Jordan Peele and the Art of Being Unapologetically Black

Lisa Respers France, CNN, March 22, 2019

Call it revenge of the “blerds.”

Jordan Peele, a self-proclaimed “black nerd” who helped to popularize the term as part of the comedy duo Key and Peele, is boldly going where no black man has gone before by conquering the horror film genre.

His sophomore film, “Us,” is out Friday to rave reviews and early awards season buzz for its star, Lupita Nyong’o.

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The film is on track to make history as the biggest horror film about a black family, written and directed by a black man with a mostly black cast.

Peele is among several successful creatives in Hollywood who are being unapologetically black in their craft.

Along with Peele, “Atlanta’s” Donald Glover, “Insecure’s” Issa Rae, “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, “Luke Cage” showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker and filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler have produced entertainment that showcases the African-American experience as part of the American experience as a whole, while still celebrating the uniqueness of black culture.

Collectively, they have produced content in which they don’t feel the need to give context for mainstream America.

If you don’t get a joke or a reference because it’s too “inside black baseball” as it were, there’s always Google.

They are also reminders of what should be a given but isn’t in a society fractured by debates over race and class: people of color have smart, funny, engaging and relatable stories to tell.

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Rise of the ‘blerds’

Momentum for moments like that has been building since the embracing of blerds.

The rise of black nerds was thrust into the spotlight in 2012 by NPR television critic, Eric Deggans.

“For years, we black nerds felt caught between white folks’ expectations that we’d be cooler and black folks’ disappointment that we’re clearly not,” said Deggans, who is also the author of “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation” and was at the time the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. “But then, something wonderful happened that turned the image of the black nerd sideways.”

That something, according to Deggans, was the success of argyle sweater wearing rapper Kanye West.

“Look around now and blerds are everywhere, intellectual, rock and roll loving, politics talking, comic book reading black nerds,” Deggans said.

Blerds are a tribe that has endured the, “You aren’t like other black people” wonderment and the surprised, “You are into THAT?” remarks with a polite smile to the face and an eye roll as soon as they turn away.

Black Hollywood

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Not only is there the ever looming specter of the lack of diversity (hello #OscarsSoWhite), but black people in Hollywood are almost always held up as representatives of their culture.

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“Us” on its own is an already critically acclaimed horror film, predicted to scare up major box office receipts.

And while it is not explicitly about race, like Peele’s first film, “Get Out,” there are layers of identity themes in “Us,” which centers on a black family and their murderous doppelgangers.

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Lisa Respers France

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