When the teaser trailers for Jordan Peele’s Get Out first came out, question marks hovered over its mysterious plot points. Fortunately, keeping the narrative about the stylized take on the victimization of black people and “the sunken place” close to its chest paid off enough to pique the interest of audiences to earn over $250 million at the global box office to date. At the Film Independent Forum on Sunday, Peele stepped out on the stage for the keynote conversation to a round of applause. Before sitting down, he expressed gratitude for the wild success of the film saying that it’s been “something I’ve been shooting for all my life — but also came out of the blue.”
Get Out resurrected the dormant idea of the social thriller and sculpted it for the modern audience. Inspired by Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, Peele served up an allegory on the black identity dipped in horror, but paid careful attention to not make it divisive. He didn’t want audiences leaving the theater feeling awkward — and Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris is the key reason why that awkwardness didn’t happen. As the story unfolds, everyone in the audience —whether black, white or otherwise — is going through his journey of weirdness and microaggressions.
“By the middle — or even earlier in the film — everyone is Chris,” said Peele. “Everyone is looking through the same set of eyes. The movie was bringing people together instead of tearing each other apart. It’s the power of storytelling.”
With the racially-driven material and the current social climate, Peele knew exactly the balancing act he would have to do with Get Out. At the same time, he realized that it was was a very pulpy movie. “This is a ridiculous movie!” he exclaimed. “But I wanted everyone to take it seriously like I did.” From the bizarre black-to-white brain transplants to the teacup hypnosis to the blind art dealer, Peele was very aware he was dealing with B-movie material — but it was his goal to elevate those details and get them out of the realm of kitsch to make them socially relevant.
Peele wrote and developed the film during the Obama administration, a time when many thought racism was done — which it obviously wasn’t. As Peele worked during a period of time which he refers to as a post-racial lie, he told himself, “I have to write my favorite movie that doesn’t exist.”
During the conversation moderated by KCRW’s Elvis Mitchell, Peele talked in-depth about the haunting opening scene where Lakeith Stanfield’s character is walking through a suburban neighborhood, out of place and lost. After trying to dodge a car that is tailing him, he is abducted. The one-take scene not only sets the tone for the movie but speaks to Peele’s intent of “what black audiences need” and “what white audiences will be watching.”
“Black people would recognize that fear — it’s part of the black identity and the horror America,” said Peele. “There are things we are cognizant of because we have to be.”
He adds, “For white audiences, they see how it is to be a black man in a suburban neighborhood at night.”
Even though Peele finely threads that needle to avoid divisiveness, the film still cleverly subverts movie tropes that have been rampant in cinema — particularly the “white savior.” Peele cites Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures and Brad Pitt in 12 Years A Slave, saying that although he liked those movies, he points out that the role of those characters is to speak to white audience members saying, “Hey! This is you!” as a form of reassurance to remind them that they aren’t racist. With the character of Rose (Allison Williams), the audience expects to see her come out as the white savior to save Chris, but Peele made a bold move to not have that happen. He points out that there is this trend in race-driven movies where the last good white person can’t be racist, like Costner and Pitt.
“Rose subverts that,” said Peele. He takes a beat and jokes, “Sometimes all white people are evil — sometimes — but not all the time.”
Therein lies the ultimate subversion of Get Out. As Peele says, “every white person in this movie is evil.” Before Get Out, making a movie where a black man kills a white family in the end — even if they are wildly evil — was unheard of. Peele, on more than one level, proves otherwise with a tailormade nightmare for the protagonist.
“Being an African American, I have never seen my perspective in a horror film,” said Peele. “[Get Out] has my worst fears realized as a black man in this country — from the evil white girl who’s been lying to you to the lacrosse stick — those things are foreign to me.”
Peele wanted Get Out to be a movie where black people do what they need to do in horror situations. As the title suggests, they “get out” instead of mindlessly stick around and wait for their death like many do in horror movies.
As terrifying as the suburbanites are in Get Out, Peele says that they aren’t the main villain in the movie. “The system itself is the monster — the idea of a social thriller explores how we interact,” he said. “That’s the thrill of the genre.”