×

Jordan Peele on How He Tackled Systemic Racism as Horror in ‘Get Out’

Jordan Peele discovered halfway through the making of “Get Out” what story he wanted to tell: A horror-thriller for black audiences that delivered a searing satirical critique of systemic racism.

“The writing of (‘Get Out’) started with me starting to make my favorite horror-thriller that’s never been made before,” Peele said Wednesday during a keynote conversation at Variety‘s Inclusion Summit. “Halfway through writing the project is when I realized what it was actually about.”

Moderated by Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge, the conversation focused on how Peele approached the making of his first feature film. Before “Get Out,” Peele was known as a comic, a sketch artist from his time on Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele.”

Peele said he wanted to make a film for black audiences, who gravitate toward horror films but often are frustrated with unrealistic decisions made by lead characters. Using “The Amityville Horror” as an example, Peele said the white family remained in the house despite suspicions it was haunted. A black family, he said, would have been long gone at the first sign of spookiness.

“The black audience goes to watch horror-thriller and we are usually very vocal about not getting the movie that we want,” Peele said.

But it wasn’t a supernatural force, nor a knife-wielding serial killer that would provide the most scares in “Get Out.” The film’s monster is systemic racism, in this case portrayed through the white characters.

“You find the insidious qualities that white liberals have,” Peele said. “The gut punch of the movie is ultimately meant to say that racism is a human problem and the ‘woke’ people know not to call themselves ‘woke.'”

The “sunken place” that the lead character falls into when he’s under hypnosis, Peele said, was a metaphor. It’s “this state of marginalization that I’ve never really quite had a word for,” he said. “The sunken place is the prison-industrial complex, it’s the dark hole we throw black people in.”

The metaphor also extends to the multiplex. “The sunken place is the theater that black people are relegated to watching horror movies on the screen. We can scream at the screen but we’re not going to get represented on the other side,” he said.

Speaking more broadly about the success of films featuring previously untold stories — like “Hidden Figures,” which told the story of the black women integral to the U.S. space program – Peele said the common thread was freshness.

“Time and time again you realize that the more truth you’re hitting on that people haven’t seen put in this way, the more successful it is,” he said.

More Film

  • BAFTA Backs BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training for

    BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training Rolls Out to BAFTA Voters, Wider Industry (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British Independent Film Awards is opening up its unconscious-bias training to BAFTA voters and, more widely, to anyone who judges the work of others in the film and TV business in the U.K. With the makeup of award-nominee and -winner lists under close scrutiny, BIFA introduced its unconscious-bias training last year. Its voters, jurors, [...]

  • Instinct

    Carice van Houten's 'Instinct' Picked Up By Films Boutique (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based international sales agent Films Boutique has picked up psychological thriller “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten, who received an Emmy nomination Tuesday for “Game of Thrones,” and Marwan Kenzari, recently seen in Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin.” “Instinct” has its world premiere on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival next month. “Instinct,” the directorial debut [...]

  • If Only - Ginevra Elkann

    Locarno Announces Edgy Mix of Premieres, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Thriller '7500'

    Italian director Ginevra Elkann’s directorial debut, “If Only,” about kids with divorced parents, will open the 72nd Locarno Film Festival, its first edition under new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who has assembled an edgy mix of promising titles from young auteurs and more established names. “If Only” and the fest closer, iconic Japanese director Kiyoshi [...]

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up fromchief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software and technology [...]

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content