On Christmas morning 2018 Lupita Nygong’o was in Kisumu, Kenya, with her family when the trailer to her movie Us was unwrapped for the world. “It was the end of the day when it was dropping [there]. I had a really poor internet connection, so I really wasn’t part of the craziness until 24 hours later, when I started to see a little bit of the reactions. But it was really, really cool to see people immediately get into it.”
Within minutes of the trailer being released, fans began to flood social media with theories, reactions and artwork paying tribute to the film. Every frame of the clip was dissected and analyzed as people tried to make sense of the shadowy figures wielding scissors, the rabbits and music; The Luniz' “I Got 5 on It” was featured prominently with an eerie, orchestral remake.
Us is Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning 2017 film, Get Out, but is different from it in many important ways. Where Get Out was a biting critique of race and race relations, he asserted from the start that Us was not about race.
“One of the problems with lack of representation is it is rare for a film starring a Black cast and Black leads to not be about race in some way,” Peele tells BET.com. “And that, I think, is one of the boxes that this industry has tried to put us African-Americans in. So it was very important for me to make a movie that was not about race. You’ve never seen a Black person buy a boat in a movie, and for that moment to feel fresh, I think is a little mini catharsis, at least.”
Us is anchored by superb performances from Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as the Wilson family, four everyday Americans trying to enjoy a relaxing vacation in Santa Cruz, California. However, Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) is haunted by the impending arrival of her doppelgänger and her family, simply known as The Tethered.
“Adelaide is an all-American mom, and she’s riddled by this trauma from her childhood that she can’t really explain,” says Nyong’o. “And she feels like something bad is going to happen, and she’s proven right when these four shadowy figures show up at the top of her driveway. And her worst nightmare ensues from there. For her and her family.”
Nyong’o is empathetic as Adelaide, yet taps into a reservoir of pain for her portrayal of Red, the crimson-clad alter ego hell bent on confronting her. “It was quite the challenge to play both of them and to advocate for such opposing viewpoints. But it’s one of the feats of my career so far.”
“Everybody knew it from the first moment she comes on as Adelaide, the main, she’s an iconic horror heroine,” says Peele. “When she entered as Red, the evil character, something completely different happened. The set hushed. It was as if we were in the presence of evil royalty. Which is exactly what the character is. I’ve never seen that kind of focus from an actor.”
As the cocky yet awkward Gabe, Winston Duke is the polar opposite of his Wakandan warrior character, M’Baku, who stole the show in Marvel’s Black Panther.
“He’s there to be the pressure-release valve,” Duke says of Gabe. “When everything gets really tense, he uses comedy and humor to chill it out for a second. He gets to be the truth teller in the film.”
Gabe’s doppelgänger is the silent but deadly Abraham, who is the brawn to Red’s brain.
“Abraham is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s defined by not having a lot of privilege and not having a lot of access. What happens to the being without? They were two really connected, great characters that lived on opposite sides of the spectrum.”
The one thing Us has in common with Get Out is that it defies convention. Even billed as a horror movie, there is so much to unpack that moviegoers who are not fans of the genre will find themselves immersed in its many messages. If two minutes could inspire days' worth of conversation online, imagine when viewers consume the full film.
“I’ve been so eager and waiting with bated breath to just hear what people think,” Peele says with excitement. “My favorite part of these conversations is the art that comes out, seeing people inspired and their work comes and inspires me. Listening to people’s theories, some of which are spot on, some of which are like, “How much are YOU smoking?” I mean, there’s nothing better.”
Us in theaters everywhere March 22.
Photo Credit: Universal Studios