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Why TSA Officers Are Rooting For 'Get Out'


Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow. There's a good chance the movie "Get Out" will be the first horror film to be nominated for best picture in nearly 30 years. "The Silence Of The Lambs" won back in 1992. As NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us, there's a group of people cheering for "Get Out" who don't often see themselves portrayed sympathetically onscreen.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Near the beginning of "Get Out," one of the main supporting characters takes a smoke break outside an airport. He's wearing the blue uniform of the Transportation Security Administration, and he's chatting on the phone.


LIL REL HOWERY: (As Rod Williams) Tell me this, OK? How can I get in trouble for patting down an old lady?

ULABY: No spoilers, but this TSA officer will become incredibly heroic. He's the first to realize bad things are happening to the hero, and he rushes to the police.


HOWERY: (As Rod Williams) This dude's been missing for six months, right? So I do all my research, you know, 'cause as a TSA agent - you know, you guys are detectives. I got the same training, you know? We might know more than y'all sometimes.

ULABY: All this raised a question - what did real TSA officers think of the film?

SHEKINA GIVENS: It made me proud.

ULABY: Shekina Givens has worked for the TSA in Atlanta, Ga., for almost ten years. She loved this character in "Get Out."

GIVENS: He took his job seriously. There was pride in what he did. There wasn't a mockery made of him.

ULABY: Givens is used to seeing her profession maligned. Off the top of her head, she rattles off numerous commercials where TSA officers are irritants, incompetents or perverts. In this commercial for Lindt chocolate, two female officers pat down a handsome man.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) I think we should do a strip search.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) Definitely. Definitely a strip search. So if you could take off your pants, turn around...

ULABY: Depictions like these, says Givens, do not make it easier to deal with the thousands of stressed out passengers she helps every day and who often treat her and her colleagues with disrespect. But Victor Payes Martinez says "Get Out" has actually changed that to an extent. He's a TSA officer in Los Angeles.

VICTOR PAYES MARTINEZ: I definitely think we've had an increase of passengers making reference to the movie. And it's opened up some people to say, hey, you know what? These guys aren't so bad.

ULABY: Unsurprisingly, "Get Out" has led to numerous in-jokes among TSA officers themselves. There's a memorable catchphrase spoken by their onscreen brother in blue. And warning, it is blue.

MARTINEZ: I don't think I can say it on here. But, yes, it's definitely something that's caught on.


HOWERY: (As Rod Williams) I'm T-S mother [expletive] A. We handle [expletive].

ULABY: That's probably not going to become the new slogan of the Transportation Security Administration. An agency spokesman declined to comment on "Get Out." But Victor Payes Martinez, the officer at LAX, has something he'd like to say to filmmaker Jordan Peele, who may also be nominated tomorrow for writing and directing the first movie Martinez has ever seen with a sympathetic and proud TSA officer.

MARTINEZ: Simply, thank you.

ULABY: TSA officers like Martinez are among the lowest-paid federal employees. They routinely deal with travelers showing up with loaded guns or people in the midst of crises. During the government shutdown they're required to come to work, but no one pays them until the shutdown is over. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.