'Us': Peele's Black Thriller Phenomenon
Jordan Peele’s black thriller phenomenon, “Us,” is making a new and unanticipated mark on film. The enticing trailer introduces a black family innocently en route to a vacation spot. But the vacation does not go to plan as the family is faced with their worst nightmare — themselves. The central horror theme of the family’s evil doppelgängers is a seemingly simple concept, but Peele packs it with twists, backstories and symbolism to allow for a well-developed and driven horror noire, as he refers to it. In order to understand Peele’s style, let’s reflect on his recent work.
First, it is worth noting that Peele’s sociopolitical, allegorical storylines are somewhat revolutionary as popular thrillers go. This may be a debatable claim seeing as how zombie dystopias have been argued to be allegories for neoliberalism, and other thrillers contain some underlying political commentaries. However, Peele’s movies are in a category of their own as his messages are not just underlying, they are ingrained in the plot, characters, soundtrack and execution.
If we recall “Get Out,” Peele debuted with an easier-to-grasp metaphor on covert racism in the form of white people trying too damn hard, jungle fever and allusions to cultural appropriation.This premiere horror-satire film reeled in an astonishing $252,434,250 worldwide with a mere $4.5 million budget, making it the ninth most profitable movie of 2017. And those are just the figures. The conversations and debates that “Get Out” sparked are immeasurable and, best of all, continuous — indicating the immense impact of Peele’s sociopolitical horror-satires.
While the message of “Us” is slightly more convoluted, it highlights another accomplishment of Peele’s category of thrillers — black representation in film. The film has already accumulated $70 million in its opening weekend alone, on its way to surpassing its horror noire counterpart, “Get Out.” In just two weeks of its release, “Us” has broken multiple box office records including best opening weekend for an original horror movie. Why are these records so significant? As Shadow And Act reports, all these stats indicate that “Us” had the biggest opening weekend for a film headlined by a black woman. This is a milestone for black representation in film amidst a long history of exclusion, misrepresentation, blackface, stereotyping, white saviors and black sidekicks.
Peele uses new-age horror to touch on issues beyond race-to-class disparities, the pitfalls of capitalism and self-accountability within it. He does so by casting a black central cast and incorporating emblems within black culture, such as repurposed ‘90s hip-hop songs, HBCU crewnecks and subtle references to MJ and OJ with the character Red’s left glove.
Jordan Peele seeks to continue crafting and directing films focusing on representing marginalized groups and spreading much needed socio-political messages, stating, “I don't see myself casting a white dude as the lead” because “I’ve seen that movie.” “Us” is certainly
unlike any movie you’ve seen before. It continues Peele’s noble endeavor to make black people the heroes of their own stories.