Before he directed “Get Out,” Jordan Peele was best known as a comedy figure, one half of the famed “Key & Peele” duo. His first feature transformed Peele’s reputation: As “Get Out” grossed over $250 million worldwide, Peele became known first and foremost as a filmmaker, with his racially-tinged story about rich white people who keep black people under mind control striking audiences as both outrageous and eerily familiar. No matter the absurd premise, “Get Out” explores the paranoia and victimization of the African American experience with palpable suspense and ideas that go well beyond the realm of punchlines.
Nevertheless, as the movie careens through awards season, Golden Globes voters will be considering “Get Out” in the Best Musical or Comedy category, not for Best Drama. This outcome has prompted plenty of online backlash, and a tweet from Peele calling the movie a documentary, acknowledging the limitations of those categories.
‘Get Out’ is a documentary.
— Jordan Peele (@JordanPeele) November 15, 2017
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At a lunch event for the movie at New York’s Lincoln Ristorante, Peele elaborated on his reservations. “The problem is, it’s not a movie that can really be put into a genre box,” he said in an interview prior to the lunch. “Originally, I set out to make a horror movie. I ended up showing it to people and hearing, you know, it doesn’t even feel like horror. It’s in this thriller world. So it was a social thriller.”
While Universal submitted “Get Out” as a comedy to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Peele clearly had no input into that decision. “I don’t think it worked like that,” he said. “I think it was just submitted.” In fact, submissions are made to individual categories, but the HFPA makes the final decision about which categories each film falls into. A rep for Peele did not respond to a request to clarify whether the movie had been submitted as a comedy without his input.
Indeed, Peele offered a compelling argument against the comedy category for his movie. “What the movie is about is not funny,” he said. “I’ve had many black people come up to me and say, ‘man, this is the movie we’ve been talking about for a while and you did it.’ That’s a very powerful thing. For that to be put in a smaller box than it deserves is where the controversy comes from.”
Of course, part of the secret to the success of “Get Out” stems from its ability to combine multiple types of experiences into a single unexpected narrative. “I think the issue here is that the movie subverts the idea of all genres,” Peele said. “Call it what you want, but the movie is an expression of my truth, my experience, the experiences of a lot of black people, and minorities. Anyone who feels like the other. Any conversation that limits what it can be is putting it in a box.”
But if I can be honest this is weird to me… Their is nothing funny about racism… Was it that unrealistic lol https://t.co/5xSXBmatfP
— Lil Rel Howery (@LilRel4) November 14, 2017
In the midst of a frenzied awards campaign, Peele is staying busy. Along with “Get Out” producer Sean McKittrick, Peele’s MonkeyPaw Productions is hard at work on Spike Lee’s “Black Klansman,” which is now shooting in New York. The movie, based on retired police detective Ron Stallworth’s account of his ability to infiltrate a KKK group in the late seventies, stars John David Washington (son of Denzel). The project originated as a screenplay by Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz. “It’s dope,” Peele said. “It’s such an amazing story, and the performances he’s getting, the shots he’s getting, are beautiful. I read this script maybe five times in a year, giving notes, and I got the script to Spike. He called me the next day and he knew it better than I did already. Since that moment I’ve been watching what a real professional looks like in terms of being able to see the big picture and know what needs to be fixed.”
Peele’s company is also developing a reboot of “The Twilight Zone” for CBS, though he said the news about that project got out a little too early in the development process. “I was skeptical of the idea of rebooting it,” he said, “but the reality of the situation struck me — how many times have you heard in the past year that it feels like you’ve woken up in the Twilight Zone? If ever there was a time to go back in and explore society with these allegories, these parables, it’s now. It’s still very early.”
Meanwhile, he’s also working on writing his next feature, which he has yet to discuss publicly. Notably, none of his upcoming projects fall into the comedy vein. As for “Get Out,” he’s willing to accept the HFPA’s outcome. “This is all gravy to me, that people are still talking about it,” he said. “The major point to identify here is that we don’t want our truth trivialized. The label of comedy is often a trivial thing. The real question is, what are you laughing at? Are you laughing at the horror, the suffering? Are you disregarding what’s real about this project? That’s why I said, yeah — it’s a documentary.”