I think a lot about genre classifications, the cultural forces that inform them, arbitrariness of the distinctions, and the attempts to justify that arbitrariness through definitions based on form or content. Whether, say, a Kazuo Ishiguro novel is shelved in the "Literary Fiction" section or the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" section of the bookstore has more to do with Ishiguro's cultural position than any discrete attribute of the book itself.
As a film that is most readily identifiable as a work of horror, Get Out doesn't neatly fit into either of the genre classifications. The arguments for one classification or the other is grounded not in form or content but in cultural connotations. From a film industry perspective, the "Drama" category privileges the kinds of stories that would be shelved in the "Literary Fiction" section, such as war films and historical biopics, while any popular genre, such as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, will fare better in the "Musical or Comedy" category. This makes a kind of sense--the very name of the category suggests that it is more of a generic grab-bag: this is an award that has been won both by a film featuring naked Ken Jeong jumping out of the trunk of a car and a film whose title literally translates to "The Miserables." And given that the Golden Globes are perceived as a stepping stone to the Oscars, submitting the film in a category where it will be more competitive might be an effective strategy.
On the other hand, many would argue that classifying Get Out as a comedy connotes an unserious approach to its critique of racism. As some have said, being able to laugh at a film like Get Out is itself a manifestation of white privilege. It's also fair to note that "Drama" typically connotes a higher degree of prestige, and that placing a film about racism by a Black director in the "Musical or Comedy" category implies relegating it to a second class status.
But of course, we don't have to simply speculate, since this one submission doesn't exist in a vacuum. What, exactly, do the designations "Drama" and "Musical or Comedy" signify? I was curious, so I decided to dig into the question of what genres these categories encompass.
I decided to look at all the films nominated in these two categories for the past 20 years, from 1997 to 2016. This gave me a corpus of 101 nominees in the "Musical or Comedy" category and 104 nominees in the "Drama" category. In identifying films' genres, I start with the premise that films don't don't have single genres, and that genres overlap in myriad ways. Therefore, the question is not the genre to which a film belongs, but rather, the genre with which a film is primarily associated. If I had the time, I would have developed a little Python script that read the descriptions of films on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Wikipedia and count up the genre terms used in those descriptions to determine what genre was most often used in association with each film. But I'm not that good at Python and I don't have that kind of time, so instead I skimmed through the Wikipedia entries listing the nominees and counted genres based on my memories of the movies or the descriptions in Wikipedia. This makes my data set very subjective, but sufficient, I think, for a little back-of-the-envelope exercise like this.
Because this is a quick-and-dirty exercise and I was primarily interested in whether "Drama" films are really dramatic and "Comedy" films are really comedic, I avoided breaking my categories down into genres that heavily overlap with one or both of those designations, such as "Romance" or "Biopic." Instead, romantic comedies were designated as comedies and romantic dramas were designated as dramas, and so on. However, I did break out "fantastic" genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror, in contrast to "realist" genres that are situated in the narrative world of the audience. I did this under the hypothesis that realism would be more often associated with Drama (connoting "serious" and "prestige" fiction) and the fantastic would be more often associated with Comedy (connoting "popular" fiction). I also counted the films that were based on a true story, again with the hypothesis that these would more often be associated with Drama.
As I conducted my counts, I was stricken by the number of comedy-drama hybrids nominated in both categories, but especially in the "Musical or Comedy" category. Films with both serious and humorous elements like The Kids Are Alright, 50/50, and Joy were all nominated for "Musical or Comedy" while The Descendants, Inglourious Basterds, and Philomena were all nominated for "Drama." In approaching these films, my policy was that I would give the submitters the benefit of the doubt and classify it in the category in which it was nominated, except in cases where either a dramatic or comedic tone clearly outstripped the other (as with the 2003 Musical or Comedy winner Lost in Translation, which I classified as a drama).
My counts are represented in the following table:
This confirms the general impression that the Musical or Comedy category is slightly generically looser than Drama. 68% of Musical or Comedy nominees are actually musicals or comedies, whereas 76% of Drama nominees are dramas. However, the action films that were nominated, including Spy and Deadpool, were fairly heavily comedic, and the Westerns, including There Will Be Blood and Hell or High Water, were fairly heavily dramatic. Adding those to the totals, then 73% of Musical or Comedy nominees are musicals or comedies, and 82% of Drama nominees are dramas.
This survey also suggest that "Musical or Comedy" is more receptive to films that are predominately dramatic than "Drama" is to films that are primarily comedic. Films that I classified as drama from the Comedy category included Nicolas Nickleby and Mrs. Henderson Presents, as well as the biopics Ray and Walk the Line, which were presumably nominated in this category because they centered on musicians even though they are not typically classified as musicals. Films that I classified as comedy from the Drama category included The Man Who Wasn't There and About Schmidt. As these examples probably suggest, these determinations necessitate a fair amount of subjective decision-making.
Fortunately, I was able to make determinations about the fantastic genres based more objectively on the presence of fantastic motifs or settings. Contrary to my hypothesis, fantastic films did not appear more frequently in the Musical or Comedy category; 12% of Musical or Comedy nominees were classified as science fiction, fantasy, horror, or children's, whereas 12.5% of Drama nominees were classified as the same genres. Most of the children's films in Musical or Comedy were Pixar films, whereas the one children's film in Drama was Hugo. The Lord of the Rings films, Mad Max Fury Road, Avatar, and The Truman Show were all nominated as Drama, whereas the Charlie Kaufman films Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the Tim Burton films Big Fish and Alice in Wonderland were all nominated as Musical or Comedy.
Interestingly, the only two films that could be described as horror films nominated in this 20 year period were Mulholland Drive and Black Swan, both nominated as Dramas.
On the other hand, my hypothesis was confirmed that films based on a true story are more highly represented in Drama than Musical or Comedy (42% vs. 14%).
Based on these data, I don't see strong evidence to support the argument that, as a horror film, it's more advantageous for Universal to have submitted Get Out to the Musical or Comedy category rather than to the Drama category. While Get Out's use of sci-fi horror differs from the two previous horror nominees, both of which were purely psychological, fantastic genres are equally represented in both categories. The Return of the King and Avatar both won as Dramas, while Toy Story 2 and The Martian both won as Comedies, and the same year that The Martian infamously won as a Comedy, Mad Max Fury Road was nominated as a Drama.
At the same time, while awards are certainly rife with racial bias, these data don't provide evidence to support an argument of racial bias in the choice of genre category. In fact, the Golden Globes show a stronger tendency to recognize filmmakers of color in the Drama category than in the Musical or Comedy category. Out of the forty winners I surveyed in these two categories, the only two with Black directors or a predominately Black cast were Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave and Barry Jenkins's Moonlight, both of which won as Dramas. This may suggest that industry-wide bias works in the other direction, and that Black filmmakers' main avenue for awards success is through making A Very Serious Movie About Race. Additionally, skimming over the Drama nominees from this 20 year period, I saw a number of directors of color, including Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Denzel Washington, Ang Lee, Alphonso Cuarón, Ava DuVernay, and Shekhar Kapur. I was only able to identify one director of color among the Musical or Comedy nominees, Iñárritu, for Birdman. I'm not certain, but it's possible that Get Out will be the first film by a Black director nominated in the Musical or Comedy category.
The Golden Globes' approach to genre is, frankly, an absolute mess that nobody should take seriously.
Get Out, however, is a phenomenal film that everybody should take seriously, regardless of what it's nominated for.