Jordan Peele has brought to the screen some fantastic works. Ranging from laugh out loud comedy to his intense and unique sense of horror. His use of film to tell relevant stories relating to historic and the not so pleasant and unfamiliar events of today’s world is uncanny. And very much needed and welcome in this day and age. To have more artists take a strong stance on positive movement forward is necessary if the world of film making is still going to make a meaningful impact in the days ahead. Peele is an actor, director and writer known for his work on Comedy KEY & PEELE and his blockbuster hit horror film GET OUT (2017) the Oscar-winning horror movie about racism that became a breakout hit and the most profitable film of 2017. He delivered another well-received social horror with 2019’s US, and has been involved in the production of TV shows like THE O.G and a reboot of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Earlier in his career, Peele was known for his work on Mad TV and for co-creating the hit Comedy Central show KEY & PEELE.
The battle to fight complacency due to privilege not only in the U.S. but all around the globe has spoken volumes in the last couple months with the Black Lives Matter movement, in a race to find equality and at the same time celebrate diversity. Peele explores these subjects on many levels through his productions. Shining a mirror on society in ways that only horror could reflect on real life. Peele’s genre for his horror films has been referred to as what is described as social horror.
Peele’s film US, or what many would consider ‘U.S.’ is a social horror film that speaks to the American culture and struggle of the under dogs or “aliens” of society having to desperately fight their way to be seen, to be heard. To find something better than what society has offered them. Speaking to the American people. It explores the sunken places in American society that are often left behind and forgotten. It was important to Peele that the Tether’s (the deranged and violent doppelgangers living underground to their superioriours of the world above) were humanized. That the audience watching would be able to take more away from this film than, it was a great scare. He wanted them to reflect on what it means when we are looking at society in the real world.
The power of stories is that it is the one way we can encourage the audience to feel empathy. Trying to bring the audience behind the protagonist’s eyes. The key is having a protagonist that is investigative and smart. They are hot on the trail and there is justification in each scene as to why the character doesn’t run away screaming from the horrors that lay ahead. It is a delicate balance that honours the protagonist in extreme circumstances.
With his background in live comedy, Peele does what he can to get the whole audience to react. He has an audience in his head which enables him to best guess as to how these stories would resonate with them. With KEY & PEELE, he was able to write a joke and hear if it worked or not. In exploring the horror genre it’s been a similar experience for him. One of the keys is paying attention to what the audience already knows, feels and thinks what is going to happen. Peele respects and empowers his audience and allows them to explore and come to their own conclusions on the social commentary. He looks at the audience as intelligent and invested, something which is sometimes lost with other producers and writers.
The tricky balance with that is trying to keep a well-educated audience from guessing too quickly as to what is happening in the film. He looks at his audience as intelligent story analysts and if Peele feels that the scene is resonating something he doesn’t want to portray or gives away too soon he isn’t afraid to try switching it up. Allowing storytelling tools to sneak into the storyline that unfolds for the audience in real time. Keeping them guessing as much as the character’s in the story are.
GET OUT was written during the post racial lies, when Obama was elected as president and when everyone was saying America had moved on from racism. Bringing up racism for a lot of people ended up being a fopa, a regurgitating of past events. The movie was meant to expose the horror within itself and to be a wake up call for US citizens. Society is the breeding ground of evil. Peele cited The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street from THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The story centres on what happens to a neighborhood when they fear aliens have landed in their town. “It points out the ugliness and flaws of humanity,” Peele explains. “That’s what I like to do with my stories. The real monsters are within us. When people get together we are the greatest monster we’ve ever known.”
While in Chicago Peele studied at Second City, where he met Keegan-Michael Key. Bringing their talents to Los Angeles they ended up landing gigs on MADTV. Toward the end of his contract on the Fox sketch show, Peele was offered his dream gig. A spot in the cast of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE but MADTV producers wouldn’t let him out of his contract, ending his SNL dreams. This led him to revisualize and examine his career, locking himself in a room, smoking a whole lot of weed, plotting his revenge, When an idea hit him that would change not only his life but the life of many lives around him and audience’s viewing his work. He realized he wanted to become a producer. It struck him that he was surrounded by producers that were making major decisions about art and comedy without actually knowing much about either of the subjects. From there he began developing multiple projects simultaneously to see what worked. The widely acclaimed GET OUT was one of those early scripts.
Eventually having finished the script, Producer Sean McKittrick known for his works on PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND THE ZOMBIES (2016) and GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011) bought the thriller spec on the spot. McKittrick was on board with the idea of Peele directing it himself and budgeted at $5 million, the film became a cultural phenomenon. Earning upwards of $250 million worldwide and winning Peele an Oscar for best original screenplay, sweeping the floor at the African-American Film Critics Association and AACTA International Awards, taking home many other awards in its journey to success. He saw his status in Hollywood change almost overnight.
Amongst all these factors, Jordan Peele is excited to be able to have the power in his position to be able to cast black people in his movies. Not everyone is as fortunate to have this liberty. Putting and keeping black faces on the screen in leading roles. Peele mentions, “I feel fortunate to be in this position where I can say to Universal, ‘I want to make a $20 million horror movie with a black family.’ And they say yes.”
Peele is dedicated in creating work and opportunities for black artists. Not that he doesn’t appreciate and respect white artists and what they have to offer. But we have seen that movie time and time again and it is time for a new story. Since the beginning of the film industry it has been an uneven playing field, and now is time more than ever to see more changes such as represented through Peele’s work in productions to come. With society being forced to face its own reflection at this time, it is time to address these issues and make a change from the top to the bottom.