to change their fate. In the years since Get Out's release, Peele’s work has been credited for jump-starting a renaissance of the Black horror genre. Critics cheered the performance of the entire cast but for many, one, in particular, stood out. Betty Gabriel played Georgina the maid whose body was possessed by the Armitage's matriarch. In that sense, Gabriel played two characters at once.
Georgina: I owe you an apology. How rude of me to have touched your belongings without asking. I can assure you there was no funny business.
Brooke Gladstone: This Halloween, OTM producer Rebecca Clark-Callender did a deep dive into the history of Black horror films for the show, and she sat down with Gabriel to ask about how she prepared to play a woman possessed. This is an extended cut of their conversation. As it happens, the genre isn't one of Gabriel's favorites to watch.
Betty Gabriel: Uh-uh. It's not something I can handle. I just definitely get nightmares and it just keeps me up at night sometimes.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: Did you do anything, in particular, to prepare for the role?
Betty Gabriel: I definitely watched a lot of old horror movies, particularly Bride of Frankenstein — it was the whole science and clinical aspect of it, the bizarre breakthrough of creating this new creature that's living but not really.
Bride of Frankenstein: She hate me.
Betty Gabriel: And the fact that it was an old movie — for whatever reason I was really wanting to go really old school. It's also mostly a silent film or there's very little dialogue and so much has to be communicated with what you're doing with your spirit in essence and physicality. And, you know, Jordan has talked about this in interviews that he was inspired by Rosemary'sBaby, Stepford Wives— I watched those as well.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: You said in an interview a couple of years ago that you spoke to your grandmother about her experience.
Betty Gabriel: Oh, yes.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: What did she say that you brought to the role?
Betty Gabriel: I totally did. I just remember this story about how every time she walked to school she was being a bit taunted and tormented by this white girl, and eventually she just cracked and had enough and ran up to her and pushed her to the ground. Anyway, so she ran out of pure fear and terror. Yeah, something about that, just cracking having enough and acting out, and then being so filled with fear and not sure how to escape. She eventually did go up North after she graduated, so she did get out of the South, but how much can we really get out? Yeah
Rebecca Clark-Callender: So, obviously you play Georgina, the help, and — I'm going to be honest — I remember sitting in the movie theater and from the very first “hello” you had with Chris, Daniel Kaluuya's character, I was like ‘Nope, something’s off! Something is really, really wrong.’
But you're not really sure what. So you have these amazing moments where you're pouring the tea, going around the table with the family, and no one's acknowledging you and then Chris saying “Thank you.” You can see it. It almost brings you out. There's then obviously some pure creepy moments where a door swings open and you're just standing there holding a carrot cake, staring into oblivion which is obviously equally scary. But I have to talk to you of course about this singular scene that, really, to me started with the miscommunication over the word “snitch.”
Chris: I wasn't trying to snitch.
Chris: Rat you out.
Georgina: Oh, don't you worry about that. I can assure you I don't answer to anyone.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: The humor and horror are so closely tied in this movie.
Betty Gabriel: Yes.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: I think I saw Jordan Peele at some point say that you shot the scene where you are smiling and crying and saying “no, no, no,” 11 times.
Georgina: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Aren't you something? That's not my experience, not at all. The Armitages are so good to us. They treat us like family.
Betty Gabriel: I was really just immersing myself in that reality and did little playful strange things. I would look at myself in the mirror because there is that part where I do look at myself in the mirror.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: Butyou're fixing your hair, and it's like this interesting fascination with yourself.
Betty Gabriel: Yes. I would do that in my hotel room, and it got weird. And I would also do meditations pretending like I'm face-to-face with this white woman. And there was just a lot of moments of stillness and trying to find the connection and the mutual bond that this connection — that I think is horrifying, of course, but I think it's the most intimate thing. I just got really, really intimate with this other person regardless if it was the person who was there originally or the person possessing that original person.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: You're saying meditation. What does that look like? Were you leaning into anger? What were the feelings that you were exploring there?
Betty Gabriel: Yes, definitely some deep sadness and grieving and anger, but also it's somewhat akin to Stockholm syndrome when you're trapped by someone and they become your only life source in a sense. There's just this unhealthy and unreasonable reliance on them, so I think to just see the anger or just see the sadness that's a majority of the pie but I think that's not the complete pie.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: In 2018 , you and Jordan Peele had a talk at the Hammer Museum where you said that you thought Peele had written a beautiful but tragic love letter to Black women in this film, what did you mean?
Betty Gabriel: I definitely read at least one criticism of the portrayal of Black women in the film, and I just didn't see it that way — obviously I'm biased.
Rebecca Clark-Callender: What was that criticism?
Betty Gabriel: With my character, it was like she's a strong Black female stereotype and I just went, "Oh, interesting." Because, in my mind yes, on the surface she is a very empowered Black woman but it's the power of the white woman who is the matriarch of this house and who is now in possession of this Black woman's body. While it's not her story that really embraces the invisibility of Black women while also portraying the very visible horror of being a Black woman in the society and how we've been taken. We've been abducted and no one sees it, but he makes you see it a bit.
At the end of the day, I hope that's what resonates with an audience — is that I think there's so many ways in which you can translate this Black American experience and Black female American experience. And the only genre that can work is horror, pure ass horror.
Brooke Gladstone: That was Betty Gabriel who played the role of Georgina in Get Out, she was speaking to OTM producer Rebecca Clark-Callender. Thanks for tuning into the midweek pod. Tune into the big show on Friday. It posts around dinner Eastern Time. Thanks.
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