After premiering his sophomore film, Us at SXSW this weekend during the Q&A, Oscar and Emmy award-winning writer, producer, director, Jordan Peele was asked to explain. “I have a very clear meaning and commentary I’m trying to strike with this film,” says Peele. “I’m also trying to design a film that’s very personal for every individual. On the broader strokes of things, this movie is about this country…. when I decided to write this movie I was stricken by the fact that we’re in a time where we fear The Other — whether it’s the mysterious invader we think is going to come and kill us or take our jobs, or the faction we don’t live near that voted a different way than us. We’re all about pointing the finger. I wanted to suggest maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”
Jordan Peele has again launched himself and the conversation of invasion. With the release of his hugely successful thriller Get Out, Peele proved that black men can write great horror films using social media and igniting of the conversation to drive home his message.
As revealed in its trailer, the story of Us follows a family of four — led by Black Panther co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, as Adelaide Wilson and Winston Duke portraying her husband Gabe Wilson — during a summer beach vacation, daughter Zora, starring Shahadi Wright Joseph, spends hours texting away, and son Jason, played by Evan Alex, tests his magic tricks. After a day of soaking in Santa Cruz’s rays, the Wilson family retreats home to recharge, and that’s when madness takes hold. In the movie, when one of the evil twins is asked who they are, the reply is, “We’re Americans”; even the title, Us, could also be seen as “U.S.”
Often compared to a modern day Alfred Hitchcock, Jordan Peele, himself is a layered man. His films are layered, the messages are layered and favorite horror film influences are layered with nuances of both being a man of color and a man of privilege. Peele wrote, produced and directed the blockbuster Get Out, recognized with four Academy Award® nominations – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and earned Peele the Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay. Peele became only the fifth African-American to be nominated for Best Director and the first to ever African- American to win the Oscar® for original screenplay. Despite a budget of $4.5 million, the film grossed more than $250 million worldwide. Prior to Get Out, Peele was the co-star and co-creator of Key and Peele on Comedy Central. He formed Monkeypaw Productions to champion unique perspectives and artistic collaborations with traditionally underrepresented voices. Under the Monkeypaw banner, Peele produced Spike Lee’s feature film BlacKkKlansman earning six Academy Award® nominations. Monkeypaw is also producing a reboot of the cult classic The Twilight Zone for CBS All-Access which debuts April 1. Peele will portray the role of the narrator that was originally played by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.
“The process for writing usually starts with my worst fears,” says Peele. “I’ve always had the fear of seeing another me. So I started to think what that was about and what the relevance of that was and of course I thought about the fact that we are now in a time where we, meaning America, specifically, are really our own worst enemies. No one really wants to look at their faults, their guilt, their demons. We all want to look elsewhere.”
Jordan Peele has always been able to thread social conversation into his work, from the days as an actor in sketch comedies like MadTV to his written work on Key & Peele, he has created space for an exchange between two or more sides. Like black people and the horror genre. Two sides to one coin, while we loved the genre, the genre didn’t always love us. Peele has made it possible for black people to love horror in a more engaged and authentic way. It’s similar to the genius of Hitchcock who was able to combine modern culture with horrific everyday situations.
“The idea for this movie came from a deep-seated fear in doppelgängers,” Peele says. “I love doppelgänger mythologies and the movies that have dealt with them, and I wanted to make my offering to that pantheon of ‘evil-double’ films.”
In many ways, Peele is crafting a new genre all his own. Most traditional horror films are heavy on gore and short on laughs, but Peele, who initially built his career in comedy, sees an organic connection between the two genres. “Horror and comedy are both great ways of exposing how we feel about things,” Peele says. “That’s what a catharsis is to me, when you have an emotional reaction watching a film and then you’re left to ask yourself, ‘What was that about? Why did I react that way? Why did I laugh? Why did I scream? Why did I cheer?’ One of the reasons I love genre films is because they push these visceral, involuntary reactions that can ultimately teach you something about yourself, if you want to look.” That mix of humor and horror is an essential part of Peele’s filmmaking magic. Both the horror and comedy genres have the ability to challenge how we think and how we see the world in ways that traditional drama cannot. For that reason, they are ideal formats for socially conscious storytelling. “Great horror is often grounded in reality, which is the way I love to do comedy,” Peele says. “It allows something crazy to be going on, but it’s married, as best as possible, with reality. I don’t see myself moving far from horror any time soon.”
US hits theaters March 22nd. Check out the trailer below.
Photo credit: Universal/ABImages