HOLLYWOOD — For horror movie fan Jordan Peele, there is nothing scarier than racism — and if this weekend’s box office numbers are any indication, America agrees.
“I look at racism as a monster,” Peele said. “It’s an American monster, but it’s also an innately human demon — and it’s not a one-sided thing. Everyone has to deal with their own innate feelings of racism and outsmart the racism within ourselves.”
The actor, known for his work as part of the comedic duo Key & Peele, channeled his love of horror films into his writing and directorial debut, “Get Out.”
The move paid off: “Get Out,” which opened Friday and reportedly only cost $4.5 million to make, took first place at the box office, and earned an estimated $30.5 million, the Associated Press reports.
“I came up with this idea during the Obama administration, when we were living in this era of the post-racial lie,” Peele told CNN. “Racism is real and it’s not really represented in the horror genre, which is a genre that traditionally takes on social horrors and human demons.”
So Peele sat down to write it, never believing the film would be made.
“Get Out” is now out and earning critical buzz. It scored a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on advanced screenings.
Two of Peele’s favorite films are “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives,” which he views as more than just scary movies.
“I consider them social thrillers,” he said. “They’re about gender and the women’s lib movement and that civil rights movement, but they’re also entertaining mysteries. I figured we could make a ‘Rosemary’s Baby/Stepford Wives’ of race.”
Knowing how loaded anything having to do with race can be, Peele approached the script for “Get Out” as a learning experience for possible future projects.
“I didn’t feel like I would go out on a limb for something that really sounds so controversial,” he said.
But a funny thing happened when Peele mentioned the idea during a meeting with “Donnie Darko” producer Sean McKittrick — he loved it.
The story of African-American photographer Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya), who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents for the weekend, is filled with uncomfortable moments on multiple levels.
Peele said he sees himself in Chris.
“The way I really see myself in Chris is that he’s a very patient person,” Peele said. “In this movie, he sits through many of these sort of subtly racist interactions and he withstands them … he keeps his cool, he’s reasonable and he’s good at diffusing the awkward moments and the tension to a point.”
One of the central themes of the film is the need to have those uncomfortable conversations about race, he said, and get beyond the idea that discussing racism somehow perpetuates it.
“As uncomfortable as it is, we have to discuss it if we are going to get anywhere,” Peele said. “This movie is about starting us all off from a place of entertainment and fun and clapping and fear and laughter, to give us an entry point for more racial conversation that is maybe more positive.”
It’s not lost on Peele that given the current conversation about race and the racial divide in America, his film will probably resonate with audiences more now than when he originally intended.
Peele said he plans to write and direct more films. He’s developing several other social thrillers, he said.
Key & Peele has ended, with the partners pursuing other projects. But Peele is aware that fans of the comedy team want a reunion.
“We’ll probably come back and do an odd sketch here and there and collaborate in a meaningful way,” he said. “We will come back for you all, you just have to beg us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.