How Jordan Peele’s directorial debut stunned at the box office — and is changing the conversation about race and Hollywood.
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
The tremendous box office success of the psychological horror/thriller “Get Out” has taken Hollywood by surprise. In the midst of Tinseltown’s ongoing diversity debate, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut (which he also wrote and produced) is delighting audiences — to the tune of more than $150 million in worldwide ticket sales on a budget of just $4.5 million.
The movie centers on Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who accompanies his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) home to meet her parents — an experience that quickly takes mind-bending twists and turns that touch on race, class, and contemporary culture.
“This idea came from my wanting to contribute something to the genres of thriller and horror that was unique to my voice,” says Peele. “The fact that it goes to race goes to the area I’ve worked in a lot, which is comedy. This is a movie that reflects real fears of mine and issues that I’ve dealt with before.”
Peele adds: “A big piece of the premise to ‘Get Out’ is that you have a white girl bringing a black guy home, and she hasn’t thought through all of the social ramifications of that. She assumes her family is going to be fine with it. They turn out to be, but there are some subtler works at play that begin to be a part of something much more sinister. This movie is about a lot of things. It’s about the way America deals with race and the idea that racism itself is a demon; it’s an American monster. It’s also about the notion of neglect and the idea that, if we allow ourselves to do so, humans can stand by while atrocities happen.”
As for the horror element of the film, Peele felt it was critical to mine the genre and discuss how race can have an impact on horror. “It’s an important piece of this conversation,” he says.
Peele knew he wanted Get Out to be his foray into directing. “Writing and directing are easier than not doing both. The beauty is that they’re done at separate times, so you don’t have to overlap the responsibility. It’s a great advantage to feel the confidence to change something on set, and know you’re not missing what the writer intended.”
When writing the screenplay, Peele took care to make sure that audiences could relate to the story all the way through. “The trick was to make sure nothing so crazy happened so fast that we wouldn’t believe the
characters would stay in this situation,” he said. “The element that starts to alarm my main character, Chris, is when he met the help and found that they’re a little off. Not like anyone he has ever met. I hate to see that in a movie when you want a character in a movie to just pick up a phone to call for help or to just get out of the damn house when danger is approaching. That’s what I allowed my main character to be — an actual, smart, logical human being, because it is so satisfying.”
As “Get Out” continues to thrill audiences all over the planet, Peele has, naturally, faced questions about his next project. For now, he prefers to savor the success.
“First and foremost, I always want to entertain, so I hope people experience that in the theater. ‘Get Out’ is a loud experience. It’s fun, scary, and titillating — and I want audiences to laugh,” he said. “After that, I hope that they have a discussion about race and horror films that they haven’t had before.”