Just as the "Sunken Place" became an iconic symbol for "Get Out," scissors seem important in "Us." (Illustration by Sofie Moustahfid, University of Maryland)

Comedian, actor, writer, producer and director Jordan Peele has reigned supreme in the horror genre ever since his directing debut motion picture, “Get Out”, was released in early 2017. The film was an immediate success, bringing in $30.5 million its first week, along with winning an Oscar and dozens of other accolades.

The former “Key & Peele” member wrote, directed and produced the critically acclaimed movie, and it didn’t take long for the film to receive high praise — which led to Peele announcing that the project was only the first in a planned series of five total releases.

After Peele’s reveal, fans have been anxiously awaiting any new information on the director’s next projects, and on Christmas, the horror mastermind gave audiences the ultimate Christmas gift: the trailer for “Us.”

Naturally, the unveiling of the trailer caused quite the social media uproar. In the two-and-half-minute clip, “Us” releases a deluge of terror, as well as some lodestars of black culture.

The video begins by introducing a family of four on a road trip as they listen to the iconic ’90s hip-hop jam “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz. (Also, huge shout out to whoever remixed the track to make it sound so eerie.) The trailer also gives a nod to a historically black college, Howard University, on a sweater rocked by Winston Duke.

These subtle-yet-effective references to black culture are quickly becoming a calling card of Jordan Peele’s work. Upon analysis, his movies reveal themselves to be studded with innuendo for the black community. In “Get Out,” we are given a black man staying with his white girlfriend and her family. It seems like a regular weekend visit — meeting the girlfriend’s family and all that jazz — but quickly we learn that not all is as it appears.

Scenes sprinkled within “Get Out” give the audience an understanding of how pervasive and entrenched racism still is within much of white culture. Scenes such as the meet and greet for the family’s friends, the silent auction and the famous hypnosis scene all show how vestiges of America’s dark history have managed to linger into the 21st century. The deeply historical, terribly human drama of the subject matter makes it fecund ground for the horror genre, which is why Peele’s film felt both revolutionary and obvious at the same time.

Elijah C. Watson of Okayplayer writes: “The film offers a commentary on race and racism in America through the lens of horror … This is what makes ‘Get Out’ fascinating and why it can only work as what it is. Horror often speaks to its audience psychologically and is an extreme (of sorts) in what we often associate with the genre (gore, violence). Here, we see that extreme used to comment on something very real and extreme in its own right — the black experience in America.”

Though we only have the trailer at the moment, “Get Out” and “Us” already seem to share a host of similarities. For instance, in “Us,” we get a predominantly dark-skinned black cast, something still quite rare in movies. Better representation of the black community within horror not only speaks to a bigger audience, but it touches on experiences never seen before in the genre.

As a black man who is a huge fan of the genre that is horror — whether it be thrillers, slashers, hauntings, etc. — it is refreshing being able to see black people be the core (or protagonists in this context) of the story. The token black person in past horror movies often embodied the stereotype of being the first to die or sacrifice themselves for the good of the group. Only in recent years has that changed, and even such a small victory was big for the black community.

Now, as evidenced by Peele’s films, the genre is turning another, more significant corner. Not only are token black characters a thing of the past, but the entire cast dynamic has been flipped on its head. And, in mining the black experience as a source of material for horror, Peele has found an incredibly rich source of both real life and mythological terror to draw from.

In addition, casting black actors opens the genre up to more inclusive screen-writing as well. As a result of Peele’s boundary-pushing, the film world is now seeing an arrival of young writers and directors with genuine, original and unorthodox ideas, which has ushered in a new era for movies that both critics and fans alike can enjoy.

What’s more, not only does Peele’s casting open doors for other black creators, but it helps accentuate the star power of the actors and actresses involved in his current projects. For instance, “Us” centers around a husband-wife duo composed of “Black Panther” stand-outs Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. Alongside Daniel Kaluyaa (“Black Mirror,” “Black Panther” and “Get Out”), these actors are getting a prime opportunity to show their versatility in the industry.

Nyong’o (“Star Wars,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Jungle Book”) already has a strong filmography behind her. Winston Duke, however, who scored his first major role as M’Baku from “Black Panther,” is a nascent star, and getting such a prominent role in “Us” will not only strengthen his resume, but show off his range as an actor.

For many black actors, the horror genre did not offer much of a path to celebrity, because the roles offered to people of color have generally been supporting or minor ones. However, because of Jordan Peele, the horror genre can now act as a jumping-off point for black actors, as it long has for white ones.


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