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Jordan Peele's Horror Movies Are About Us

African American Perspective in Horror Films Is Platform for Social Commentary
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African American Perspective in Horror Films Is Platform for Social Commentary

Jordan Peele's Horror Movies Are About Us
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Jordan Peele is an African American filmmaker. His newest movie, "Us," is the second-most popular movie released in 2019 so far. The first movie he directed, "Get Out," won an Academy Award in 2018. Critics and movie watchers say the black horror films that he creates show us examples of social, economic and racial injustice.

"Us" explores the monster hiding within ourselves in the form of the evil doppelganger, or double.

Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o plays two characters in "Us." One is Adelaide Wilson, a middle-class mother and wife. The other character is Red, her troubling double.

87th Academy Awards - Arrivals
87th Academy Awards - Arrivals

Nyong'o says that her character, Adelaide, cannot explain the trouble she faced in her childhood, but it still causes problems for her. The character thinks that something bad is going to happen at the family's summer home. Her feelings come true when four people appear at the house and terrible events begin.

Peele says his work uses the idea of the shadow self:

"..which comes up in many cultures, many mythologies. And it tends to be this sense that there is a darker self that we suppress, and we suppress it because we are afraid of what it means. It holds our guilts, and our evil."

Jordan Peele accepts the award for best feature for "Get Out" at the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards, March 3, 2018, in Santa Monica, Calif.
Jordan Peele accepts the award for best feature for "Get Out" at the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards, March 3, 2018, in Santa Monica, Calif.

Peele said the horror movies permit him to talk about race relations and the growing social and economic divisions in America. His earlier horror film "Get Out" was about wealthy, old white people extending their lives by having their brains moved into young black people.

"Us" is about how poor Americans relate to wealthier Americans.

Sean McKittrick is a producer of "Us." "It's more about what we've become as a country," he said, and shows punishment for how people act to each other. It is "all centered around how a family deals with being attacked by themselves."

Nyong'o said that often:

"We feel that the monster is from outside of ourselves, they're from outside our borders, and you know, and outside our homes. But in this story, the monster is really within our very selves, and it's about embracing that or at least recognizing it."

Minority actors in lead roles

Horror film expert Andrew Scahill said Peele represents black horror movies today.

"I think we are at an incredibly exciting time for horror right now."

For example, in George Romero's famous 1968 horror movie "Night of Living Dead," the monsters killed black actors within the first 10 minutes or the black actors stayed alive long enough to save white leading characters.

Now, he said, Peele includes black actors as the main characters who are here to stay.

"Jordan Peele does not plan on casting a white actor in a lead role from here on out because that movie has been done."

Young people's worries

Scahill said the idea of ‘the monster within’ is very old and so is using horror to talk about social issues.

Scahill added that in the horror films young people are making today, the actors cannot easily identify the deadly force or control it.

He said the ideas we find in "Us" suggest that young people worry about losing control of their social, economic and environmental well-being. In addition, they have trouble trying to change the system.

Peele is involved in another project, an update of a 1960s television series, The Twilight Zone. This series is on the CBS web-streaming service. Peele is the host of the series and tells the stories as a narrator. The Rotten Tomatoes movie rating website says, "The Twilight Zone explores the strangeness of the modern world."

I’m Jill Robbins.

Penelope Poulou reported on this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

horror - adj. intended to cause feelings of fear, dread, and shock

monster - n. a powerful person or thing that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems

doppelganger– n. someone who looks like someone else; a double; in literature, an "evil twin"

characters - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

cast - v. to assign roles for (a play or movie) to actors

host - n. a person who talks to guests on a television or radio show

narrator n. a person who says the words that describe what is being seen or heard as part of a movie or television show

Have you ever met someone who looked just like you? What did you say or do? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.