Art & Race with Jordan Peele

by Destinee Schriner

Art is more than an expression of oneself; it is and can be used to express an entire group of people. Jordan Peele is a prime example of doing this, not only in his movies but in television as well. What drew most American’s attention was his very successful movie, Get Out, which premiered in 2017. It tackled issues that were prevalent in African American society as well as handling stereotypes. Most Americans had never seen a Black man at the forefront of a horror movie, much less one that embodies every Black person in America. Nothing was so heart-stopping than the climax of the police car heading toward the protagonist. I know every person in the theater that had melanin in their skin caught their breath. But why was that? Because we know that, as a Black person in America, sometimes the police aren’t on our side. It was a moment that we asked ourselves who is the police going to believe? The injured white woman? Or the Black man? If the first thought that came to mind was the white woman, you understand what I mean. 

When Us came out in 2019, most audiences were looking for some racial aspect much like Get Out. To many, they saw him as bringing more of these racial divides to the light and they were disappointed. Of course, there were some racial points that were made within the movie, such as with the white family that lived nearby in a vacation home. The protagonist’s husband tried to compete with their brand new boat by buying a shabby one. How about the modern house the white family lived in, furnished with the top of the line technology? This is in contrast to the protagonist’s modest house by the lake with little amenities. There were a few other scenes, but you get the point; it wasn’t the main storyline. It was about a Black family who is being chased by their doppelgangers. 

How about before Jordan Peele became an acclaimed director? He was known for his comedy on the hit Comedy Central show Key and Peele. Even then, he was making meaningful skits that were funny, yes, but held underlying racial tones. One example is “Apologies” in which Key and Peele were having a conversation about Game of Thrones and they’re interrupted by white people. Some apologized for racism while one pretends he spilled beer on his ‘Tribe Called Quest’ shirt just to get some validation from the two main characters. In the end, the bartender tells them he’s uncomfortable around Black people and Key and Peele appear relieved and say ‘Thank you’. This skit isn’t saying that it’s wrong to understand Black suffering and advocate for people of color, but it shouldn’t be for clout and validation of being a good white person. Anyone of any color or race should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. 

Another sketch that really hit home in our society is called, ‘Confederate Reenactors’. As the title suggests, it has Confederate reenactors with the commander making a speech about the Southern way of life. That’s when Key and Peele come in—as slaves. Yes, that’s right, and they act like stereotypical happy slaves. This interrupts the commander’s speech and he proclaims he isn’t racist, but in typical Key and Peele fashion they ramp up the ridiculousness of being slave stereotypes. That is until the commander almost says the n-word and this gives the protagonist permission to rob them. Like most of their skits, this is satire with an underlayer of true-to-life people of color issues. There are many that would say that the Civil War was not based on slavery and they would be wrong. I won’t go into a history lesson, nor am I going to debate this fact. Slavery was free labor, free labor boosted the southern economy and thus the supposed, ‘way of life’ most people talk about when they refer to the Confederacy. 

Since Get Out Peele has become the new host of the hit show The Twilight Zone. If you aren’t familiar, this is based on the original 1950’s physiological thriller. It had the iconic Rod Serling as host back then and there have been numerous attempts to restore the illustrious T.V. show. CBS has done just that with Jordan Peele replacing the mysterious chain-smoking Serling with his quiet enigmatic presence. As a producer, he has added numerous prominent actors of color. This is versus the earlier version where there were mostly white actors. Mr. Serling was a man that always wanted to push the boundaries of genre. This includes race, but due to the uninclusive time the show had been produced in, he was not always able to tell the full story.  Jordan Peele’s revival pushes the boundaries in new ways and it’s my belief that Rod Serling would be proud. With so many actors of color, more stories of their plights can be told. If you haven’t yet watched it, I would highly suggest it. 

This is Black History Month and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Jordan Peele became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. On top of this, he has brought people of color to the forefront of entertainment and not just in movies. The horror genre will never be the same thanks to him highlighting Black people as the main character trying to survive the movie. No more are we delegated to be the Black friend that has no real substance. No longer are we the first or second to be killed off in horror movies. We are more than that; we are people that finally through Jordan Peele have a voice. People see us. As Jordan Peele said, “But I’ve seen that movie.” I can only hope that through this door that Mr. Peele has opened, we see more and more directors willing to highlight people of color. Although not as a side character or a villain but as the heroine because at the end of the day, everyone deserves to be the hero of their own story or at least survive it.

Destinee Schriner loves anime, comics, crocheting, and everything romantic. One of her favorite things to do is sit down with a steaming fragrant cup of chai tea and write. Her dream is to tour and experience the beauty of Japan one day. She is an Air Force Veteran and has travelled all over the United States. Destinee identifies as bisexual and lives with her husband and daughter in Idaho. Her debut novel, When Bluebell Blooms, will be released by Bronzeville Books this fall.