Who Is Jordan Peele?
Jordan Peele (born February 21, 1979) wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Get Out, a horror movie about racism that became a breakout hit and the most profitable film of 2017. He delivered another well-received fright flick with 2019's Us, and has been involved in the production of TV shows like The O.G. and a reboot of The Twilight Zone. Earlier in his career, Peele was known for his work on Mad TV and for co-creating the hit Comedy Central show Key & Peele. He is married to actress Chelsea Peretti.
Get Out, a horror movie written and directed by Peele, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 and had a wide theatrical release the next month. The film is about a Black man who goes to visit his white girlfriend's family for the first time. Early scenes showed some of the racial slights offered by seemingly well-meaning white liberals; as it progresses the movie unveils a nightmare of captivity and exploitation the protagonist has to struggle to escape.
Though he's married to a white woman, Chelsea Peretti, Peele has explained he wrote this film before the two started dating. One source of inspiration came from the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the presidency: as segments of society heralded the arrival of a post-racial future, Peele felt compelled to show how racism continues to permeate everyone's lives. Peele has also revealed the film is tied to the existence of a prison-industrial complex that incarcerates large numbers of Black men and women, saying in an interview with The Guardian, "The disproportionate number of Black men thrown into a dark room for the rest of their lives is one of the central themes of what my movie is an allegory for."
Peele assumed a horror film about race, which took the existence of racism seriously, would never be produced. Fortunately, the movie not only got made, it became an enormous box office and critical success, bringing in more than $250 million worldwide (making it the year's most profitable film, as it had been produced for an estimated $4.5 million). Peele was nominated for a Golden Globe (though many were stunned the film landed in the comedy/musical category) and later became just the fifth African American to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Director; although he lost out in that category, Peele scored a win for Best Original Screenplay.
Get Out was released as a horror film, and has the requisite shocks and scares, but Peele considers his movie more of a "social thriller" like Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Stepford Wives (1975), meaning society itself is a villain. Peele also felt that a gripping tale would allow both Black and non-Black audiences to identify with his main character. Talking about the film in Atlanta, he said, "One of the best ways to enter the conversation about race is through art. If we can have a shared experience in a movie theater, it gives us more of a basis for conversation."
Around the time he learned that Get Out was up for Oscar consideration, Peele announced that he was done with acting, telling CBS News that it wasn't as much fun as directing. He later revealed that he had made the decision earlier, after being offered a part in the animated The Emoji Movie (2017). Initially offered the role of "Poop," Peele at first demurred before deciding to accept, only to find out the character would instead be voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.
For his second feature film, Peele returned to the horror genre with Us (2019). Starring Lupita Nyong'o, Elisabeth Moss and Winston Duke, the fright flick focuses on the Wilson family and their encounter with mysterious, violent doppelgängers while on vacation. Us drew strong reviews ahead of its release, with Empire calling it a "stunning sophomore effort." The film went on to generate an impressive $70 million at the box office in its opening weekend, en route to more than $250 million over the course of its theatrical run.
Producer and Monkeypaw Productions
'The Last O.G.'
With his production company Monkeypaw Productions, Peele is trying to share stories from underrepresented populations. He created the TBS comedy The Last O.G., which debuted in spring 2018 with Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish in the lead roles, and produced Spike Lee's BlackKklansman (2018), based on the real-life story of a Black police officer who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
'The Twilight Zone,' 'Hunters'
Peele signed on as executive producer and narrator of a reboot of the classic horror series The Twilight Zone, which began airing on CBS All Access in April 2019. He also had his hands on the development of the 2020 Amazon series Hunters, which features Al Pacino as the leader of a group of Nazi-targeting vigilantes in 1970s America.
'Wendell and Wild'
Fresh off his Oscar win in March 2018, Peele revealed that he was reteaming with his old comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key for a stop-motion animated feature titled Wendell and Wild. In addition to providing voice work alongside Key, Peele is co-writing the film with director Harry Selick, known for his work on such acclaimed stop-motion productions as Coraline (2009) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
For Peele, it's better to focus on his own projects; for example, he turned down the opportunity to direct a live-action version of Akira. He told Blumhouse.com, "The real question for me is: Do I want to do pre-existing material, or do I want to do original content? At the end of the day, I want to do original stuff."
