3 Ways Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is inspired by Zwarte Piet.
Hooray for Jordan Peele! The writer and director of ‘Get Out’ won Best Original Screenplay, the first African-American to win in that category. As Dutch NOS News reported, “2 Years After #OscarsSoWhite Chances Are Growing for Black Oscars.”
But the Dutch national news missed an interesting detail – JORDAN PEELE STARTED HIS CAREER IN THE NETHERLANDS.
In fact – having worked alongside Jordan for 3+ years – here are 3 reasons I think the inspiration for ‘Get Out’ was partly Zwarte Piet.
Note: I haven’t contacted Jordan for this article – yet. (He’s a bit busy.) The connection only occurred to me on Sunday, when Mark Rutte posted his campaign video “Celebrating Sinterklaas Doesn’t Make You Racist.”
Also note: I realize I am jumping on the bandwagon of Jordan’s phenomenal success, because that’s what white folks do. In fact – since watching ‘Get Out,’ I’ve had to guiltily wonder how much inspiration I myself may have provided.
In ‘Get Out,’ Jordan Peele’s main character Chris is invited to leave his home, go visit a bunch of white people, and feel like he’s onstage the whole time. That pretty much sums up Jordan’s life in Amsterdam.
Jordan Peele started his career in Amsterdam at Boom Chicago from 2000-2004. He was so young! He and Becky Drysdale were hired on the basis of their show ‘2 White Guys’ (neither of them being white guys). So it’s fair to say racism – and sexism – were on the top of his mind when he got to Amsterdam.
It was in the winter of 2000 that Jordan Peele experienced Zwarte Piet for the first time. He wasn’t the first African-American cast member to do so. That distinction goes to Holly Walker in 1998, whose experience must have softened the blow. Jordan didn’t write a lot about it at the time.
(But Amber Ruffin did. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za_e9Ip9o9U&t=28s )
I’m not sure if racism remained a theme for Jordan once he got to Boom Chicago – because he was high a large part of the time. Yes, the weed culture played a part in many of Boom Chicago’s transplants from the US. But Jordan took to weed like a fish to water. Jordan, high, was brilliant. He quickly developed some mainstay characters, including MC Forest Whitaker (‘I’m awkward, I talk weird. My left eye is Peter Falk weird.’). He also developed Rodrigo, the Latin lover, whose ‘love for all women’ would quickly go to the grossly overweight and burn victims – whatever it took to creep people out. He was already mixing comedy and horror.
But Jordan’s biggest hit at Boom Chicago was Ute, the Swedish supermodel – in which he transcended both racial and gender roles. The inspiration for Ute was a Eurovision Song Contest with a randomly blond hostess, who spoke terrible English with supreme confidence. He performed Ute as a duo with the hugely talented Brendan Hunt. And in 2003 the two of them took a show to Edinburgh called ‘Here Comes the Neighborhood,’ referencing the reaction of white folks when black people move in.
[Footnote: it was also in 2003 that Jordan joined the Boom Chicago tour to Chicago for the Second City Swap – the only time another comedy group has performed on the Second City stage. And it was at an improv set after the show that Jordan met Keegan Michael Key.]
[Front row left: Jordan Peele. Back row right, Keegan Michael Key. Second City, 2003.]
[Footnote: In 2001, Boom Chicago hired Colton Dunn, also African American. Jordan later revealed that he was afraid for his job, assuming that no comedy group would want TWO black ensemble members. Funny that Colton ended up a writer on ‘Key & Peele,’ where they made this sketch.
TWO. Jordan’s experience in Amsterdam inspired the central theme of ‘Get Out” – Progressive Racism.
A poster for ‘Get Out’ says ‘Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you’re WELCOME…’
Dutch culture is famously progressive – tolerant, open and multi-ethnic – which can make it all the more jarring when you find out it’s still rather racist. Case in point: Zwarte Piet. I’ve seen progressive Dutch people insist that they’re really quiet progressive, and that Zwarte Piet is not intended to be racist – ignoring the effect it may have on people of color. It’s rather like Bradley Whitford insisting that he’d have voted for Barack Obama a third time, if he could.
Yes, the Dutch are famously open and tolerant. But if you feel uncomfortable with certain Dutch traditions, you quickly find you’re not exactly welcome. In fact, to quote the Prime Minister, ‘If you don’t like it here – GET OUT.’
In ‘Get Out,’ the main character finds himself in armed conflict with his hosts. And at Boom Chicago, Jordan Peele made this video, in which 2 Zwarte Pieten rise up in armed revolt against Sinterklaas.
aka ‘Zwarte Piet Unchained’
(written by Pep Rosenfeld)
SO, Dutch people, there it is. You can claim credit for Jordan Peele and ‘Get Out!’ All you have to do is admit that some people really do experience Zwarte Piet as a little bit racist.