Jordan Peele follows up ‘Get Out’ with the horror ‘Us’, about a family terrified by their doppelgangers, writes Georgia Humphreys
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, redefined the horror genre. A socially-conscious thriller, it explores what it means to be black in America, and in 2018, it won the Academy Award for best original screenplay. The plot involves a young black man uncovering a disturbing secret while meeting the family of his white girlfriend. New Yorker Peele is back with Us, another original nightmare that he has written, directed, and produced.
“I wanted to explore something other than race, and to show the wide range of horror films that I have,” the 40-year-old says.
“I have this fear of a doppelganger. And so, when you have a real fear, as a horror movie creator/director, then you know you have something that you can nurture and exploit for an audience.”
Us follows Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita N’yongo), as she returns to her North Carolina home for a summer getaway with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).
Adelaide starts to feel paranoid that something bad is going to happen to her family. And, sure enough, they return from the beach one day to find silhouettes of four figures in their driveway. But the creepiest thing? The monsters are doppelgangers of themselves. One draw of the role for Nyong’o, 36, was that the role is different from anything audiences will have seen her in before.
“Jordan was asking me to go to places I’ve never been, and giving me two, well-rounded, three-dimensional women to play at complete opposite ends of an argument,” says the actress, who won an Oscar for her film debut, 12 Years A Slave.
“And so, to be asked to see something from one perspective and then, the next day, have to see it from the exact opposite perspective… I mean, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. And just this imaginative monster that he was creating, actually articulating a world from inside his head; I felt very, very fortunate to have that kind of task in front of me. And also very intimidated!”
Furthermore, Us is about a middle-class black family, and that isn’t common in cinema.
“And it was nice to have that, a family that we could project our own understanding of a family onto, no matter what colour our skin is, and that the paradigms to which they were navigating this particular monster had nothing to do with the colour of their skin. Yeah, that’s refreshing.”
Duke, 32, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, agrees that a middle-class black family being at the centre of the film is, in itself, a “large statement”.
They’re also a family, he says, “wrapped in what we would call the American dream, this idea of American normality and class and privilege”.
It’s a layered film, with many thematic elements. So, what other messages did Duke — whose breakout role was M’Baku in Marvel’s Black Panther, followed by Avengers: Infinity War — personally take from inhabiting this role?
“For me, it was a lot of cultures of power; privilege, power, luxury. What is it and what’s the cost of that? It’s about the speechless and the people you render invisible in your shadow, who carry the burden of your actions. For me, that really spoke volumes; it really made me question myself and see my experiences of privilege.
“I come from a historically oppressed background and I don’t really see my life as one that is privileged, until you put it in the context of people who don’t have as much as you, people who have to suffer to make your life as privileged as it is. So, it really put me into a different category of how I see myself.”
Star Wars actress Nyong’o, who also appeared alongside Duke in Black Panther, was taken aback by the script when she first read it. She made sure to pick Peele’s brain about the imagery, and the social commentary on the US that is woven into the story, before going on set. And it seems the idea “of recognising the monster in the man in the mirror” is one that has really stayed with her.
“There’s a duality in all of us, there’s a darkness that we often suppress and it is in suppressing that side of ourselves that it can become destructive, because we project it out of ourselves and onto other people and onto other things,” she says.
“So, especially in this time when people are pointing a lot of fingers to the ‘other’ — the other gender, the other country, the other political faction, the other religion, the other ethnicity — we often fail to recognise the monster in ourselves, and this was a film that was anthropomorphising that monster.”
Us is released in cinemas on Friday