After winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele’s press conference got off to an awkward start backstage.
Standing in front of a room of reporters with numbered cards in hand, the “Get Out” writer and director joked that he felt like he was “about to be auctioned off right now.” Someone else in the room replied, “You absolutely are. Get used to it.”
The room laughed at what was essentially an unintentional callback to a scene from Peele’s award-winning film. “This is creepy,” he said. The atmosphere was filled with a kind of enjoyable tension — the same feeling one might have when watching “Get Out” for the first time.
What made the whole experience even more surreal was the fact that Peele almost didn’t make the movie, let alone win a top honor for it.
The whole press conference was fascinating, but one question about the importance of awards stood out.
“As you continue to move forward telling stories about race and things that have affected us in our society, how important are Oscars and other awards essential to you for validation or to continue to move forward?” asked one reporter. Peele’s response touched on his complicated feelings around awards as a sign of validation, discussing how his 12-year-old self helped him understand why they do matter.
“I didn’t know how important this was. I always wanted this, but the campaign is grueling, and there are times when I questioned, what is it all about? You’re watching your last jump shot for a year, and as an artist, that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right to be complacent and to feel like I’ve done anything too special to reward myself.”
Once he was nominated, however, Peele says he understood how much awards helped inspire him at a young age.
“When the nominations for this came together — first of all, when the nominations came out, I had this amazing feeling of looking at the 12-year-old that had this burning in my guts for this type of validation, and I instantly realized that an award like this is much bigger than me.”
It was Whoopi Goldberg’s 1991 Best Supporting Actress Oscar win that helped fuel Peele’s own curiosity and ambitions. He hopes his win can have the same effect on others.
“This is about paying it forward to the young people who might not believe that they could achieve the highest honor in whatever craft they want to push for. You’re not a failure if you don’t get this. But I almost didn’t do it because I didn’t believe that there was a place for me. Whoopi Goldberg, in her acceptance speech for best supporting actress for ‘Ghost,’ was a huge inspiration to me, and when I got nominated, one of the first things I did was reach out and call her and thank her for telling young people who maybe doubted themselves that they could do it. So I hope that this does the same and inspires more people to use their voices.”
Peele has every reason to be inspired by Goldberg’s speech. It was filled with a beautiful combination of honesty and joy.
“I want to thank everybody who makes movies,” she said, beaming. “I come from New York. As a little kid, I lived in the projects, and you’re the people I watched. You’re the people wanted — made me want to be an actor. I’m so proud to be here. I’m proud to be an actor, and I’m gonna keep on acting. And thank you so much.”