âGet Out,â the box office smash and awards season honey, almost didnât get made, because its writer and director Jordan Peele figured it couldnât happen.
The broad strokes of the story line â white girl brings black boyfriend home to meet her family â evoked âGuess Whoâs Coming to Dinner,â but with a crucial and sinister twist (spoilers ensue): The boyfriendâs paranoia about the white folks having it in for him becomes increasingly, and terrifyingly, justified.
Mr. Peele, 38, is known for his subversive comedy sketch show with Keegan-Michael Key, and had never before seen a movie like the one he desperately wanted to make. But he worried that its themes of white villainy and black victimization would keep people away in droves. Also, being biracial, he felt discouraged by the lack of people of color in the industry.
âI didnât have enough role models telling me this movie could be made,â Mr. Peele said during a chat in mid-November at the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan. âBut to me, it was the missing piece of the conversation. Iâd never seen my fears as an African-American man onscreen in this way.â
Around 2014, five years after he first began kicking the idea around, Mr. Peele started working on a script and brought it up with the producer Sean McKittrick (âDonnie Darkoâ), hedging all the way. He recalled telling Mr. McKittrick that it was his favorite movie that had never been made, and probably would never get made, and that he understood why. But Mr. McKittrick surprised Mr. Peele by telling him that he was on board.
Three years later, in February 2017, the movie opened just as the racist ugliness attending the election of Donald J. Trump dashed lingering Obama-era delusions that America was a post-racial place. And Mr. Peeleâs worries about the movieâs reception were knocked down like pins.
Mr. Peele had fretted that the filmâs skewering of white people might set off boycotts, but instead âGet Outâ proved to be medicine that audiences didnât realize they needed, and worldwide they made a $254 million hit out of Mr. Peeleâs $4.5 million dream. (He believes there might have been protests had the film taken aim at white conservatives rather than white liberals.)
Now, to Mr. Peeleâs delight and surprise, Hollywood prize givers are showering the movie with love.
At the Gotham Awards, Mr. Peele won best breakthrough director, best screenplay and the audience award. The National Board of Review named the film best ensemble picture and one of the yearâs Top 10, while Mr. Peele took best directorial debut. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded it best first film. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it best screenplay.
Still, the fact that âGet Outâ did not win the top awards left some die-hard fans dissatisfied, including Julia Turner, the editor in chief of Slate, who is anxious that Oscar voters may not give the film what she sees as its due. ââGet Outâ is 2017âs best picture, and it should be 2017âs Best Picture,â she wrote. âWhen was the last time a popular cinematic masterpiece had something important and topical to say about the world?â
Either way, this kind of awards attention is unusual for a picture that could easily be pigeonholed as comedy or horror, genres that have a history of falling flat with the august members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
There have been exceptions, among them Natalie Portmanâs best actress win for âBlack Swanâ (2010), Kathy Batesâs similar win for the 1990 âMisery,â and, most prodigiously, âThe Silence of the Lambsâ (1991), which swept up five Oscars â best picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay.
Yet over all, scary or scary-ish movies that manage to land Oscar nominations tend to win in categories like best makeup or costume, if they win at all. Though it is still early in the awards race, âGet Outâ is projected to earn Oscar nominations for best picture, best screenplay, and possibly best director and best editing, along with a few Golden Globes nominations, which are due next week. The academy is also increasingly diverse, and nominations for âGet Out,â along with âMudbound,â among other contenders, would be a bulwark against an embarrassing repeat of #OscarsSoWhite.
Universal Studios submitted âGet Outâ in the Globesâ best comedy or musical category, kicking off an internet kerfuffle, with critics saying âcomedyâ minimized the filmâs critique of racism. The Carpetbagger has heard arguments backing the decision: âFunnyâ was the first word of the filmâs synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes, and hackles might not have been raised had the category been âsatireâ instead. Mr. Peele responded to the fracas with a tweet, ââGet Outâ is a documentary,â though all along he has called it a âsocial thriller,â a category that he says includes âThe Stepford Wivesâ and âRosemaryâs Baby,â where society and humanity are the monsters.
He is also in full awards-campaign mode. He shares the cover of Vanity Fairâs special Awards Extra! print issue with Greta Gerwig (âLady Birdâ) and was featured in The Hollywood Reporterâs Writer Roundtable. When he met to chat with the Carpetbagger, he was plowing through a full schedule of media interviews, and the Bagger was whooshed away after 50 minutes because another reporter had arrived.
The whirlwind of it all seems to have left Mr. Peele a little stunned. (Itâs also taken him away from his wife, the comedian Chelsea Peretti, and their infant son.) âThis is crazy,â he said, while collecting one of his prizes last week at the Gothams. During our interview, he spoke deliberately and carefully, giving off the sense that he might at any moment be, as it were, woken up. âItâs all kind of a âpinch meâ thing,â he said.
Of course, Mr. Peele is finding the fuss deeply gratifying, not least because âGet Outâ was cathartic for him, a mirror of the micro-aggressions heâd long experienced, as well as his fears. Among them, he said, are âthe fear of being viewed as your race but not as a human being. The fears of abandoning your roots and stepping out of your blackness to, say, date someone of a different race. The fears of your own neglect of your race.â
Mr. Peele grew up in Manhattan, the son of a white mother and a black father who, Mr. Peele said, pretty much disappeared from his life when he was about 7. From an early age, Mr. Peele said, he was fixated on race, largely because his was constantly being reflected back to him.
Other kids could not believe his mother was white, he said. As a youngster who attended the prestigious Calhoun School, he found himself being harassed by the police, unbidden. On standardized tests, unsure which race he belonged to, heâd check off âother.â
âIn some ways you feel like an insider of both sides, but in many ways you feel like an âother,ââ Mr. Peele said. âObviously I am obsessed with the idea of race because my road has not been as clear as some.â
He channeled his anxieties and observations into âKey & Peeleâsâ satirical and parodic sketches, finding comedy in unfunny subjects like slavery and police brutality. In âGet Out,â the target was the hypocrisies of smug white liberalism, embodied in the white father who declares that he would have voted for Obama three times, all the while plotting to implant Mr. Kaluuyaâs character with a white personâs brain.
âI think everybody, even white liberals â especially white liberals â appreciate exposing the dark side of what we think is the most politically correct type of white person,â Mr. Peele said. Another part of the appeal for white viewers, he guessed, is being allowed a window into what it might be like to be black in white America. âYouâre never going to get closer to being a black person than watching a black movie with a black protagonist,â he said.
Come what may March 4, the night of the Academy Awards, Mr. Peele can take comfort in knowing that he already won. âGet Outâ opened the Friday before last seasonâs Oscars, and while the ceremony was hurt by a best picture snafu and low ratings, âGet Outâ was on its way to breaking box office records.
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