Birthdate : February 21, 1979
Birthplace : New York City, New York, USA
Almost singlehandedly inventing a new and exciting movie sub-genre--the social horror movie--Jordan Peele (birthname: Jordan Haworth Peele) has already altered the landscape of contemporary American movies in the span of just three features, including his 2022 science fiction-western-horror saga, Nope, with Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yuen.
Even more remarkable is that Peele has earned great commercial success as a Black filmmaker addressing controversial and fraught issues around racism, and also has arrived at the pinnacle of important Hollywood filmmakers from the unlikely route of sketch TV comedy; the only comparable examples are comics-turned-filmmakers Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, and further back to the silent era, Charlie Chaplin jumping from vaudeville into the movies.
After working as a sketch comic at Chicago’s The Second City comedy troupe and Amsterdam-based Boom Chicago, Peele was cast for the ensemble of Fox’s MADtv (1995-2009), and after five seasons, created a Comedy Central sketch show with MADtv collaborator Keegan-Michael Key. With Key, Pelle expanded the pair’s palette, first, acting as a pair of FBI agents in the first season of Noah Hawley’s FX adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (2014), and then as co-stars, writers, and producers of the comedy, Keanu (2016), with Method Man, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, and Will Forte.
For those observing the comedy team, the expected next step was more Key & Peele movies, but Peele turned in a surprising, and perhaps even revolutionary direction: His stunning and galvanizing directorial debut, Get Out (2017), with the superb cast of Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, and Catherine Keener, instigating a roiling cultural conversation about race in America, but in the new context of a black Black comedy blending satire and horror in equal measure.
It can be argued that no American movie since Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove had combined the forces of mass entertainment, brilliant comedy writing, politics, and hot-button issues to such a successful and impactful degree. Produced by Universal Pictures for $4.5 million, Get Out grossed $255 million worldwide, ranking it in the top ten most profitable 2017 releases. It earned Peele the first Best Screenplay Oscar ever won by a Black writer.
Overnight, Jordan Peele was widely recognized as a vitally important filmmaker, the kind of overnight success that rarely occurs inside the confines of the studio system. What makes Peele’s case so unusual in current American movies is that his mastery of the medium was so immediately apparent, so unexpected, and done with no connection to the well-established system and network of American indie filmmaking, which existed to produce precisely the kind of movie that Get Out was.
Even Kubrick—to whom Peele is often compared (for his daring and radical approaches to multiple genres, his dark comedy, his visual precision, and craft)—had a filmmaking apprenticeship in low-budget, independent filmmaking; Peele had only previously worked on one previous movie (Keanu), produced by a studio (Warner Bros.).
Indeed, except for his and director Henry Selick’s stop-motion animated 2022 Netflix project titled Wendell & Wild, all of Peele’s subsequent movies have been produced under the Universal banner, starting with Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman (2018), on which Peele served as producer and released by Universal-owned Focus Features. Peele also co-wrote and produced the long-delayed reboot of Candyman (2021), directed by Nia DaCosta and starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and Vanessa Williams, and made as a sequel to the original 1992 Bernard Rose horror film.
Jordan Peele’s second feature, Us (2019), with Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker, more than fulfilled the high expectations set by Get Out, earning universal acclaim and a $255 million worldwide gross. The movie’s building sense of dread—through the ghoulish use of doppelgangers—and unique story revelations (with allusions as wide as The Bible, Jaws (1975), and Michael Haneke’s influential social horror film, Funny Games (1997)) expanded the possibilities of the social horror genre that few other American writer-directors were attempting.
In 2022, Jordan Peele’s Nope, also produced and released by Universal, marks his third feature as writer-producer-director and finds new variations on his themes of race, society, and inequity combined with tropes from the Western and the 1950s paranoid science fiction genre. A notable aspect of Nope was Universal’s (and presumably Peele’s) marketing and promotion campaign, which began during the film’s production in 2021 and continued with a series of startling teaser ads leading to much-discussed trailers prior to the film’s July 2022 release.
Outside of filmmaking, Peele has served as a voice actor in a range of animated features, including Storks (2016), Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017), Toy Story 4 (2019), The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022), a co-starring role with Keegan-Michael Key in Wendell & Wild, and Evan Marlowe’s Abruptio (2022), with Robert Englund, Christopher McDonald, and Sid Haig.
New York City-born Jordan Peele is the child of Black father Hayward Peele Jr., originally from North Carolina, and white mother Lucinda, who hails from Maryland. Peele was raised by Lucinda on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, attending New York’s Computer School and graduating from The Calhoun School on the Upper West Side.
Peele attended Sarah Lawrence College but dropped out after two years to pursue comedy with performing partner Rebecca Drysdale, who later became a writer with his comedy act and show, Key & Peele (2012-2015). Jordan Peele has been married to actor/comedian/writer Chelsea Peretti since 2016 when they eloped; the couple has one child, Beaumont, born in 2017. His height is 5’ 7½”.
Family Roots: Jordan Peele, through his mother Lucinda, is related to Abraham Woodhull, a member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring in New York City during the Revolutionary War.
Obama 2.0: After successfully auditioning to play Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live, the writers’ strike shut down production. Instead, Peele performed Obama on MADtv.
Meet the President: Jordan Peele’s first TV appearance was as a 15-year-old on the ABC News special, “President Clinton Answering Children’s Questions,” in which he asked Clinton a question about single moms receiving support from fathers—an issue directly from Peele’s family life.
Tributed: Fellow filmmaker Barry Jenkins wrote a tribute to Peele when he was selected as Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2017.
Dutch Comedy: Although he is closely identified with American-style comedy and movies focused on American social tensions, Jordan Peele worked as a comedian and lived in the Netherlands for the sketch comedy company, Boom Chicago, based in Amsterdam.