In January of this year, one-half of "Key & Peele" – Jordan Peele – told Playboy in an interview with the magazine, that he was working on a horror movie that would be topical, exploring fears of being black and male in America today. He didn’t elaborate, except to say the following about the project: "I’ve been spending the first half of my career focusing on comedy but my goal, in all honesty, is to write and direct horror movies. I have one that I’m working on with Darko Entertainment called ‘Get Out’ – I don’t want to say too much about it, but it is one of the very, very few horror movies that does jump off of racial fears. That to me is a world that hasn’t been explored. Specifically, the fears of being a black man today. The fears of being any person who feels like they’re a stranger in any environment that is foreign to them. It deals with a protagonist that I don’t see in horror movies."
Well, nothing says "horror" in America (much of the world, really) than these 2 words: "black man." Recent news headlines tell the sordid tale.
Skip ahead 9 months to today, not long after "Key & Peele" said goodbye permanently, as the pair moves on to work on individual projects, to news that Peele has teamed up with QC Entertainment and Blumhouse Productions to produce a horror movie titled "Get Out" (the title he mentioned in his January Playboy interview) which Peele wrote and will direct.
Still not sharing much about the project, all we can now add is that the plot follows a young African American man as he visits his white girlfriend’s family estate.
And then some *interesting* things happen, I’m sure. Peele states in the press release, "Like comedy, horror has an ability to provoke thought and further the conversation on real social issues in a very powerful way… ‘Get Out’ takes on the task of exploring race in America, something that hasn’t really been done within the genre since ‘Night of the Living Dead’ 47 years ago. It’s long overdue."
So it looks like this will be *serious* horror, and not a horror comedy, as you might expect from the comedian, and I’m happy about that.
But he’s right in his Playboy interview – despite fantastical genres like horror being perfect for use in tackling matters of racial division, it’s not often that horror movies actually take advantage of that.
It’s also a matter of how it’s handled. I’d prefer something smart and subtle, than a decidedly heavy-handed approach. More psychological fright than a carnival of blood and gore.
I immediately think of George Romero’s seminal "Night of the Living Dead," which the filmmaker has said repeatedly wasn’t created to provide any commentary on race relations on America; he just happened to cast Duane Jones – a black actor – as the lead, because he "simply gave the best audition.". But it’s hard to ignore the symbolism in the death of Jones’ character that comes at the end of the movie – first, a heroic figure, the only black character in the starring cast, and a rather uneventful death at the hands of a group of rednecks, not-so long after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 1968) and Malcolm X (February 1965). The film was released in the USA in October 1968, six months after MLK’s death.
Whether you believe Romero’s lack of intent or not, he’s certainly sticking to his story.
Of course, we’re also familiar with the pathetic, though oh-so commonplace – to the point of being hilarious – tropes seen in horror movies since then; that being, the killing off of black characters early on in the story. It’s become a running joke on this blog – the expectation that the, usually, sole black character will indeed die (sometimes to save a white character), with the debate being when exactly, during the film, it will happen.
But I’ll keep an ear open for any future updates on Peele’s "Get Out" project, and will share here when I know more. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.