While he built an Emmy-winning career in socially aware comedy, those who knew Jordan Peele weren’t surprised when he married a polemical theme to the horror genre for his feature directorial debut Get Out. Peele grew up a self-described movie nerd, with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films, and after Get Out became one of the most wildly profitable films in memory, with a $253 million global gross on a $4.5 million budget, the film’s clever play on race relations in this country makes Peele the rare genre filmmaker figuring in awards season. Even though the last horror movie to clean up at the Oscars was The Silence of the Lambs, Get Out is emerging as a viable contender.
“Several things caught me off-guard, as to how well they worked,” Peele says. “One was the amount of conversation it started. I always hear of people leaving Get Out, and then having a two-hour long conversation with the person they saw it with.”
Another aspect that pleased Peele is the tone of the project. He set out to protect it, he says, from the fact that, “On paper, what you have is something inherently unpleasant – the victimization of black people, the villains being white people. You basically have an uncomfortable racial conversation, and a reality we deal with in a very uncomfortable way, a horrific reality.” Peele made a film that was universally relatable for audiences. “The idea that I was able to sell this movie to everybody, regardless of skin color and where you’re coming from,” he says, “the fact that white and black people could walk into this movie, seeing things from different perspectives, but by the middle of the movie, everybody is reacting like they’re Chris? It was more of a unifying experience.” But Peele hadn’t always been confident the outcome would be thus. “I had these nightmares of fights [in the theater], and creating more animosity than unity,” he says. “It just speaks to the power of story. If the performance and the script are all taken care of, the audience will drop any preconceived notions, and just feel the emotions of the protagonist and see through the eyes of that protagonist.”
There was also Peele’s decision to scrap his original scripted ending – the one that showed the protagonist being carted off to jail. It can be viewed on the DVD, but the filmmaker decided it was wrong to invoke his own politics at the expense of the satisfying ending he felt the genre audience would want. “Thank goodness,” he says, “but it was pretty clear by the time that the cut with that original ending was made, that we were in a different America than I wrote the movie in. It was pretty clear the new America was ready to engage in this conversation. Instead of being in denial about racism, we have been addressing it more. With the Black Lives Matter movement and attention to police brutality, it was clear people had a certain fatigue from those horrors, and needed a hero, an escape, as well as a way to confront it. It feels like things have gotten worse with the racial conversation. People are emboldened to be more outwardly racist, but really, there has been a system of racial oppression forever. That we’re engaged in a conversation about it, I’m optimistic it’s pushing us in a right direction.”
While focused on his next film – another politically aware thriller through the company he launched with a big Universal deal – due to start production early next year, Peele at this point has resisted the usual genre-hit move to sequelize, saying he hasn’t figured out a part two that would feel as fresh as Get Out.
“I haven’t decided anything yet and I am allowing the creative part to bubble up, and not force it,” he says. “I know if a follow-up is meant to happen, it will. I’m open to figuring out what it is. But I also don’t want to let down the original and its fans. I simply would not do something like that for the cash.”
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