Movies and TV Shows
'Key & Peele'
Before he turned to directing with Get Out, Peele was best known for the Comedy Central show he co-created and starred in with Key: Key & Peele. The series featured sketches about topics that included race, racism, homophobia and gender, many of which had viewers laughing while also making them think. The show won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody for addressing "racially charged issues and ideas like no one else on television."
One recurring Key & Peele segment combined Peele's spot-on Obama impersonation with Key's role as Obama's "Anger Translator" Luther; another popular sketch saw Peele transform into a demanding woman called Meegan. Besides being a hit on Comedy Central, Key and Peele sketches reached more than a billion total views on YouTube and other sites. However, the pair decided to call it quits after five seasons so as to go out on top — and to get time to focus on other projects.
'Mad TV,' 'Fargo,' 'Keanu'
Peele and Key, who first met in Chicago in 2003 when both were doing improv, worked together on the Fox sketch show Mad TV from 2003 to 2009. They also appeared together as FBI agents in season 1 of Fargo in 2014, and shared the screen in Keanu (2016), a movie co-written by Peele.
Peele once received an offer from Saturday Night Live to impersonate Obama, only to have to turn the job down since he was still under contract with Mad TV.
Voice Work on 'Captain Underpants'
Peele has been a voice actor on numerous shows, including Bob's Burgers, Big Mouth and Rick and Morty; he has also voiced characters for films like Captain Underpants (2017).
Wife and Family
In April 2016, Peele announced on Late Night with Seth Meyers that he'd eloped with wife Chelsea Peretti, a comedian and star of television's Brooklyn Nine-Nine. According to Peretti's Instagram, the wedding ceremony was witnessed by their dog.
Peretti told Entertainment Weekly that she and Peele "met on the Internet, on Twitter." They began dating in 2012 and announced their engagement via Twitter in November 2015. The couple had a baby boy, Beaumont Gino Peele, on July 1, 2017, in Los Angeles.
When Was Jordan Peele Born?
Jordan Haworth Peele was born on February 21, 1979, in New York City.
Parents and Background
Peele was born to a white mother, Lucinda Williams, and a Black father. His father, who passed away in 1999, exited Peele's life when Peele was about six, and he grew up on New York City's Upper West Side in a single-parent household. When a young Peele appeared on the ABC special "Kids Ask President Clinton Questions," he inquired how to help kids whose parents weren't paying child support.
Peele has admitted that being biracial often made him feel like an outsider, such as when he had to place himself in the racial category of "other" when taking standardized tests (he began selecting "African American" as he grew older). Some of his classmates didn't believe his mother was white, and growing up he sometimes felt his voice sounded too "white."
Education and Improv
Growing up, Peele attended New York City's P.S. 87 and the Calhoun School. He also performed with the TADA! Youth Theater.
Peele started at Sarah Lawrence College with the intention of becoming a puppeteer. However, performing improv while at school led to his dropping out in order to pursue a career in comedy.
Peele found success with the improv groups Boom Chicago, based in Amsterdam, and Chicago's Second City before moving onto television.
Influences as a Director
Peele became a fan of horror movies as a child, with favorites such as Gremlins (1984) and The Shining (1980) (Get Out contains an Easter egg reference to the number 237, the haunted room from The Shining). Peele also loved 1980s fantasy movies such as Labyrinth and The NeverEnding Story.
Working in improv and comedy let Peele develop a sense of timing that helped him succeed as a director. And he feels the different parts of his career have inherent connections, saying in a 2016 interview with Forbes, "As with comedy, I feel like horror and the thriller genre is a way, one of the few ways, that we can address real life horrors and social injustices in an entertaining way."
Peele is also determined to build on his past success. In 2017 he told ET, "This is just the beginning of what I want to do with the horror genre and social thrillers. I’m dedicating my life to putting out crazy, weird horror films."
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