Jordan Peele is turning Hollywood on its ear. The former comedian-turned director has shown Hollywood that Black directors and actors can make incredibly viable horror films, which appeal to the masses.
Peele’s latest, chilling endeavor into the horror movie genre is breaking barriers and records — yet again. In its opening weekend, “Us” earned an astounding $70.3 million in ticket sales stateside and has earned $87 million worldwide, according to studio estimates closing on Sunday night.
By performing exceptionally well this weekend, “Us” is the biggest opening of all time for an original horror film, and the third biggest for a horror film in overall, only behind 2017’s “It” remake at $123.4 million, and last year’s “Halloween” remake at $76.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
“Us” stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, who return to Adelaide’s beachfront childhood home for a vacation with their two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), only to be set upon by four masked attackers, each of whom turns out to be a doppelgänger for a member of the Wilson family.
According to standards in Hollywood, this film is atypical. Most horror films which have a predominantly Black cast have been pushed as “Black movies.” Hollywood executives seemed to think the public, overall, had no interest in horror films, which starred Black actors.
The 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies reported that, of the 54 top-earning horror movies from 2011 to 2015, 48 (89%) had casts in which 20% or fewer of the actors and actresses consisted of people of color. Although minorities made up about 40% of the US population in 2015, and people of color bought 45% of domestic movie tickets that year — Hollywood still didn’t see the value in representation.
Not to make this political but allow me to be political for a second. Black living in real-life is horrifying and supposedly the work of horror movies is to expose the emotions of cruel and repressive behaviors. So maybe by not allowing Black horror movies a chance at mainstream success was Hollywood’s way of saying it wasn’t ready to see Black pain outside of historical and dramatic cinematic references.
Jordan Peele has sagaciously dispelled that myth.
His debut movie, “Get Out,” which won an Oscar in 2018 for Best Original Screenplay, only had a budget of $4.5 million dollars. The sleeper hit went on to earn almost $250 million dollars worldwide. That’s no small feat.
Peele knew that horror movies with predominantly Black casts formed a niche that has been under-exposed for decades. But he literally raised the bar of excellence for what made a great horror film by approaching “Get Out” and “Us” with exquisite intelligence and intuition.
His work, alone, gives legitimacy to black horror for filmmakers interested in the genre. And he has further created a level of trust with moviegoers (both Black and white) by giving them the benefit of the doubt that they can intelligently handle satire, social commentary and allegory in a scary movie.