There’s Nothing Funny About How Erika Alexander Breaks Down the Power of Race and Symbolism in Get Out

The influential film is up for two Comedy nominations at the Golden Globes.

By Samantha Hunter

As we enter Award Season 2018 the film Get Out glistens brightly as a standout among all the year’s best. The movie was released in February of 2017 and instantly became a critically acclaimed, fan favorite earning upwards of a staggering $253 million worldwide.

In early December, we learned that Get Out, which was written and directed by Jordan Peele, has been nominated for two coveted Golden Globe Awards, but classified as a Comedy. Peele fired back on social media by tweeting, “Get Out is a documentary.” Get Out is also expected to be a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars. With the Golden Globes airing this weekend (January 7th) VH1 nabbed an exclusive interview with one of the film’s stars, Erika Alexander, who played Detective LaToya. Alexander, who many remember as Cousin Pam on The Cosby Show and the wildly hilarious Maxine Shaw on Living Single, has been busy as of late starring in the hit TV series Bosch and Beyond. The veteran actress spoke with us about her role in Get Out, the cultural impact of movie, symbolism and interracial dating.

Even though Get Out was told through the lens of a Black man, do you think your character was meant to convey something in particular about Black women?

I literally went into it thinking as an actress that [Jordan Peele] was just casting me, and I was a little bit oblivious to any of the themes that were in the movie. I kind of learned about it when I saw it. My first instinct is to say no, he just cast a person, a woman. But I think that Jordan really did have intentional reasons. Why? Because I think when you see me come on screen, and it could be me or anyone else, but the particulars of me are interesting, but as a Black woman, you think [Rod] might get some help. I think the audience really believes for a moment that somebody’s going to believe him and help. And I think the expectation that he’s thinking about Black women is that Black women are people who, you can go all around the world maybe looking for help but if you really want help you go to Black women. They’re very practical that way. They’re the caretakers and all that, but here’s where it’s also like a double-edged sword and cancels itself out.

Really? How does that come together in the scene?

We’re also very pragmatic, so although I listened and took him seriously, I also, by listening, knew that he was out of his loony mind. And then it becomes theater for her. So she uses, at his expense, something to entertain her colleagues. But I’m sure for a second, she was with it, until she realized, somewhere in there this dude is stone crazy, and this is going to make my day interesting. But I think because the audience believes, oh oh, ok, here comes a Black woman, something’s about to get got, and then it doesn’t happen and she laughs that I think it upends your expectations. But I actually think that it’s the exact thing that a Black woman would do in that position. They sort of listen to you, take you seriously up to a point, keep a stone face, and then clown you a little bit, and that’s the comedy of the moment – but the truth is I like that he does that. Now, having my character, Detective LaToya, with everything that you see in my face, which is Max, and all these characters that are strong, they said oh no, now Max is on the case, it’s gonna happen! I think [Jordan] did intend for that moment to have some kind of real solidity and seriousness, even inside of the fact that he knew he would flip it, only because the expectation of black women is that we are the caretakers.

Was Detective LaToya the only role in Get Out that you auditioned for?

I know I only auditioned for that role. I auditioned for it in a very sort of simple audition, didn’t even really remember me going in. I got the part, and then it was just a matter of working out whether or not I could do it because I was with Queen Sugar, Bosch and Beyond at the same time. So [Jordan] wrote me a beautiful note and said, ’Erika I really hope that you can do this, because I think this is going to be an amazing movie and you did such a wonderful job at the audition…’ I had every intention to do the role, but because I was doing so much, I only read the role, not the entire screenplay so I didn’t know it was a horror film until I saw the trailer. I thought I was in some kind of light comedy.

Did you ever work with Jordan Peele prior to the movie?

Never. Never. I’m a fan. I liked his work on Key and Peele. I liked his work in particular. I think he’s a very subtle comedian and it’s hard to be, especially when you’re doing broad things. But as a director, he’s a fantastic director. Very easygoing, we basically filmed it in three hours and I left Alabama, boom, in and out.

What are your thoughts on all the symbolism and imagery in the film? Did any of that resonate with you?

I think to be very clear that I’m looking at it from an actor’s point of view. A lot of that is part and parcel of the horror genre that you put those things in to call attention. Whether they do or not, it depends on the individual. Black people, frankly, have had such a hard time in this world telling people the truth when everybody thought that they were paranoid. They were telling the truth, but it was so bizarre and the stories were so immensely (I’m not using it in a bad way) cartoonish, that they weren’t believed. The symbolism of the imagery for Black people cuts very deep to our emotional status of somebody seeing us and saying wow. I think that this film has found legs because it has caught not just the imagination, but it has caught the racial implications of not only division but of real true terror that Black people have for white people that no one speaks to. They think that they are afraid of us, but we are horrified of them. It’s a horror movie, so I think symbolism is very deep – the deer, the sunken place, the floating and you can’t get back up – that’s deep. I think a lot of the white audiences were surprised by how the symbolism touched them and they were made uncomfortable or were fascinated.

How do you feel about the interracial aspect of the film?

Well, my husband is Black. He’s just very light-skinned. I truly spend my life trying to explain that Black is a state of mind. I believe like James Baldwin – I don’t believe in race as a concept. I believe in the human race. But I also believe that we live in a world that does believe in separation through color, and I live in that world, so I know when people see him [my husband] they see a white man as opposed to a Black man, and they see me as the Black person as opposed to somebody from Arizona whose father was a Lutheran pastor. They don’t see that. That to me is fascinating, and all I have to say is that I think it was a key thing to put a Black man in a white context that was supposed to be loving, supposed to be nurturing and friendly, and then he’s so deep that even when he has the proof that this woman has not only brought him but several other people to be used, he’s on the steps and that’s when he asks her to give him the keys. He’s still asking for her to love him. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about African Americans – our ability to love beyond our own destruction.

Dealing with race can be complicated in interracial relationships. Check out these couples talk about how they dealt with their first interracial Thanksgiving.

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