“Get Out,” Peele make movie his­tory

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Elahe Isadi

Jor­dan Peele’s hor­ror flick “Get Out” is among the year’s big­gest break­out hits. And with it, Peele has also sur­passed a bench­mark for box-of­fice suc­cess.

“Get Out” has now earned more than $100 mil­lion at the box of­fice, mak­ing Peele the first African-Amer­i­can writer-di­rec­tor to pass that thresh­old with his de­but fea­ture film.

Peele, who is most well­known as half of the com­edy duo Key and Peele, wrote on Twit­ter that he’s “the first of many” such black writer-di­rec­tors to hit that $100 mil­lion de­but tar­get. Then, he added:

“Mean­ing I won’t be the last.”

As Black­film.com points out, other black di­rec­tors have seen their fea­ture de­buts go on to earn $100 mil­lion — Clark John­son’s 2003 film “S.W.A.T.” grossed nearly $117 mil­lion — but none have done it with their own screen­plays.

Peele reached the $100 mil­lion mile­stone in just 16 days, which also makes “Get Out” the fastest film from pro­duc­tion com­pany Blum­house to hit that mark, ac­cord­ing to Dead­line. Typ­i­cally, hor­ror movies make most of their money dur­ing open­ing week­end and then fall off quickly. But “Get Out” proved to have atyp­i­cal stay­ing power, with only slight dips in ticket sales. It cur­rently ranks as the fifth high­est-gross­ing film of the year.

And “Get Out” achieved all this on just a $4.5 mil­lion bud­get and a lead cast de­void of big names.

While Hol­ly­wood con­tin­ues to de­bate diver­sity (or rather, lack thereof ), the suc­cess of “Get Out” is an­other ad­di­tion to the list of re­cent films di­rected, writ­ten by or star­ring African-Amer­i­cans that have gone on to be­come ma­jor sur­prise hits, com­mer­cially or crit­i­cally — some­times both.

“Moon­light,” which was di­rected by Barry Jenk­ins and adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, “In Moon­light Black Boys Look Blue,” won the Os­car for best pic­ture, best adapted screen­play and best sup­port­ing ac­tor for Ma­her­shala Ali’s per­for­mance.

In 2016, word broke that Ava DuVer­nay would di­rect Dis­ney’s “A Wrin­kle in Time,” mak­ing her the first black wo­man to di­rect a live-ac­tion film with a bud­get ex­ceed­ing $100 mil­lion.

“Hid­den Fig­ures” earned nearly $163 mil­lion last year — and it beat out ac­tion and su­per­hero flicks in the process. Yes, a movie about black fe­male math­e­ma­ti­cians at NASA made more money at the box of­fice than the lat­est in­stall­ments in the Ja­son Bourne, Star Trek and XMen fran­chises. And it was the high­est-gross­ing film to be nom­i­nated for a best­pic­ture Acad­emy Award.

The suc­cess of “Hid­den Fig­ures” prompted its stars to point out that movies fo­cused on black women’s sto­ries and star­ring black women are not in­her­ent com­mer­cial risks.

“I have been told my en­tire ca­reer ‘Black women can’t open films do­mes­ti­cally or in­ter­na­tion­ally.’ Well any­thing is pos­si­ble,” star Taraji P. Hen­son wrote on In­sta­gram after the movie reached the No. 1 spot at the box of­fice dur­ing its open­ing week­end. “Most im­por­tantly this proves that PEO­PLE LIKE GOOD MA­TE­RIAL. HAS NOTH­ING TO DO WITH GEN­DER OR RACE. Agreed?!”

She’s not wrong. Movies with racial and eth­nic diver­sity more re­flec­tive of Amer­ica’s de­mo­graph­ics ac­tu­ally per­form bet­ter on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port on diver­sity in Hol­ly­wood from the Ralph J. Bunche Cen­ter for African Amer­i­can Stud­ies at UCLA.

“De­spite false claims to the con­trary, there is no trade­off in Hol­ly­wood to­day be­tween diver­sity and prof­itabil­ity. Diver­sity is clearly a plus fac­tor for the bot­tom line,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port. “Nor is there a trade­off be­tween diver­sity and qual­ity. Qual­ity sto­ry­telling plus rich, di­verse per­for­mances equals box of­fice rat­ings suc­cess. Year after year, the ev­i­dence sup­port­ing this equa­tion con­tin­ues to mount.”

Still, there are far fewer films with non-whites in ma­jor po­si­tions. The re­port, which an­a­lyzed top the­atri­cal re­leases in 2015, found just about 10 per­cent had non-white di­rec­tors, and about 5 per­cent had non-white writ­ers.

As The Washington Post’s Drew Har­well pre­vi­ously wrote, Hol­ly­wood is “ig­nor­ing a gold mine” as the in­dus­try re­mains hes­i­tant to in­vest large sums into projects helmed by tal­ent un­known to them. From Har­well’s story:

“Very of­ten, the peo­ple they know share their skin tone. In 2013, more than 92 per­cent of movie stu­dios’ se­nior ex­ec­u­tives, 82 per­cent of film di­rec­tors and 88 per­cent of film writ­ers were white, UCLA re­searchers said.

So go ahead and add Peele’s suc­cess to the small but grow­ing list of other re­cent smash hits from black artists in the movie in­dus­try. As he wrote, he will likely be the first of other black writer-di­rec­tors to hit that $100 mil­lion bench­mark — as long as they get to make their movies in the first place.

Justin Lu­bin, Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

Writer-di­rec­tor-pro­ducer Jor­dan Peele with Betty Gabriel on the set of “Get Out.”

Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

Daniel Kalu­uya as Chris Washington in “Get Out.”

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