On the eve of March 22, critics and audiences were stunned by the intensity of Jordan Peele’s Us. Watching the film with a group of friends, I felt captured by the story of the Wilson family—an in-depth portrayal of a vacation gone wrong. I left the theater elated to see people who looked like me on screen.
To some, Us may seem like just another thriller, but Peele’s creativity and genius is yet another step toward creating a metahorror film where people of color are the epicenter of the plot.
Originally famous for the Comedy Central series Key & Peele, Peele has quickly established himself, receiving five Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Original Screenplay—the first black winner for the 2017 film Get Out. Not only did Get Out receive positive reception throughout the country, the film’s underlying political messages ignited conversations everywhere. Although the film Us did not have as many political messages to society, the reception of Us was similar, earning a 94 percent for Rotten Tomatoes and $70 million opening weekend in North America alone.
It is crucial to recognize that Peele is not the only director of color to to break historic norms through the phenomenal reception of his work. In the past 20 years, influential directors such as F. Gary Gray, and John Singleton and Spike Lee have been recognized with awards and grasped the world’s attention, but what is prevalent today is the prominent visibility of black directors in predominantly white film genres such as horror.
Us broke the problematic, yet quintessential, tale of the black character always dying first in horror films. Peele also subverted unsaid norms among films that have often featured an abundance of white actors.
Recently, director Barry Jenkins of If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight, has combated this normalcy by spotlighting the intersection across class, sexuality and race in a romance movie, just as Peele’s Us has acknowledged intersectionality of affluence and race within the Wilson family.
Furthermore, recent films directed by Ryan Coogler and Ava Duvernay have redefined other genres. Coogler’s 2018 superhero powerhouse Black Panther was unparalleled; it is the first superhero film with an almost completely black cast. Coogler was successful, earning seven Academy Award nominations and three wins. Not only did the action packed film send a message of black empowerment through the African utopia of Wakanda, the plot was also intricate and elegant, just as many black stories around the country. Director Ava Duvernay uses similar genius in her groundbreaking documentary, 13th. Duvernay struck Americans around the country through compelling research on the institutionally racist prison system. Even though Duvernay has directed an arsenal of projects in her career, 13th was able to enter the documentary genre in an avant-garde manner.
Black directors have noticeably transformed the film landscape. Not only do I recommend Peele’s phenomenal work, I recommend you all to seek out directors such as Peele: directors of color who continue to persist as they shift the film industry’s standard of traditional, Eurocentric narratives.