Jordan Peele’s Easter Eggs by Sarah Almi

Following his directorial debut with the horror film Get Out in 2017, Jordan Peele achieved popular and critical acclaim which was only augmented by his sophomore film, Us (2019). One of the hallmarks of Peele’s films that entices viewers and encourages multiple screenings is the immense amount of “Easter eggs” or seemingly hidden aspects of the film which can work to foreshadow, symbolize, or otherwise inform the viewer about the film’s content. A quick Google search about either of Peele’s films will present multiple articles describing to the viewer all of the Easter eggs that they missed, which helps to establish Peele’s mastery as a director while simultaneously motivating multiple screenings, keeping these films in the public consciousness. The hunt for Peele’s Easter eggs is unlike any other, which leads one to wonder what causes the audience to pay an unusually large amount of attention to what a casual viewer might otherwise regard as irrelevant details in the background of a shot. The answer can be found by first considering the significance of shot framing in the horror genre, as well as the ways that horror works to blend fiction with reality. In addition, the history of Black characters on screen prompts viewers’ attentiveness to the periphery and background of the frame, due to the connectedness of Black identity to geographical spaces supplemented by the astute and inquisitive nature of Black characters in film, especially in the horror genre. Using scenes from both Get Out and Us as examples will show that Peele plays on these concepts and the long-standing history of Black characters on screen to successfully deliver Easter eggs and hints to viewers.

Prior to delving into Peele’s work, it is important to establish the significance of framing in the horror genre. As Cecilia Sayad states, the frame in horror “invites considerations about both the harboring of monsters off-screen and the dangers lurking in the dark corners of a delimited visual field.”[1] In other words, framing in the horror genre serves to constantly remind viewers of what lies beyond. One can look at films where the viewer never sees the monster, such as The Boogeyman (1980) or Bird Box (2018), as obvious examples of horror produced by what lies off screen. Of course, essentially all horror films do this, and by creating this “apprehension about what the frame may reveal” viewers have been trained to repeatedly scan the frame.[2] Because of the close connection between what lies on/off frame in a horror film and the intended reaction of fear from the viewer, the genre’s relationship with even the most casual viewer is unique, and in many cases, viewers must pay attention to the entire frame to achieve the full emotional effect. This is not to discount the importance of shot-framing and mise-en-scène in other film genres, but to point out that the frame is directly related to the narrative itself in horror.

Since viewers are motivated to pay attention to the entire frame, we must then ask what within it calls one’s attention. Evan Calder Williams argues that our attention is specifically drawn to “forms, techniques, details, and affects that threaten to throw off their role as backdrop.”[3] Looking at both Get Out and Us, it makes sense that a viewer is drawn to Peele’s carefully placed visual hints or Easter eggs as they are noticeable in the repeatedly surveyed background. For instance, in Get Out, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a Black man, hesitantly travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family, and it turns out that she and her family run and partake in a form of modern-day slavery. Prior to this reveal, Peele places hints on screen to signal that something is off. As Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his girlfriend, and he drive to her house, she runs into a deer, killing it. The death of the deer itself can be understood as a bad omen, its blood is splattered across the passenger side of the car where Chris sits. This splatter of blood on the car stands out in the backdrop and visually foreshadows that Chris is in imminent danger.

Now, although Williams’ and Sayad’s arguments seem to explain away why audiences pay extra attention to the frame and mise-en-scène in horror films, Peele working within this genre is not all that leads to the special amount of attention placed on the Easter eggs in his films. There are countless other horror films for which such close analysis of the frame is nonexistent. Instead, the existence of Black characters on screen also prompts viewers, whether intentionally or not, to pay close attention to their surroundings.

Before delving into how this functions in Peele’s films, we must understand why the connection between Black people on screen and geography exists. As Nicola Mann describes, Black people on screen have long been associated with the city and urban spaces. Mann writes specifically about the media portrayal of Chicago’s urban housing projects and how their depiction furthered the narrative of dangerous city spaces due to the large minority demographics. This association of minorities, particularly Black people, with urban spaces is a common trend.[4] Many popular Black-fronted films are connected to a particular location (e.g. Boyz in the Hood [1991], Straight Outta Compton [2015]). In contrast, this same linkage to spaces and geographies with white characters does not exist, meaning that a “white” movie can unquestionably take place anywhere.

