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In 'Get Out,' Jordan Peele Tackles The 'Human Horror' Of Racial Fear

Feb 19, 2017
Originally published on February 19, 2017 10:03 pm

If you are a fan of sketch comedy, then you'd probably know the name Jordan Peele. He, along with Keegan Michael Key wrote and performed in the acclaimed Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele. The show, which ran for five seasons, earned a Peabody Award and two Primetime Emmys for its hilarious and deeply pointed take on race and culture.

A popular feature among the sketches on Key & Peele was the way it sometimes mixed humor and horror, for example, the zombies who refused to eat black people.

Now Peele has taken that strategy and used it in his directorial debut of a horror film called Get Out. The movie, which he also wrote and produced, is already being called a bombshell social critique, fearless and a must-see, after its first showing at the Sundance Film Festival.

In Get Out, Peele unabashedly addresses the politics of racism as he chronicles the story of an African-American man who's meeting his white girlfriend's parents for the first time but she's not told them he's black.

NPR's Michel Martin spoke with Peele ahead of the movie hitting theaters on Friday Feb. 24 and he explained the motivation behind tackling this particular issue.

Here are interview highlights


On how he got the idea for the film

This is the only woke horror movie of all time, save for Night of the Living Dead. ... I felt like race has not been dealt with in my favorite genre which is horror. Every other human horror has its sort of classic horror movie to go along with it. So I kind of wanted to fill the gap in that piece of the genre of conversation.

On if the opening scene was meant to bring echoes of Trayvon Martin

Obviously the tone of this movie was a big question mark and we had to get it right because it is dealing with subject matter. It hits home to a lot of people. But I wanted to represent the fact that what many people may not understand is the fear that a black man has walking in a white suburb at night is real. And I wanted to put the audience in that position so they could see it and feel it.

On the scene about the black character Chris meeting his white girlfriend Rose's family for the first time

I took a lot of cues from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. The first act of the film kind of resembles that movie. And one of the reasons that movie I think was so successful and important was because you know, aside from being a racial commentary, anybody can relate to the fear of meeting your potential future in-laws for the first time. It's a very scary thing and you want to present yourself right.

But when you add race to that equation there is this fear if they don't know that I'm black for example, I don't want to see them realize, "Oh, this is not what I had expected." So in this movie, the parents are very welcoming. They don't skip a beat. They don't care about the color of his skin, which to me was like almost creepier because of what we know this world to be.

On the film addressing the appropriation of black culture by some white people

I think you're really talking about the party sequence. Chris arrives at this party, which is populated with Rose's grandfather's friends — all of whom are white. Everybody wants to connect with him. Everybody wants to say, "Hey, you know, I know Tiger Woods," or feel his muscles. It's all a form of the very true cliché of, "Can I touch your hair?"

On if any of the scenes in the movie comes from his own life experience

My wife Chelsea Peretti is, of course, white and I did write this movie before I met her. Without taking it that literal, this is about the African-American experience. It's about the feelings of being an outsider, of being the other that we confront. And also, the presumptions that I make as a black man about others.

On what it was like meeting his wife's parents for the first time

Well they're pretty they're pretty cultured people. ... My in-laws are amazing people, very intelligent, very warm, very empathetic. I think one of the big problems with how we talk about race though is us versus them. They're racist. I'm not. This movie is not about this idea that white people are racist and no one else is or that white people are villains. We all have issues to deal with in regards to race internally.

Part of being a human being unfortunately, is the urge to prejudge people. So I think the only way we can really approach this is to say look this is a human trait and it's how we as individuals choose to deal with our own internal racism and face it that's our only way out.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you're a fan of sketch comedy, then you very likely know the name Jordan Peele, along with his partner Keegan-Michael Key. He wrote and performed in the show "Key And Peele" that ran for five seasons on Comedy Central and earned both a Peabody Award and two primetime Emmys for its hilarious and deeply pointed take on race and culture. And one thing you might have picked up if you watched the show is the way it sometimes mixed humor and horror. The sketch about the zombies who refused to eat black people comes to mind.

So now Jordan Peele has taken that strategy with a new movie "Get Out" to a new level. He wrote, directed and produced it. It's already being called a bombshell social critique, fearless and a must-see after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. It comes out on Friday, and Jordan Peele is with us now to tell us more about it. He's at our studios at NPR West. Jordan Peele, thank you so much for joining us.

JORDAN PEELE: Thank you so much for having me. It's so great to be here.

