Peele’s feature directorial debut — a dark satire of the African American experience and liberal white guilt — follows a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya), who meets the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), only to discover the murderous menace lurking at their mansion.
“I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie,” the 38-year-old New Yorker told the audience.
“But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it.”
Peele’s victory was the only win for his film, which was also nominated for best picture, best actor and best director.
Despite a $4.5 million budget, the critically acclaimed tale earned $176 million — with takings of $255 million globally.
Before “Get Out,” he was best known as one half of the Comedy Central duo “Key and Peele” alongside Keegan-Michael Key, with whom he produced the 2016 comedy “Keanu.”
He was also a cast member on Mad TV and had a recurring role in the first season of FX anthology series “Fargo.”
Raised by his single mother on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Peele has an eight-month-old son of his own with the comedian Chelsea Peretti, whom he married in 2016.
“Get Out” started the awards season with little momentum but Peele saw the film’s odds shorten as he walked away with a medallion for best first-time feature at the Directors Guild Awards, where he enthused that he’d just enjoyed “the best year of my life, hands down.”
– ‘Cry for justice’ –
“The fact that I had never seen a film that addresses the fears of the modern African American experience was a signal to me that the conversation about race was broken,” he said.
“It felt related to the fact that our fears, our experiences, our screams for justice were still not being heard… So we have a lot of work to do to break out but I think the fact that this cry for justice has been heard is at the very least a step in the right direction.”
Peele described directing “Get Out” as “one of the greatest privileges and experiences and responsibilities” of his life and put up a stout defense of horror, which often finds itself taken less seriously than other genres.
“Horror is a genre that gives us a way to deal with our fears collectively. When a bunch of strangers go into a theater to laugh, cry, scream together something cathartic happens, something important happens,” he said.
“After a great film that audience leaves with a sense of community, so when that film explores our truest fears, I think they leave with a primal commonality and a new context for addressing those fears together.”
The director revealed at a recent screenwriters’ Q&A in Beverly Hills that he broke down in tears as he was writing an intense scene in which his protagonist is hypnotized into believing he is trapped in a mind state called “the sunken place” as memories of his mother’s death come back to him.
“It was a cathartic thing, I wouldn’t describe it as fun,” said Peele.
“But the thing that stops so much of my art, if I let it, is when I lose track of why I want to tell the story — what the most fun thing can be.”