“I have four other social thrillers that I want to unveil in the next decade,” Jordan Peele, director of the hit horror comedy Get Out, told Business Insider a week before the movie’s release in February. “I’ve been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one.”
Two weeks ago, planning four follow-ups to a debut movie might have seemed overconfident. Peele is a first-time director after all, and as American movies go, Get Out — a satirical horror movie about race — is unheard of. Tell that to the box office. The movie, which cost under $5 million to make, raked in $28.2 million in its second week after a whopping $33.3 million opening weekend. It’s been bolstered by a combination of word of mouth, glowing reviews, and Peele’s talent for putting his finger on the pulse of our culture.
The film has also been bolstered by the fact that it fulfills a glaring public need. Is it just me, or do black movies seem to keep beating the odds lately? Consider the success of Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures, which has grossed more than $155 million to date, bypassing big franchise investments like X-Men: Apocalypse — or the $2.5 million weekend that Barry Jenkins’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight, which reopened on over 1,500 screens, had after its surprise win. Black movies — especially black indie movies like Get Out — are having a moment.
It’s fair to wonder whether this success will be the start of a new trend. When a movie like Damien Chazelle’s La La Land unexpectedly catapults to the top of the box office, it isn’t long before we hear of studios getting to work on a fresh litter of La La–like movies to coast on its success. Chazelle’s musical is already set to give rise to 20 new musicals by 20 different people. Get Out, on the other hand, is specifically poised to spur more movies of its kind by Peele. When it comes to successful black movies, like doesn’t always beget like in the way that it does for more typical studio fare. And more movies for Jordan Peele isn’t an industry trend — it’s the continuation of a career.
The box-office potential of black movies is, remarkably, slept on — even after the utter success of Straight Outta Compton — enough that we are still shocked when a movie about black women at NASA topples an Underworld movie. Kevin Hart’s money-minting comedies, including Ride Along and its 2016 sequel, proved that appealing to black audiences can be a boon at the box office: Combined, those films made more than $200 million. But the only result of Hart’s blockbuster breakout has been … more Kevin Hart movies. Denzel Washington’s profitable and well-received adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences, meanwhile, will undoubtedly help Washington usher more of Wilson’s plays to the screen. That’s great news for Hart and Washington, but it doesn’t signal widespread change.
There’s a barrier to entry in Hollywood for black filmmakers (as well as for women and other people of color) that persists even as major black talents prove, time and again, that audiences — black audiences, especially — are eager for more black movies. That barrier blunts the impact of hard, undeniable numbers. Successful black movies mean great things for the people making them. Ryan Coogler, who’s directing Marvel’s Black Panther, got the job on the heels of Creed, his marvelous reinvention of the Rocky franchise. Ava DuVernay is following up her Oscar-nominated civil rights feature Selma with Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. These are good things — but more in line with the general trend of talented indie filmmakers being handed franchises from Disney and others, and doesn’t necessarily signal an upswing in black directors getting a stab at major properties. Meanwhile, there are the many black directors with recent box-office or critical success who’ve defected, if only temporarily, to television: among them Justin Simien (Dear White People), Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights), and Lee Daniels (Precious). Next up is Barry Jenkins, who’s following up Moonlight with a limited TV series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
These are all filmmakers who’ve worked outside of the studio system, finding artistic, critical, and even commercial success with projects that would never be green-lit by Hollywood proper. Get Out is one such project. It’d be wonderful if it persuaded more big studios to green-light more projects — mainstream and not — by a wide variety of black creators.
But perhaps even better, Get Out could inspire more independent producers and distributors — such as Blumhouse — to get on board with making more black movies. Monumental shifts in strategy aren’t Hollywood’s bag, so studios like Blumhouse, A24, and Plan B have a chance at cornering a ripe market. Get Out is already having this effect, with Blumhouse announcing its next horror movie by a black director. If studio logic won’t favor trends that hinge on potential black audiences, someone will.