Horror heightens this association, especially when Black characters move between different, often racial, geographies. Ryan Poll explains how these racial geographies in film connect to the Afro-Pessimist concept of racialized zones. Afro-Pessimism is a critical framework that is based on the idea that “the modern world was created by Black slavery [and] the world of White Masters and Black Slaves is the world we have inherited and… live in today.”[5] With this in mind, Poll cites Franz Fanon, “a foundational voice of Afro-Pessimism” and his theory that “colonial modernity is structured by distinct and segregated racialized ‘zones.’”[6] This theory argues that these zones separated whites, or masters, from Blacks, or slaves. The white zones are brightly lit, paved, and clean; essentially a perfect suburbia. This exact image is what opens Get Out. Andre (LaKeith Stanfield) is a Black man who states that he is lost in the suburbs, a white zone, and so Peele immediately calls our attention to the background of the film. Instantly, we pay close attention to the white car innocuously driving through the suburb, and as it turns around to follow Andre, our attention to the backdrop of the frame is rewarded, encouraging us to continue doing so throughout the film. This disruption of white zones is reflected in the larger narrative in which Chris, a successful Black photographer living in the city, must visit his white girlfriend’s family in upstate New York. Chris’s nervousness about the trip into this overwhelmingly white space, along with viewers’ likely unconscious preparation to pay close attention to the mise-en-scène due to the long-standing connection of Black people to urban spaces, as well as the introduction to the film itself, is a large part of why Peele’s Easter eggs are successful.

Indeed, a heightened level of observance is also associated with Black characters in horror. Many are aware of the genre’s trope where Black characters seem to notice something is awry first, and they typically die first as a result. This inquisitiveness of Black characters encourages the same behavior from viewers. In the same article mentioned above, Ryan Poll states that a Black horror movie that follows the genres dominant conventions is an oxymoron, since Black characters would intuit the impending horror immediately because “for African Americans, horror is not a genre, but a structuring paradigm.”[7] Poll argues that the horror genre works due to the fact that white people imagine the world without horror; that it can happen, but only “over there.”[8] On the other hand, Black people are well aware that “the world is pervaded with horror.”[9] This leads to the astute instincts which Black characters regularly display in the genre. In Get Out, Chris is afraid to visit the Armitage house, though the true horror of the situation is not revealed until much later. His wariness is only amplified by his best friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who is vehemently against Chris’s trip. As Chris begins to notice that something seems off, Rod is actually able to fully deduce what is happening off instinct and lived experience. The uneasiness of both these characters and their attention to small details, such as Chris noticing that his phone has been unplugged from the charger by the Armitage’s maid, leads to viewers mimicking that behavior and level of observance.

Peele’s sophomore film Us, though about a different subject matter that more closely follows horror conventions, creates the same effect. In Us, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) plays the inquisitive Black female role. She is the one who remained paranoid and wary of her surroundings during her family’s vacation to a spot where she underwent some childhood trauma. Because of her apprehension, she is able to take charge and protect her family when their evil doppelgängers attempt to take over the world. Still, her shrewdness causes the audience to act the same way in their viewing, leading to them pick up on Peele’s hints about what is wrong before the ultimate truth is revealed.

As a result, both the form and narrative subjects of Peele’s films work together to call attention to the background of his films. In regard to Get Out, some well-known examples of Easter eggs are: all the attendees of the Armitage dinner party/slave auction are wearing red, signaling violence or danger; each of the Armitage’s victims are wearing something on their head, whether it be bangs or a hat, to cover their lobotomy scar; and the
“Death Cheetah vs. Matter” poster on Rose’s wall signaling the family’s goal to cheat death by transferring their consciousness into Black bodies. In Us, the Easter eggs hint towards the existence and attributes of the tethered doppelgängers. For example, the film opens with a TV surrounded by videotapes such as C.H.U.D. (1984), The Goonies (1985), and The Man With Two Brains (1983), which all allude to the tethered in some way. Throughout the film, there are also many instances of the number eleven, hinting at the idea of doubles and sameness.

Though these are only a handful of examples of the Easter eggs in Peele’s work, it becomes clear that they are an integral part of these films. Peele’s Easter eggs are significant, as their immense success relies on both a viewer’s consciousness of the frame and the history of how and where Black people are represented on screen and in the horror genre. Peele’s films are widely recognized as important due to their focus on Black characters and stories that the horror genre extremely lacks, but perhaps we should also view their significance from this visual standpoint. Furthermore, these films’ visual hints and the attention they’ve gained are so significant to the horror genre that other popular directors, such as Ari Aster, who directed Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019), have also begun to use Easter eggs in their films for foreshadowing or symbolic purposes. Looking towards the future, it is safe to presume that Peele’s meticulous attention to detail will influence the next era of the horror genre.


[1] Cecilia Sayad, “Found-Footage Horror and the Frame’s Undoing,” Cinema Journal 55, no. 2 (2016): 48.

[2] Sayad, “Found-Footage Horror,” 58.

[3] Evan Calder Williams, “Sunset with Chainsaw,” Film Quarterly 64, no. 4 (2011): 33.

[4] Nicola Mann, “Do Not Believe the Hype: The Death and Resurrection of Public Housing in the American Visual Image,” in Habitus of the Hood, edited by Chris Richardson and Hans A Skott-Myhre (Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2012), 273–298.

[5] Ryan Poll, “Can One ‘Get Out?’: The Aesthetics of Afro-Pessimism,” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 51, no. 2 (2018): 70.

[6]  Poll, “Can One ‘Get Out?,’” 77.

[7] Poll, “Can One ‘Get Out?,’” 71.

[8] Poll, “Can One ‘Get Out?,’” 70.

[9] Poll, “Can One ‘Get Out?,’” 70.