January 24, 2018

‘I’d Never Seen My Fears as an African-American Man Onscreen’

‘I’d Never Seen My Fears as an African-American Man Onscreen’

Around 2014, five years after he first began kicking the idea around, Mr. Peele started working on a script and brought it up with the producer Sean McKittrick (“Donnie Darko”), hedging all the way. He recalled telling Mr. McKittrick that it was his favorite movie that had never been made, and probably would never get made, and that he understood why. But Mr. McKittrick surprised Mr. Peele by telling him that he was on board.

Three years later, in February 2017, the movie opened just as the racist ugliness attending the election of Donald J. Trump dashed lingering Obama-era delusions that America was a post-racial place. And Mr. Peele’s worries about the movie’s reception were knocked down like pins.

Mr. Peele had fretted that the film’s skewering of white people might set off boycotts, but instead “Get Out” proved to be medicine that audiences didn’t realize they needed, and worldwide they made a $254 million hit out of Mr. Peele’s $4.5 million dream. (He believes there might have been protests had the film taken aim at white conservatives rather than white liberals.)

Now, to Mr. Peele’s delight and surprise, Hollywood prize givers are showering the movie with love.


Lakeith Stanfield, left, and Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out.”

Justin Lubin/Universal Pictures

At the Gotham Awards, Mr. Peele won best breakthrough director, best screenplay and the audience award. The National Board of Review named the film best ensemble picture and one of the year’s Top 10, while Mr. Peele took best directorial debut. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded it best first film. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it best screenplay.

Still, the fact that “Get Out” did not win the top awards left some die-hard fans dissatisfied, including Julia Turner, the editor in chief of Slate, who is anxious that Oscar voters may not give the film what she sees as its due. “‘Get Out’ is 2017’s best picture, and it should be 2017’s Best Picture,” she wrote. “When was the last time a popular cinematic masterpiece had something important and topical to say about the world?”

Either way, this kind of awards attention is unusual for a picture that could easily be pigeonholed as comedy or horror, genres that have a history of falling flat with the august members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

There have been exceptions, among them Natalie Portman’s best actress win for “Black Swan” (2010), Kathy Bates’s similar win for the 1990 “Misery,” and, most prodigiously, “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which swept up five Oscars — best picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay.

Yet over all, scary or scary-ish movies that manage to land Oscar nominations tend to win in categories like best makeup or costume, if they win at all. Though it is still early in the awards race, “Get Out” is projected to earn Oscar nominations for best picture, best screenplay, and possibly best director and best editing, along with a few Golden Globes nominations, which are due next week. The academy is also increasingly diverse, and nominations for “Get Out,” along with “Mudbound,” among other contenders, would be a bulwark against an embarrassing repeat of #OscarsSoWhite.

Universal Studios submitted “Get Out” in the Globes’ best comedy or musical category, kicking off an internet kerfuffle, with critics saying “comedy” minimized the film’s critique of racism. The Carpetbagger has heard arguments backing the decision: “Funny” was the first word of the film’s synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes, and hackles might not have been raised had the category been “satire” instead. Mr. Peele responded to the fracas with a tweet, “’Get Out’ is a documentary,” though all along he has called it a “social thriller,” a category that he says includes “The Stepford Wives” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” where society and humanity are the monsters.

He is also in full awards-campaign mode. He shares the cover of Vanity Fair’s special Awards Extra! print issue with Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and was featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s Writer Roundtable. When he met to chat with the Carpetbagger, he was plowing through a full schedule of media interviews, and the Bagger was whooshed away after 50 minutes because another reporter had arrived.

The whirlwind of it all seems to have left Mr. Peele a little stunned. (It’s also taken him away from his wife, the comedian Chelsea Peretti, and their infant son.) “This is crazy,” he said, while collecting one of his prizes last week at the Gothams. During our interview, he spoke deliberately and carefully, giving off the sense that he might at any moment be, as it were, woken up. “It’s all kind of a ‘pinch me’ thing,” he said.

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