Jordan Peele had already made Oscars history just with his trifecta of nominations. When he won the award for best original screenplay last night (March 4), he made history twice more.
For starters, the Get Out writer-director became the first black writer in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards to win an Oscar for best original screenplay. Peele beat stiff competition in the category, including Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon for The Big Sick.
Speaking backstage after his win, Peele said the current spate of successful films by black filmmakers marked a “renaissance.”
“I almost never became a director because there was such a shortage of role models,” he said. “I’m so proud to be part of the beginning of a movement where I feel like the best films in every genre are being brought to me by my fellow black directors.”
“An award like this is much bigger than me,” Peele added. “This is about paying it forward to the young people who might not believe that they could achieve the highest honor in whatever craft they want to push for.”
Peele said that Whoopi Goldberg’s 1991 Oscars speech after she won best supporting actress for Ghost inspired him to continue pursuing filmmaking at a time when he felt like it might not be possible. He also cited Spike Lee, John Singleton, and the Hughes brothers as inspirations.
Get Out, a satirical film about a young black man terrorized by his white girlfriend’s family, has been dubbed everything from a horror to a comedy. Peele himself has called the burgeoning genre a “social thriller,” while Universal Pictures has marketed it as a “speculative thriller“. If you consider it primarily a horror film, as many do, then Peele’s screenplay win broke ground another way: It was the first time a horror film has ever won for an original screenplay.
In a genre not usually known for strong writing, Peele’s Get Out was a fresh and clever entry into the scary-movie canon. It had already won screenplay awards at the Writers Guild of America and Critics’ Choice Awards, but the ultimate test was with the Oscars’ broader voting Academy, which historically hasn’t appreciated original screenplays like Peele’s. (Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist, both based on books, won in past years for best adapted screenplay—they’re among the only previous examples of horror getting its due.)
But with an increasingly younger and more diverse voting bloc, the Academy not only awarded a black writer a well-deserved screenplay award, but also embraced a genre toward which Oscars voters of old would have turned up their noses.