Thursday, July 9, 2020

Performance Piece: Lakeith Stanfield, "Get Out" (2017)

The performer: Lakeith Stanfield

The performance: Playing "Andre Hayworth" & "Logan King" in Get Out

Why him?

While working out my slate for July, I knew that I was going to have to do something involving Jordan Peele's work if I was going for a politics theme, but especially something with his debut film Get Out. Not only do I believe that Get Out is one of the two most influential horror films of the 2010's (The other being James Wan's Insidious), but it was an enormous success in many ways: The film scored a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Peele and three other nominations, including Best Picture; The film also brought attention to both racial representation in horror, as well as horror filmmakers's use of their genre's confines to deliver social and political commentary. One of Get Out's biggest assets is its ensemble cast, all of whom are super game to deliver what Peele is trying to convey about the varying methods of racism directed towards African-Americans. It was hard to select just one performance, as you have some hard hitters at work here including Daniel Kaluuya (Who should've won the damn Best Actor Oscar for his work in this movie), Lil Rel Howery and Betty Gabriel. However, I chose to analyze a performance from someone in the cast who happens to be one of my current favorite actors: Lakeith Stanfield.

Stanfield, playing the dual role of Andre and Logan, appears in only four scenes throughout the film, but is still a standout regardless of his amount of screen time. Interestingly, his first scene is also the opening scene of the film, and it is also our longest glimpse into his first character, Andre. The concept is simple enough: In a riff on opening scenes from other horror films like Scream, we follow a character alone in their environment for a while. We get to know them a little bit, until the villain strikes and the character is disposed of in one fashion or another. With Get Out, that character is Andre, whom we learn is an outsider to the suburb he's currently walking in as he talks to someone on his phone. Something that Peele describes in his annotated screenplay as intending to subvert audience expectations, as typically outsiders in suburban environments are depicted as villains and he wanted to make his outsider a good guy. After some amusing banter, Andre notices a car following him which he tries to escape from. This results in him being swiftly attacked by an unknown assailant in a knight costume, whom promptly shoves Andre's now unconscious body into the car and escapes.

Sympathy for Andre , he outsider

Usually, when crafting the opening set piece for a horror film, modern horror filmmakers will go out of their way to cast a big name or rising star. Scream famously had Drew Barrymore be its opening causality, a decision that is still talked about to this day due to the effectiveness of Barrymore and her take on the material. The casting of Stanfield as Get Out's first victim is no coincidence, as Stanfield has seen his star rise considerably in the last five years with projects including roles on the television shows Atlanta and BoJack Horseman and films such as Sorry To Bother You and Knives Out. Besides his star profile, Stanfield also works as Andre because of the versatility he possesses. In a Buzzfeed profile of Stanfield, titled "What Makes Lakeith Stanfield of 'Atlanta' So Compelling To Watch?", writer Frederick McKindra muses on how Stanfield's range allows him to go from "outlandish levity" to "pitiable despair." This is firmly on display on this scene, as Andre begins the scene making jokes about how "it's like a fucking hedge maze out here" and "You got me out here in this creepy, confusing-ass suburb." (Watch the actual scene, because Stanfield's delivery of suburb needs to be heard for full effect). This levity shifts to despair once Andre realizes he's being hunted, and then when he's attacked.

The next appearance of Stanfield comes much later into the film (forty five minutes in, to be exact), and it's in this scene that we are introduced to his other character, Logan. Logan, having taken over Andre's body, has molded it into the polar opposite of its former state. Andre's former facial hair is now shaved and his wardrobe has been entirely replaced. Gone are Andre's brown leather jacket, blue jeans and matching blue shirt, replaced by Logan's straw fedora, and tan ensemble more appropriate on a man in his sixties rather than one in his late twenties. Complete with peculiar expressions and much slower and less fluid movements, Andre and Logan are differentiated just with wardrobe and Stanfield's physicality alone. Stanfield's whole performance as Logan is a testament to both the strength of his acting ability and to Peele's writing and direction: In his screenplay, Peele describes Logan as "Very different than before. He seems glazed-over with the same frozen smile as Walter and Georgina. [Played by Marcus Henderson and Gabriel] Andre's voice is completely different [...] There is no longer any trace of an urban dialect. He speaks slowly and softly, enunciating his worlds precisely." This is exactly how Stanfield plays Logan throughout this scene in which he converses with an increasingly unsettled Chris, which demonstrates the success of both his acting and his and Peele's collaborative process.

Chris meeting Logan (and not Andre)

Stanfield's third scene is the most difficult, as it is where he has to blend both of his characters. For the most part, it's Logan taking the reigns as he struggles to feign an answer to Chris's (Kaluuya) deflected question about what the African-American experience is like. But then, when Chris takes a photo of him with the flash on his phone, Logan's control is (temporarily) relinquished and Andre resurfaces. Once again, Stanfield shows that he has the ability to not only pull this off, but to do it spitfire. He goes from being darkly comedic as Logan, making jokes about how he can't discuss the African-American experience because of how he and his wife Philomena (Geraldine Singer) are having "trouble leaving the bedroom", to hopeless and fearful as Andre. As Peele discusses in the annotated screenplay, Andre, at this point, is not capable of being saved. Something the character, himself, fully knows, which is why he puts what he has left into trying to save Chris by dropping the film's title: Get out! Stanfield's capability for vulnerability once again allows him to completely sell the scene, which makes it all the more tragic when, in his final appearance, Stanfield is once again back to playing Logan, who is back in the saddle that he has stolen from Andre.

Presumably forever.

LaKeith Stanfield as Logan & Andre in Get Out

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