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‘Get Out’ dials up the scary side of race in America

March 6, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
A trip to meet the parents in well-heeled, white suburban America -- what could go wrong? The new horror film "Get Out" is about the very real horror of racism. Jeffrey Brown sits down with director Jordan Peele to discuss his debut film that’s become a breakout hit.
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JOHN YANG: Now: the director behind the breakout horror flick “Get Out.”

The movie has been praised by critics, and it’s exceeded most box office expectations. It has a lot more on its mind than just scaring its audience.

Jeff Brown went to Los Angeles to meet filmmaker Jordan Peele, who’s well known for his work on biting racial satire.

JEFFREY BROWN: A trip to meet the parents in the heart of safe, well-heeled, white suburban America: What could possibly go wrong?

The new film “Get Out” is a horror film about race, and part of the horror is just how close to normal it feels.

For first-time director Jordan Peele, it’s a major hit, and an unlikely one.

JORDAN PEELE, Director, “Get Out”: I was sure that, at some point, someone would come in and go, guess what? We can’t release the movie. It’s done.

We have gotten word from on high, this is too controversial. We will get in trouble.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 38-year-old Peele is best known as part of the sketch comedy team Key and Peele, which had a five-season run on Comedy Central. There were racist zombies and plenty of social commentary on that show, addressed with gut-splitting humor.

In “Get Out,” the humor gives way to horror.

We watch as Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, begins to realize that all is not right at the home of girlfriend Rose, actress Allison Williams. The oh-so-liberal parents are a little too friendly. And there’s something very strange about the black servants.

Horror, says Peele, has always been his true passion. He modeled his film on classics like “The Stepford Wives” that take a big societal issue and blow up the discomfort level, what he calls a social thriller.

JORDAN PEELE: For me, the social thriller is the thriller in which the fears, the horrors, and the thrills are coming from society. They’re coming from the way humans interact.

JEFFREY BROWN: Why do you think horror becomes a good way into that?

JORDAN PEELE: I think that human beings are the most awful monster we have ever seen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Wait a minute. I mean, that’s true. They’re the most beautiful monster and the most horrible monster.

JORDAN PEELE: That’s right. I don’t think that humans are, in our nature, we’re evil or anything like that. But I do think there’s a demon in our DNA, in our tribal subconscious that affects the way we work and we operate as a group.

JEFFREY BROWN: After seeing your film, I was thinking about the key to the psychological horror film, at least for me, is how close it is to reality, right?

JORDAN PEELE: I love it because it feels grounded. It feels real.

My whole thing is, like, ground it, ground it. If it’s comedy, you taken an absurd comedic notion and you apply it to reality. If it’s horror, if it’s a thriller, you do the same thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, you’re using the tropes and the ticks of white liberals. The father meets the black boyfriend and shows him a picture of Jesse Owens, right, sort of, like, oh, are you black, I didn’t even realize kind of thing.

JORDAN PEELE: That’s a lot of my experience.

And I had never really seen it portrayed in film. That, to me, was a golden opportunity to put this kind of uncomfortable interaction up and allow us to talk and deal with it.

JEFFREY BROWN: But what is it? Is it a hypocrisy? Is it racism? What are we talking about?

JORDAN PEELE: I think part of why the way we talk about racism is broken is because we think of racism as this unacceptable evil thing that I couldn’t possibly have within myself.

I look at racism as one of the social demons. And, in its worst, it’s violent and it’s a systemic commitment to oppression. At its lightest and most harmless, it is these things that are being called micro-aggressions, right, which many times it’s an olive branch that someone’s trying to say, hey, I know Tiger. I know Tiger.

JEFFREY BROWN: Which is something you use in your film, right?

JORDAN PEELE: I used in my film.

The reality of it is, when those interactions add up, it’s — I’m having a different experience than that person is having. Oh, wow, so, yes, I am being viewed for my skin as the starting point of the interaction. I’m not — I don’t have the privilege of existing at this party in the same way that this white guy has.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re writing this years ago, several years ago, right, in the middle of that kind of, are we in a post-racial America discussion.

JORDAN PEELE: Yes.

And it was — the original idea with the movie was to point out this very real horror we haven’t gotten over. I think what really works about this movie is these interactions you’re talking about.

I think black people, minorities recognize these interactions and go, finally, someone put it up. I think a lot of white people, maybe some recognize it. Maybe they don’t.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was wondering whether you saw there being two audiences for this film, whether you even thought about it that way, the things that the black audience would react to that a white audience, they may not get.

JORDAN PEELE: You know, it’s a really good question. I did think of it in terms of two audiences often.

JEFFREY BROWN: Even in the making, you would think about it?

JORDAN PEELE: In the making, yes.

I would say — sometimes, I would say to Daniel, who plays Chris, I would be like, so this is — this part, your — quote, unquote — “blackness” sort of needs to come to the surface a little more. And just give me that thing where a black audience member will go like, thank you. Thank you. All right, there he is. All right, he is. He’s black, he’s black, he’s black, you know?

At the same time …

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: And he knew exactly what that meant, of course.

JORDAN PEELE: Then he would go, yes, yes, yes. Got it. Yes.

At the same time, I very much didn’t want to make a movie just for black people. I wanted to make this an experience where everybody’s Chris when you’re in the movie. So, everybody is black. If you’re a white person in the audience, you’re experiencing a piece of the black experience through this character.

JEFFREY BROWN: “Get Out” just had another strong weekend, earning $26 million. That brings the total take to more than $75 million in its first 10 days, for a film that cost just $5 million to make.

From the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown.

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