Jordan Peele has a new collection of scary stories called 'Out There Screaming'
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
In 2017, comedian Jordan Peele took a sharp career turn when he wrote and directed the horror film "Get Out."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET OUT")
CATHERINE KEENER: (As Missy Armitage) You're so scared.
DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) Why can't I move?
KEENER: (As Missy Armitage) You're paralyzed. Now sink into the floor.
KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
KEENER: (As Missy Armitage) Sink.
FADEL: "Get Out" made Peele the first Black person awarded a best original screenplay Oscar. And he was suddenly a sought-after horror filmmaker. Now he's edited a new collection of scary stories titled "Out There Screaming." Brittany Luse is the host of NPR's It's Been A Minute, and she spoke with Jordan Peele.
BRITTANY LUSE, BYLINE: The subtitle for this book is "An Anthology Of New Black Horror." What makes this new?
JORDAN PEELE: This sort of landscape we live in of Black America and what is becoming less and less white America. But we still recognize a strong hold of white supremacy. The dynamic is shifting every day. There are books that are being challenged that weren't challenged a little while ago. What makes it new is that we're living in a new world every day. Upon reading these, you do find that there is the newness of them. These are - for the most part, feel like stories that couldn't be told a couple of years ago because of even the context of the world they're in.
LUSE: Can you give me an example of something that you're thinking about?
PEELE: "A Dark Home" by Nnedi Okorafor. The way it combines an ancient African spirit...
PEELE: ...With modern technology and this idea of a smart home is just something that is just so unique to her sort of world builds and just a beautiful story. And so this is just something that feels so fresh to me and so unexpected. And that she's able to pull off essentially dual horror subgenres in here, one with this modern sci-fi and one that feels like this other kind of depth to it.
LUSE: I wonder - when it came to the short stories in "Out There Screaming," was there, like, a device or a thesis that just bowled you over in editing this series?
PEELE: You know, there's a motif of eyes that emerges in several of the stories. And it's also a theme in my work and throughout art. But I find it very interesting how there's an association with - a really dark association with eyes and vision. And a lot of it is about what we think of as the white gaze or the white supremacist gaze, even, in some cases. Part of the Black experience is that our identity is so wrapped up in with how we're perceived and how we're seen and how we're imagined to be because of how we're seen.
LUSE: No, that's a really good point. When you say eyes, I think of the first story that appears in the book by N.K. Jemisin about a Black cop who sees human eyes in the headlights of cars. As a Black person, you're always the subject, rarely the person who's gazing, rarely the person who's looking.
PEELE: To just talk for a moment about "Get Out" and the Sunken Place, which was this mental prison that the main character, Chris, is sent to, it involves this idea of being able to look through your eyes, to be able to see clearly but to not be able to have an effect, not be able to use your judgment or your wisdom or your Blackness to solve this problem.
LUSE: Yeah. I wonder - and it's something I've been thinking about. I'd love to get your thoughts on this. For a lot of Black people, real life is scary. Like, real life is scary enough. But I wonder, if real life is scary enough for Black people, why do we need Black horror?
PEELE: Well, not - of course, not everyone does. You know, some people just don't like horror. And, well, you know, I have a theory about people who don't like horror. These are the same people that will watch 10 seasons of "Criminal Minds" and try and act like that's not some dark stuff.
PEELE: You know, but...
LUSE: That is interesting.
PEELE: (Laughter). No, but you raise a great question. And this was the big debate going into "Get Out" - that this was an area - grounded horror, as grounded as it could be - that explores suffering Black people, white villainry at its most diabolical. And so my fear was if this doesn't land right or if this doesn't ring true, people would say, what are you doing? And so there was just a faith in this idea that if I pull it off, it will release something. And that's sort of exactly what happened. When we are allowed to process our feelings and our fears in creative ways, I feel like good things happen.
Part of what I love about this project, "Out There Screaming" is, you know, after "Get Out," I was approached by so many people that said, oh, my gosh, I've had some story that I've wanted to tell, but I just didn't think they'd ever let me do something like that. Or, oh, man, when I saw this movie, I was mad for a second because I wanted to be the one to do it, but you kind of did it. And now realizing that it's not that everyone had "Get Out" to make - it's that everyone had an expression of their fear that they had wanted to show. And you can't ignore your Blackness when you're writing a horror story.
LUSE: It's like Black horror serves a purpose in that it provides a place for people to - through writing it, creating it, shooting it, directing it or taking it in, to kind of process this elemental human thing that we all deal with, which is fear.
PEELE: Yeah. And it's hard to do. You know, when you apply horror to the Black experience, you come up with a lot of nightmarish reality, as you point out. So it's difficult to craft a horror that is also an escape...
PEELE: ...And is not just pushing us into that place.
LUSE: Well, Jordan, thank you so much for joining us today. It was so great to have you.
PEELE: So great to be here. Thank you so much, Brittany.
LUSE: "Out There Screaming: An Anthology Of New Black Horror" is out now. Brittany Luse, NPR News.
FADEL: You can hear more from that interview on NPR's It's Been A Minute. And you can listen on your member station or catch the podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL ABELS' "GARDEN PARTY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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