When Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele and a devoted horror fan, decided that it was time to fulfill a dream and write a thriller, he started with a question: What is my favorite horror movie that doesn’t exist? The films that terrified him as a kid were usually based in relatable, everyday fears, but Peele never found one of the scariest aspects of his own life represented in the genre. “Race, specifically, is the American horror that has gotten the least attention within the genre,” Peele, 37, says. “Every other social dynamic or fear has been tackled, but there’s been something taboo about race.”
In Get Out (opening Friday), Peele’s first film as writer-director, a black photographer (Sicario‘s Daniel Kaluuya) goes upstate with his white girlfriend (Girls‘ Allison Williams) to meet her wealthy suburban parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Mom and Dad are nice enough — Dad insists that he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have — but something is off. What’s more, young black men are disappearing in the area, only to reappear changed…somehow different…whiter. To say anything else about the places Get Out goes would be to spoil the fun, but it’s safe to say that there is terror, insanity, and — because it’s still Peele — laughs.
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The seed of the idea came to Peele in part because of our 44th president. The election of Barack Obama spread the false notion of a postracial America, a narrative that directly contradicted Peele’s experience. “What the movie was originally focused on was pulling back the layers to reveal that racism, in fact, does exist,” he says. “And there are people who live every day in fear of it in some form or another, be it on a subtle level or extreme level.” So Peele conceived of a film imbued with the social commentary of The Stepford Wives and the satire of Scream that pushed back against the idea that black Americans had no reason to be scared anymore.
The approach was specific to him, and drawn in part from his own life. (Without the bloodshed.) “I’ve learned that to break into a [new] side of the industry… you kind of have to tell a very personal story,” says Peele, who married fellow comedian Chelsea Peretti, who is white, last year. “Nothing quite like what happens in Get Out has happened to me at all, but I knew the perspective of the main character. It was a story that I was kind of uniquely equipped to tell.”
Peele’s hope is that Get Out can work on a few different wavelengths for audiences, especially those who might not immediately relate to it. “We need to discuss these racial issues in a way that doesn’t bum us out,” he says. “We need to have a collective experience where we can go be entertained, forget about life, and then go home and think about whatever the film dealt with and debate it.” Perhaps even with your in-laws.