MARTIN: Well, I think I have to start with congratulations on everything. You've had a busy couple of months. You wrote and co-starred in the comedy "Keanu" with your friend Keegan-Michael Key, and I also hear, if I may say, you're expecting your first child. Is that true?

PEELE: I am.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations on all of that.

PEELE: Thank you. It's absolutely terrifying and wonderful at the same time.

MARTIN: Even more terrifying than making this movie?

PEELE: Oh, absolutely. As a horror fan, it's like kids are scary. Like, I'm already dreading waking up in the middle of the night to see a child standing in the doorway or something.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PEELE: Daddy - I don't know.

MARTIN: Well, as a parent myself, you're right.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And you have no idea, so...

PEELE: I have no idea. OK.

MARTIN: You have no idea. But anyway - so let's get back to the movie.

PEELE: OK.

MARTIN: So some people have called "Get Out" the most woke horror film of 2017. How did you get the idea for this?

PEELE: 2017 - this is the only woke horror movie of all time - save for "Night Of The Living Dead." But that's just it. You know, I felt like race has not been dealt with in, you know, my favorite genre which is horror. Every other human horror has it's sort of classic horror movie to go along with it, so I kind of wanted to fill the gap in that piece of the genre conversation.

MARTIN: The opening scene starts with something very disturbing. It's a black man walking alone in a leafy green suburb attacked out of nowhere. You don't know who attacked him at that point, but it's - echoes of - if I may say Trayvon Martin, for example. I wondered is that what you had in mind?

PEELE: Obviously, the tone of this movie was a big question mark. We had to get it right because it is dealing with subject matter that hits home to a lot of people, but I wanted to represent the fact that what many people may not understand is the fear that a black man has walking in a white suburb at night. It is real, and I wanted to put the audience in that position so they can see it and feel it.

MARTIN: And then you take it to another level. At the core of the story is Chris who is black, goes home with his white girlfriend, Rose, to meet her family. And they're very polite and seemingly liberal, and they, like, make a point of telling him how much they love President Obama, for example. But there's just something that is just off. But anybody who's been in an interracial relationship, I think, can relate to that kind of feeling out like, OK, what's going on? And you - do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

PEELE: You know, I took a lot of cues from "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" The first act of the film kind of resembles that movie. And one of the reasons that movie, I think, was so successful and important was because, you know, aside from being a racial commentary, anybody can relate to the fear of meeting your potential future in-laws for the first time. It's a very scary thing, and you want to present yourself right.

But when you add race to that equation, there is this fear. If they don't know that I'm black, for example, I don't want to see them realize, oh, this is not what I had expected. So in this movie, the parents are very welcoming. They don't skip a beat. They don't care about the color of his skin which to me was like almost creepier because of what we know this world to be.

MARTIN: But then the film at some point takes this kind of sharp U-turn where it goes into another fear - or shall I call it resentment that many African-Americans have, that they feel that white America doesn't just want to enjoy the talents that black people have, they want to be black people without actually having to pay the social price.

PEELE: Yeah. I mean, I think you're really talking about the party sequence. Chris arrives at this party which is populated with Rose's grandfather's friends, all of whom are white. You know, everybody wants to connect with him. Everybody wants to say, hey, you know, I know Tiger Woods or feel his muscles. It's all a form of the very true cliche of can I touch your hair?

MARTIN: Does any of this come from your own life experience?

PEELE: My wife Chelsea Peretti is, you know, of course, white, and I did write this movie before I met her. Without taking it that literal, this is about the African-American experience. It's about the feelings of being an outsider of being the other that we confront and also the presumptions that I make as a black man about others.

MARTIN: Well, obviously, you know, I'm dying to know how it went when you met your wife's parents for the first time. Clearly, you survived the experience, and they didn't (laughter) - but they're cool.

PEELE: They're pretty cultured people, and...

MARTIN: None of their friends felt up your muscles?

PEELE: I don't have muscles, so that's probably why. But my in-laws are amazing people, very intelligent, very warm, very empathetic. I think one of the big problems with how we talk about race, though, is us versus them. They're racist. I'm not. This movie is not about this idea that white people are racist, and no one else is or that white people are villains.

We all have issues to deal with in regards to race internally. It's part of being a human being, unfortunately, is the urge to prejudge people. So I think the only way we can really approach this is to say, look, this is a human trait, and it's how we as individuals choose to deal with our own internal racism and face it. That's our only way out.

MARTIN: Jordan Peele, thanks so much for talking to us.

PEELE: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: That's Jordan Peele. His movie "Get Out" is in theaters nationwide this Friday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.