A Retrospective On Jordan Peele’s post-Get Out Career and Copaganda
Jordan Peele has brought me out of my two to three year long hiatus of writing film reviews for his latest film, Nope (2022).
I’ve seen all of Peele’s films in theaters, on opening weekend, and this one definitely ranks third out of all of his films.
I was apprehensive to see this film because lately Peele’s work has left a rancid taste in my mouth. He hasn’t directed a film since Us (2019) but I have been keeping up with his producing titles.
Peele produced a show on TBS, The Last O.G. (2018-2021). The concept originally was refreshing and hilarious. A Gen X Black man (Tracey Morgan) gets out of prison after more than a decade to not only learn that Brooklyn is gentrifying rapidly BUT he also has teenage twins with his former girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish).
The show brought a comedic and honest light to the struggles ex-cons face when reintegrating into society. The Last O.G. starts to lose its perspective when they start integrating cops into the plot lines. In a fascist America where the representation in politics means nothing, this was disappointing.
Peele winning an Oscar when I was in college meant a lot to me. I had just taken my second screenwriting class and wasn’t sure if I had any talent at all. But with that win my surrealist and absurd ideas seemed valid and worth the investment.
Maybe I expect too much out of Peele. I don’t put people on pedestals but a craft and voice I respect full heartedly is hard to come by. So the fact that Peele’s work is now pandering to Black liberalism which is actually white liberalism which is actually white picket fence and vivid lawn sign protected-facade-of-an-existence-of-a-middle-class conservatism, is particularly heart breaking for me.
I simply and wrongly assumed he was better than that.
The Last O.G. is not the last time cops were included in a Peele narrative as some sort of gotcha moment. In Candyman (2021), which he also produced, there is a scene where cops are massacred. The film is directed by a Black woman, Nia DaCosta (who also has a writing credit), and written by the President of MonkeyPaw (Peele’s production company), Win Rosenfield–an ethnically ambiguous white man in the vein of Jason Mantzoukas.
I am not sure how anyone who was actually listening to Black people in 2020 when the only activity available was to listen to Black people, would think this is a satisfying scene.
That scene was performative. It was Kamala. It was Obama. It was Oprah. It was Beyonce on a cop car while her husband and his friends make millions off of “prison reform.”
The fact that it came from Black filmmakers makes it even more disturbing. Not only was it an unsatisfying conclusion for a story that never made any damn sense…It was rude.
There was even a scene in Us where Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss) tells Ophelia, an Alexa-like device, to call the police.
Ophelia sassily plays N.W.A’s, “Fuck Da Police,” instead. The white people in the audience laughed. This felt like a step in the opposite direction from Get Out. How did that song even get cleared for that scene? Rhetorical question.
In Nope, I was happy to see that there were no cops…In a way. They came at the end and you hear them on the news when Emerald “Em” Hayward (KeKe Palmer) is watching T.V. And that’s it. Like all cops in the media, they don’t do anything so why are they in the narrative at all?
When Em Hayward is introduced, she is an unreliable, horny, and annoying younger sister. Her journey throughout the film doesn’t make much sense. Her and her brother, OJ Hayward (Daniel Kaluuya), go from having a job on a set to being unemployed. Because she does not help him. She is more a mooch and social climber.
After the death of their father, their finances are shaky. OJ sells some horses to Jupe (Steven Yuen) and Em isn’t much help there either. So it was odd and bewildering for her to be the difference of life and death for the siblings in act three. When did she become a person that he could rely on?
The qualities that would have made Em redeemable and an asset were passed onto secondary characters––the tech guy, Angel (Brandon Perea), and the filmmaker fascinated by animalistic instincts, Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott). Em’s only skill seems to be schmoozing.
Meanwhile OJ does everything business related, mostly in a numb, auto pilot mode. Angel sets up cameras and shows the siblings the cloud where the UFO is hiding. The UFO wipes out electricity whenever it is active. Antler has a camera that doesn’t require electricity.
These would have been great characterizations and skills for Em. Instead she is a comic relief and we have to wait for her to grow up…
The first hour of the film is a lot of waiting. Nope could easily be 40 minutes to an hour shorter if the UFO started wreaking havoc, real havoc, earlier.
UFO movie plots go something like this. The UFO/extra-terrestrial shows up. Citizens go, “OMG what does it want?” Obviously something only Earth has, humans. Or mosquitos like in Lilo and Stitch (2002). Then the UFO takes what it wants. Citizens fight back. Citizens win.
The problem with most UFO film plots is they force characters to be inherently inactive because the characters can’t interact with it until it interacts with them. Leaving the characters to guess and try to make sense of something that doesn’t want to be rationalized or studied.
Like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977), which Peele credits as an inspiration for Nope, also has an obscenely long run time, the audience is waiting for that poetic moment at the end. Where extra-terrestrials and humans can coexist or the filmmaker paints an illusion that we can.
A similar moment is attempted in the final ten minutes of Nope, with an epic horn-filled score by Peele’s frequent collaborator, Michael Abels (Get Out, Us, See You Yesterday). The magnitude of the sequence relies almost solely on the score since it’s not clear how this plan came to be. This motley crew that spans Gen Z to Millennial to Boomer…Are they chasing fame or safety? Does fame mean safety?
Peele’s version of this moment lacks the poetry.
If the Haywards get the millions of dollars that Em believes comes with documenting the creature, then what will they do with it?
Em is still Em? Makes TikTok’s? Becomes an influencer? Charges $1000 a head for a workshop of how you can become a documentarian of extra-terrestrial life?
OJ…Does he finally get a chance to grieve his father, Otis (Keith David)? What happens to the ranch? The amusement park?
What happens to Angel and his studio apartment? Does he move into a slightly bigger studio apartment?
Now that these characters have time and resources to think, what will happen next for them?
They must be different than before. Right? But there is no evidence that Em is less selfish than in the beginning or that OJ’s tunnel vision has subsided.
These characterization details were overlooked and ultimately could have really helped the audience connect to the story. People were laughing at Em, never with her. We were led to believe she would be a final girl and was delighted when she wasn’t. OJ deserved to see the mission carried out.
We were also led to believe that since Kaluuya has been in the industry for 20 years that DP Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her, and Tenet) would be able to light his skin properly.
Tom Hall, Artistic Director of the Montclair Film Festival, speaks about the film history, animal imagery, and allegories in his review of Nope. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in the world building of the film.
Ultimately Peele’s brand is progressively becoming more liberal. The emptiest form of liberalism. Where representation matters because it can fill an executive’s pockets.
This may very well be the last Peele work I engage with.