Sarah Bay-Cheng is the Dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University in Toronto, Canada. She previously served as Chair and Professor of Theater and Dance at Bowdoin College, teaching theater history and theory, dramatic literature, and digital media performance. Her research focuses on the intersections between performance and media including histories of cinema and computer technology in theatre. Her books include Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field (2015), Mapping Intermediality in Performance (2010), and a current book project, Digital Historiography and Performance. In 2015, she was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Bay-Cheng can be heard monthly as a co-host for the podcast, On TAP (www.ontappod.com).
There is a striking moment about two-thirds of the way through Jordan Peele’s satirical horror film Get Out (2016). While visiting his white girlfriend’s family estate for the weekend, the film’s black protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is approached by one of the family’s African-American servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel). At this point in the film, the audience is aware that Washington has been uneasy about the visit since before the couple arrived, in large part because his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) had not disclosed his race to her family before their visit. As a black man surrounded by the white family and their mostly white friends, Washington’s discomfort increases despite the reassurances of his girlfriend. In this brief exchange with Georgina, he attempts to find some commonality in his discomfort. Structured as a series of slowly tightening counter-shots between the two characters, the sequence depicts Georgina approaching Chris to explain why she has unplugged his cell phone (repeatedly). When he confesses to her that “When there are too many white people, I get nervous,” Georgina responds with a repeated, “No. No. No.” It’s a phrase intended as comfort, but the moment instead conveys a sense of the uncanny that is, indeed, the key to understanding the film as a whole. It is also a moment deeply indebted to the interwoven histories of acting and media in modernism.