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Jordan Peele tackles horror of racism in ‘Get Out’

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Jordan Peele talks horror flicks and shares what it’s like to direct a film.
USA TODAY

Jordan Peele wants to make social thrillers great — and creepy — again.

The comedian and actor tackles race and culture with the horror film Get Out (in theaters Friday), his directorial debut that aims for the cultural commentary of Rosemary’s Baby or George Romero’s zombie-laden Dead series. The most macabre inhabitants of his movie aren’t monsters, devil babies or ghouls, though: They’re white people.

“I definitely take a devilish glee in putting something that’s not politically correct into the mainstream,” says Peele, 38, with a laugh.

He and Keegan-Michael Key regularly featured sketches with social relevance on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, and Peele takes that to the next level with Get Out, in which African-American photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) reluctantly attends a family gathering at the homestead of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). His paranoia worsens when the very few black people there act really odd around him and the purpose for the visit becomes terrifyingly clear.

Get Out started as a film that explored “the fears of being an outsider,” says Peele. And then he realized it should be about race. “It just seemed to be a very taboo piece of the discussion to talk about something so horrific as racism in any type of genre other than a film about slavery or something.”

Kaluuya understands it’s a timely subject but “there’s consistently been racism. Black people have been feeling it for centuries,” he says. “Jordan’s now in a position and of a skill set to execute this particular genre and to talk about probably the most horrifying thing in human society.”

Peele married white comedian Chelsea Peretti last April, though he started writing Get Out before they met and says the movie is “the experience of being black in this country.” It seems to be resonating so far, at least with critics: 100% of the reviews are positive on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com.

One of the more supernatural aspects of Get Out is the “Sunken Place,” a vacuum of space where Chris’ consciousness is taken and forced to watch his life unfold, unable to take action. Peele calls it a metaphor for “the suspended animation of how we look at race in America” that’s also symbolic of the lack of African-American representation in the genre. “We’re a loyal horror movie audience, but we’re relegated to the dark theater to scream at the protagonist: ‘Get out of the house! Call the cops! Do the smart thing!’ ”

Williams says Get Out has the potential “to give white audiences or audience members who’ve never experienced any of this firsthand an opportunity to be with a protagonist who’s black and going through it. That in and of itself to me was kind of a radical notion, even though it shouldn’t be at this point.”

Today’s tumultuous political climate has proven inspirational for Peele: He has four other ideas for social thrillers he wants to write and direct every other year beginning in 2018. (Peele and Peretti have a baby on the way, so that’ll keep him busy in between.)

“I feel a greater sense of duty than I ever have,” Peele says. “Art, genre and comedy are important pieces of the conversation and can often incite cathartic moments for all of us.”

Williams has been privy to his concept and she thinks they’re just as good as Get Out. “His agents are going to be very busy,” she says. “What I love about Jordan is he’s not going to do anything unless he feels like it’s vital and needs to be done.”

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When a young man meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, he makes some disturbing realizations about her family.
USA TODAY NETWORK

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