Before directing Get Out, Jordan Peele was known for his comedic chops, first appearing on Mad TV for five seasons, and then on Key & Peele. But in 2017, the first-time director released Get Out, the hit horror movie which received astounding acclaim, garnered $255.5 million (out of a $4.5 million budget) at the box office, and received four Academy Award nominations, winning one for Peele’s original screenplay.
So what’s the secret? How does an actor with a comedy background come to direct a horror movie that is already being viewed by many as a classic?
Although Peele had never directed a horror movie before, he had been a fan of the genre since childhood. As a kid, he watched and studied horror films, learning their inner workings and trying to figure out what made them scary. Once he got to his teens, he knew he wanted to be a horror film director. However, this dream went off track for a little while, and Peele was led to various ventures in comedy. But his time spent acting in Key & Peele showed him the striking similarities between horror and comedy and eventually, the opportunity to direct his own movie presented itself.
To Peele, comedy and horror are one in the same—conjoined twins, in his own words. Both mediums build toward the release of something, whether a laugh or a scare, to break the tension, and both attempt to get a visceral reaction out of the audience. For Peele, horror and comedy are the best ways for us to deal with our fears.
Having spent several years in the discipline of comedy, Peele was able to learn a lot about the interconnected relationship between both mediums, and in Get Out, he integrated comedy into the story in a seamless manner, most of it coming from Rod Williams, the comic relief.
In addition, the theme of racial identity and feeling like an outsider in the movie is something Peele himself dealt with in his youth. Peele’s mother is white, and his father, who passed away, was black. As a teen, Peele recalls that being biracial made him feel like he did not belong. He sometimes worried he sounded “too white” and when taking standardized tests, he was always confused at having to choose “other” for the racial category. Having such experiences, as well as others, Peele was able to approach Get Out from a deeply personal perspective. Being a fan of Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, films that deal with submissiveness and the female gender, Peele wanted to recreate that same idea, but from the perspective of race.
And so, through personal experience, his career in comedy, and his love for horror, Get Out was conceived, taking the world by storm in 2017 and becoming a cultural phenomenon, as well as a hit for the horror genre.