Examining Animality In Jordan Peele's Work

Curator's Note

In Jordan Peele's directorial works (Get OutUs, and Nope), animals are featured heavily as metaphorical imagery usually linked to the Black/oppressed body. In Get Out (2017), in the opening abduction sequence of Andre plays "Run Rabbit Run" by Noel Gay and Ralph Butler. As well as, Chris is associated with a deer as a symbol of his mother's death. In Us (2019), in the opening sequence, the camera pans out to rabbits in cages, a visual metaphor for the Tethered, an oppressed group of underground-dwelling people. Finally, with Nope (2022), the Haywood's are horse trainers, the horse a symbol of their lineage and livelihood, which like themselves, is being swallowed up by the spectacle. Historically, to justify the subjugation of Black people, Blackness became non-human or, as the name chattel slavery implies, animals. It was not until the 1787 3/5 compromise that enslaved people counted as some form of personage for the U.S. government. Within White Supremacy, Blackness links to nature. Scholar James Snead discusses the repetitive nature of Blackness using Hegel, who theorized that Africans were in rhythm with nature creating a cyclical history compared to European's progressive history. Snead states, "Here we can see that, being there, the African is also always already there, or perhaps always there before, whereas the European is headed there or, better, not yet there" (148). Placing Africans with nature creates a distinction for White Supremacy to be viewed as progressive or forward-thinking while Blackness is not.

This dichotomy still exists with Blackness, specifically Black masculinity, seen as naturally predatory due to their bodies. From Birth of a Nation (1915) to Michael Brown, Black male bodies are depicted as aggressive, violent predators. At the same time, Black women are sexual aggressors and desexualized caretakers. However, in Peele's horror, the predator is linked specifically not to Blackness. Contradictory to the lineage of monsters in horror, which has always been the Other (racial, gender, or sexual). An early example of Blackness as a monster is King Kong (1933). However, in Get Out, the White Armitage family is predatory by luring and capturing Black people. Us, it is the nameless societal institutions that created and imprisoned the Tethered. Nope goes further with the predator being an animal (Jean Jacket) and the media depicted through White or light skin characters (Antlers Holst and Jupe) who are shaped by animals, Jupe with Gordy's Home and Antlers Holst with the found footage of animals he edits throughout the film. By making his Black protagonist visually connected to prey animals (deer, rabbits, and horses) rather than predators, Peele makes the audience relate to the protagonist as a victim, changing our views on Blackness as historically predatory. Though prey can be victims, they are also survivors, as not all prey is caught, which makes all the difference in the horror genre. 

Work Cited:

Snead, James A. "On repetition in black culture." Black American Literature Forum 15, no. 4 (1981): 146-154. Accessed July 5, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2904326

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