How Get Out Director Jordan Peele Managed to Make a Thrilling, Super Fun, LOL Funny Horror Movie—About Racism

“You could see a hundred different ways this could be done wrong,” says the writer-director in a revealing interview.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images.

Get Out, the comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, opens with a young black man (Keith Stanfield of Atlanta) on a nighttime stroll through a suburban neighborhood, when he is abducted by a mysterious figure in a white car, to the tune of Flanagan and Allen’s “Run, Rabbit, Run.” It’s the beginning of many more sinister events to come.

But Get Out, which is in theaters Friday, actually centers on a different young black man named Chris, played by Black Mirror and Skins alum Daniel Kaluuya, who heads to the suburbs to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams, perfectly cast). It’s a relationship milestone that would make anyone nervous, regardless of the fact that Rose makes a point to reassure Chris that even if he is her first black boyfriend, don’t worry—her family is definitely not racist (her neurosurgeon father, played by Bradley Whitford, voted for Obama twice!). But as soon as they arrive to meet the parents, Chris notices that something is… off, to say the least. (Catherine Keener, in a delightfully creepy performance as Rose’s psychiatrist mother, hypnotizes Chris in an effort to force him to quit smoking.) It’s easy for Rose, and even the audience at times, to write off Chris’s trepidation as general circumstantial discomfort, but his paranoia turns into hysteria as more and more outrageous events unfold, leaving Chris to wonder if maybe he should try to get out while he still can.

Without pitching things too far into the absurd, Peele acutely blends satire and horror in a commentary on white liberalism and racial tensions in America in a way that feels provocative and fresh. The scary and at times LOL funny moments in Get Out feel thrilling, and couldn’t be more timely. This satirical horror show is in a category all its own.

White liberals are this frightening.

How long ago did you start working on Get Out, and what inspired the story? I started working on it about eight years ago. The original spark of the idea came during the [2008] primaries, when Hillary and Obama were competing for the Democratic nomination. It had me looking at race and gender in terms of one another. The way some of my favorite movies—The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby—had dealt with gender was inspiring to me, and I felt like it was time that there was a movie that dealt with race in a similar way.

The examination of gender alongside race is definitely present in the film, in a way that collapses or subverts the genre. It’s a horror film with jump scares, but it’s also very funny throughout. Do you have a specific genre in which you would place it? I’ve been calling it a “social thriller.” To me it’s very much in line with The Stepford Wives. It has some tonal similarities to Scream, which also had this satire throughout it. I think another part of it that is meant to be a genre collapse is that it’s meant to create a thriller or horror movie for the horror fan who gets too frustrated with most horror movies, where the protagonist is a dumbass. I wanted to take care of the audience and make their surrogate, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, somebody who would make the right decisions. Or if he doesn’t, we at least understand why.

Who is the audience you’re imagining? The movie is for everybody. The only way I ever want to make a movie is to try to make as many people’s favorite movie as I can possibly try to make. That being said, I think this movie is meant to serve the black horror movie audience—a very loyal group of fans—a film that represents them, our skin and our sensibilities, in a way that the genre hasn’t done. I think the most important element of the movie besides bringing some representation for black people is that a white audience member can watch this movie and experience the world through the lead character’s eyes. I think being able to step outside of our own boxes and view the world through other people’s eyes is a big missing piece of the conversation, and it’s something that ultimately promotes and forces empathy to an extent. The short answer is it’s for everybody, but I realize that different people may experience the movie in different ways.

There’s a turning point in the film when Rose’s father suggests that everyone play bingo, which is revealed to actually be some sort of auction for Chris. That felt potent, considering the history of auctions, slavery and the black experience in America, and black men specifically. I recognized early on that slavery and that form of American racism is the monster that affects everything about the way the country works today. In fact it’s a monster that, as you can see harrowingly portrayed in Ava Duvernay’s 13th, has really changed forms into the prison industrial complex. Early on, I realized that this being a movie for an allegory for the way we deal with race, in the heart of that is the idea of being desired for our physicality and desired for our culture, but not respected as being equal souls and human beings.

Spoiler: The black guy doesn’t die.

Justin Lubin

Some a film like Get Out feels so strong right now that it could be used to oppose or resist the Trump administration. You started working on it about eight years ago, but did you expect it to have this same potency now? How do you see utilizing this film or this narrative as a tool of resistance, if you do see it that way? I think people are going to be more open to it now than they would’ve been when I originally thought of the idea. It was originally meant to address this idea of a post-race America, when we had a black president and that was a complete lie, a complete myth. This movie was originally meant to address that and call racism out. By the time we shot it, we had entered a more “woke” America. We were talking, we were having this racial conversation. And now, I think people are going to be more receptive to have it because it’s sort of an inevitable conversation, we can’t get away from it or hide from it anymore. I think the important thing to remember with all of this going on is that racism… race isn’t more of a reality now than it was when we weren’t talking about it. People didn’t just wake up one day and decide they’re gonna be racist. There’s the emboldening of a lot of racist notions and there’s a view that there will be further racist policies enacted, but it’s something I feel like we should’ve been dealing with more in the last eight years.

After the 2016 election, I think a consensus among many was that we must have been feeling too comfortable for the past eight years. You pepper hypnosis and dream sequences throughout the film. Do you see these as devices to literalize the feeling of inaction or being frozen? Do you see the character of Chris as an embodiment of that false sense of security and comfort? That’s right. Chris is in a lot of ways a symbol for paralyzation in the face of fear, and inaction and neglect and marginalization. His own personal demon is this story of being frozen in front of the television while his mother was dying. He is very much a symbol of that inaction you’re talking about, and at the same time he is a force that is bringing representation to a lot of people, to black people certainly, in this genre. And because of that he’s answering a type of inaction, a lack of conversation we’ve been having, a lack of opportunity to get our points of view in popular art, in the film industry and on TV.

It’s rare that black men are the leads in a horror film, let alone survive to the end of one. Everyone in the audience clapped and cheered when Get Out was over. It felt very satisfying. Did you feel a sense of catharsis after the screening of this film? I’m very satisfied. I really made a movie I can watch as an audience member and enjoy. I think I had some pretty powerful catharses while I was writing it. Every time I stumbled onto a different layer of the film, it was cathartic. A lot of that was being able to give the movie enough time to marinate, so that the connections could find themselves and each other. Several times in writing I had this aha moment of, “Oh this is good.” I knew I had stumbled on it.

What was the most complex or difficult part of bringing this film to life? The trickiest part is the tone. It’s just a very important thing. If you hear the premise of the movie, you can a see a hundred ways this could be done wrong. It’s really hard to think of how to pull it off right. I knew that going in: How do you take something like racism that has such serious and loaded implications, and has caused so much suffering and real life horror—how do you take that and get that across in an entertaining, fun horror movie? It seems like an impossible task, but every choice I made was ultimately to make sure that the tone felt like it had that balance of seriousness and fun, and escapism as well. And it was a great cast. I don’t mind making people feel uncomfortable, but I like to take care of my audience and repay them for the money they put down for the movie, so just judging by how the crowds reacted I feel very happy and satisfied.

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