In the new drama Tyrel, a young black man named Tyler (played by Jason Mitchell) tags along with his white guy friend to a weekend getaway birthday party in the Catskills, where he quickly feels like an outcast among the rowdy group of friends he just met. The trip is set on the weekend of President Trump’s inauguration, as a group of white liberal bros (including Michael Cera and Christopher Abbott) curse their new leader one minute and spout subtle racist comments the next, creating an eerie sense that the racial tension under the surface could escalate at any drunken moment.
Audiences quickly noticed the film (which first premiered earlier this year at Sundance) has a similar premise as Get Out, and not in the way that people love to compare any new black film to Get Out— Tyrel really does have uncanny parallels. It’s set in a large house in the woods, and features Tyler stranded, drinking with vaguely racist white people he doesn’t know well. Most notably, it even has the same actor as the main antagonist (Caleb Landry Jones, who played Jeremy in the former film). The shadow of Get Out over the movie is so distracting that it has barely been able to establish its own identity, aside from being considered more bro-y and less horror sci-fy than its now famous predecessor.
But, as Chilean-American writer/director Sebastian Silva (The Maid) has had to explain multiple times, he shot Tyrel before Get Out hit theaters, just after Trump’s 2017 inauguration weekend, as he reflected on the hypocrisy of anti-Trump white liberals. Both movies, and others made around the same time that criticize white progressives, such as Dear White People (a 2014 movie that became a show three years later), stem from a mutual preoccupation that bubbled up organically from vastly different filmmakers, making each project seem all the more representative of its moment. But now that the array of related films have arrived, it's been difficult for them to exist on their own terms.
Tyrel suffers from being the more simple and subtle movie to come after a wildly entertaining, genre-redefining black horror comedy. Probably partially because of its timing, it’s received mixed reviews; some critics were intrigued by the limbo suspense of wondering if the movie would have a big twist like Get Out. But when that twist never comes, the disappointment sets in: you just spent over an hour essentially hanging out with people even the main character finds unenjoyable with seemingly little pay off. It’s so close to real life that it feels more like edited footage from a fly on the wall camera than a movie. “The film feels like an authentic slice of experience, and at the same time it doesn’t say all that much,” Dennis Harvey wrote in Variety.
But it’s not that Tyrel actually has little to offer or tackles menial issues. As Mitchell explains to Essence, the goal is to “put you in the shoes of the everyday alienated black person,” and authenticity should theoretically always have a place at the table. Tyrel’s approach, however, just can’t compete with the level of horror and suspense in Get Out or the way we’re used to seeing casual racism bubble up into memorable climatic endings in other classic movies like Do The Right Thing. Because of these precedents, when Tyrel ends with the feeling that there were no real consequences for his uncomfortable weekend, the whole point of the movie seems to dissolve. The subtle racism comes off as inconsequential, and perhaps incapable of carrying a film in its bare bones form.
That of course is the opposite affect the film’s creators would want it to have and brings up questions about what the shadow of Get Out and the general tendency to compare black films to one another is doing to our ability to engage with new approaches to similar topics. Hollywood Reporter critic Daniel Feinberg hit the nail on the head tweeting, “If you don’t expect ‘Tyrel’ to be ‘Get Out’ it’s an awkward, engaging, low-key movie about how hard it is to be around white folks who like REM too much.” Some people were upset that the movie branded itself as “2018’s answer to Get Out” in its main trailer quote, thinking it was a false comparison, while others thought the comparison was an affront to both films, noting Tyrel was also about general social anxiety and alienation.
It’s not necessarily a positive thing that the most thrilling racial commentary movies tower above the rest. Get Out may have seemed perfect in its wit, innovativeness, and execution, but it’s also unfortunate that movies about microaggressions have to be delivered with mind-bending plotlines to be widely entertaining and impactful. The exaggeration gives some audience members a pass because a lot of casually racist people don’t see themselves in obviously evil characters like the white family in Get Out or the fratty jerks in Dear White People. Tyrel may not be as entertaining as the other movies in its ilk, but it certainly tries to create a realistic story of everyday racism. Its shortcomings shouldn’t be taken as a reason that approach doesn’t work but rather a reason to try it again in a more poignant way.
It’s almost inevitable that observant creators of any race in a similar industry will find themselves preoccupied with the same type of story as they seek to find the next necessary conversation our society is moving toward. We see the same thing happening across all kinds of fields; fashion designers rolling out similar new lines, journalists going after the same stories, tech companies trying to create comparable products. For films centering on non-white male leads or created by non-white male filmmakers, there’s often hesitation from studio executives that such a movie will do well unless it has a well-received predecessor; for a creative industry, the movie business is always such a business through and through. But despite that limitation, any new variation on a universal topic has the potential to be just as valuable a contribution as the last, both in what it does well and in its shortcomings. When there are a series of seemingly similar black films, we’ve yet to find a way not to allow the most celebrated to be the benchmark all others must surpass, but to really engage with what each tells us about who we are.
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