Reporting By: Diondra Powers
The time is over for think pieces and video reactions to Jordan Peele’s horror movie tour de force, Get Out. Now, it’s time to set loose the creativity that’s roaming around your mind! As Peele says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Peele’s directorial debut earned more than $150 million worldwide, making him the first Black writer/director to break more than $100 million in the domestic box office. There’s no reason you can’t be the next Black creative to publish something you never thought possible.
“I mean, honestly I thought this movie would never get made,” Peele said to an audience at Morehouse College. “I set out to write this movie as a project: to write my favorite horror movie that doesn’t exist. And it was meant as almost like a game, something to make me a better writer.” Little did he know how popular this project would become.
Peele did a Question-and-Answer session with Morehouse College’s Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program earlier this year. He and NBCBLK’s Amber Payne engaged in a dialogue about how the film’s horror dynamic is rooted in social commentary. (This is pronounced “NBC Black,” and is a section of NBC News’ website focusing on the Black community.) Peele and Payne discussed how visual narratives are being used to combat the idea that we’re living in a post-racial society. The conversation closed out with Peele providing inspiration and advice for the young Black creatives of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges.
According to Peele, the film was inspired by memories of standardized testing, and the distance such tests can create between society and children struggling to find a cultural identity.
“One of the first things I remember is they ask you, ‘What are you? What’s your ethnicity?” Peele said. “And you got the box: you got Caucasian, got African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and there’s Other at the bottom. And initially, I was like, ‘Okay, well I must be Other.’ So I filled out that box for a while. As I grew up, I realized I was not Other, I was African-American. Which is a very comforting thing to me, to not feel like I’m Other.”
These early experiences would lay the groundwork for his writing project that would become Get Out. Although it had never occurred to Peele that he could turn his passion project into a reality, his experience shows that visual narratives — especially horror film — are exceptional mediums to present viewers with a fresh perspective on difficult issues.
“And I don’t know if we have any writers here, but I can’t give better advice than this: You have to write your favorite thing that doesn’t exist. And for me, the way Black content creators haven’t been nurtured, we haven’t gotten the chance to have platforms for our visions. I’ve been on TV for years; I still didn’t think the movie was possible until I mentioned it offhandedly in a conversation a few years ago and someone said, ‘Let’s make it.’”
“By the time I was actually writing the script was right around the time of the [Trayvon Martin murder],” Peele said. “And it felt like it needed to be. It was changing the racial conversation in this country, where at least in some ways we couldn’t avoid, or they couldn’t avoid the conversation of race anymore. We entered this time of increased ‘wokeness’, comparatively to where we’d been. So that instance [of Trayvon Martin’s death], and the others that we’ve seen is part of the inspiration for this first scene you’re talking about where Lakeith Stanfield, from Atlanta, Selma, [Straight Outta] Compton [is] walking through this White neighborhood. It’s the creepiness of Halloween, right? The White suburban neighborhood. Through his feeling of isolation, my hope was to give the entire audience, particularly Black people, that fear we recognize when we feel like we can be misinterpreted as a villain or an outsider.
For everybody else—maybe White people who haven’t connected with what that feeling is like—they could come in, sit in this movie, and all of a sudden be put in that position as well. That was very important to me because it starts us all off on the same page of recognizing part of how it feels to be an African-American man … If you can put that in story form, everyone’s in the same room, everyone’s seeing through this person’s eyes. I feel like this big missing piece of the racial conversation is that we don’t have enough story that represents our perspective, our point of view, our reality.”
“We haven’t nurtured enough young talent to say ‘Look, there is a platform for you if you work hard enough and you try.’ We haven’t known that this was an option, so since ‘[Straight Outta] Compton’ came out, the industry got a big wake-up call—and [now] we’re on the precipice of this renaissance that’s happening.”
Here’s his advice (plus some additional Get Out insights) as he responded to audience questions:
- Is there like a revolutionary way for black youth to get their art out there and [to be] seen by people?
The good news is like I said, I think we are in this renaissance. I think we are now at a moment where the industry realizes they need our voice because they need the freshness of our voice. The fact that we have been marginalized is exactly what right now makes us exciting to the industry. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I would say you can do it. That’s the big revelation. If you have fun making your work, making your script, then there is an avenue for you, but it’s gonna be hard and it’s probably gonna involve moving to Hollywood. I don’t know if you’re into films. It’s probably going to involve moving to Hollywood and playing the Hollywood game.
- Do we need to Get Out of this performance culture, and come into our own Blackness?
Yes, yes, yes. I mean, we are part of the neglect that’s happening. This prison industrial situation, this has been happening while we’ve been out here doing us. We haven’t been talking about it enough. So, yeah, I mean this whole movie is about addressing the horrors that actually exist, and as you see at the end, showing up for each other. About not letting our family be neglected on the side of the road, or in some dark hole somewhere.
- How did you deliberately market this movie so that the Liberal White People in Hollywood would feel it was relatable?
You know, I don’t know that I did that so much as the previous work of other Black artists has opened this door for me. It was a confluence of timing. I think there’s a part of this that is ‘Trojan Horsing’ this issue. I knew that you can’t make this movie and just make it for Black people. Cause then it’s just Blaxploitation which has its benefits, and which I love, but it doesn’t communicate to the other people what you’re talking about. So that’s something that I studied a lot for Key & Peele because we would have this constant, walking-the-line, sort of edgy material and we tried to package it so that everybody would like it.
- On balancing dialogue and visuals
I would say anything you can get across without dialogue, just do it. And go through every line, ask yourself: Can somebody do this from a look? Can this happen with a visual reveal? You’ll still have dialogue, but cinema is about so much more than words.
- What’s the deal with the teacup?
Well, one piece of significance there is that teacups would be used to summon slaves back in the day. That’s really what it is. I also wanted something that we wouldn’t realize she was doing until it’s too late. You know, ‘Oh, *sucks teeth* bitch has been hypnotizing me this whole time.’ *lots of laughs* Great question, great question.
- In the movie, is racism a desire of White people to be of African descent, or just a desire to take everything that Black people have?
It’s meant to be the whole spectrum of racism in any way. Specifically — this is a little spoiler alert — it’s the desire to take the pieces of our culture, the pieces of our physicality, the sports icons, the pieces that they want [from] us, but not our souls, not our humanity. That’s what slavery is.
- On critiques
Criticism for me is, it’s welcome. I listen to it. Sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don’t, but for me, if I get somebody like, ‘Oh, this movie looks horrible, Jordan Peele’s a racist’ or something like that, to me it’s like, look, at least we’re having a conversation. At least there’s some expression going on. What scares me is people who hate me quietly.
There you have it; a few words of advice that Jordan Peele gave to current students, and you can use that advice in your life, too!
If you haven’t already, check out our “Get Out Op-Ed: It’s Fine” and our “BGN Movie Review: Get Out.” We also have some YouTube coverage from the red carpet premiere, cast interviews and a BGN Podcast interview with Jordan Peele himself.
After you’re done devouring those, go create! Create the content you want to see, and I promise you, there’s an audience who’s eager to see the magic that you produce!
*This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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Diondra Powers is an editor, contributing writer and social media correspondent for Black Girl Nerds. She finds great joy in volunteering and exploring the world through a camera lens. In her spare time, she embarks on epic adventures that take many forms—from reading to climbing to Dungeons & Dragons.