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Five years ago, Jordan Peele released Get Out, his feature directorial debut, and promptly changed not just his own career, but the entire landscape of horror cinema. The film was a runaway hit, a "social horror" phenomenon that earned Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and influenced countless horror films and novels that have come since.
Now, as he prepares to release his third film as director, Nope, Peele has realized that the movie he just made may have been impossible back in the days of Get Out. At least, it felt that way at the time.
"I think this idea of letting a Black director put his vision into a film and commit to it... let's put it this way, five years ago, I didn't think they'd ever let me do that," Peele told TODAY in a new interview. "So much of my career before I became a director was marred with this internalized sense that I could never be allowed to do that, that no one would ever trust me with money — enough money to do my vision the way they'd trust other people. I felt that that was true."
Peele, a comedy star who won international acclaim for the Comedy Central series Key & Peele before he moved over to feature films, always considered horror his favorite genre, and Get Out served as his calling card to prove that he could translate that fandom into a creative output of his own. He followed that film up with Us, another horror hit driven by Peele's keen stylistic eye, which blends scares and laughs with a knack for social commentary. While Us was definitely larger in scope than Get Out, Nope feels like an even bigger creative vision, so big that Peele has acknowledged he wrote the film without thinking of what it might cost for a studio to mount the eventual production.
"The first notion that I latched onto when I was writing this movie was the idea of making a spectacle," he said. "I wanted to make a flying saucer movie because I just felt like if we can feel like we're in the presence of something 'other,' if we feel like that's real, then that's an immersive experience worthy of going to the movies."
With the backing of Universal Pictures, Peele has been given license to dream that big with Nope, the story of a brother and sister (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who try to capture video evidence of a UFO after witnessing strange shapes in the sky at their family horse ranch. It's a film the studio has branded as a "horror epic" in an effort to play up the summer blockbuster appeal of the release, but according to Peele, you'll also find the attention to thematic detail that ran through Get Out and Us is still a part of Nope. For him, viewing genre films through a social lens is not just interesting, but essential.
"I think it's impossible to make any movie without it being about race, because race is all around us," Peele said. "You can't have Black people in a flying saucer film and just have it be the same experience. It's not. There's a different relationship.
"My race, I think, has informed my entire artistic journey, and part of it has been trying to reconcile the box, and the boxes that this country puts people of color in, and trying to break out of that box."
Nope is in theaters July 22.