During Barack Obama’s presidency, Jordan Pele was inspired by the illusion of equality in the United States and created the essential film, get out. It was Peele’s impassioned response to a complacent country obsessed with revisionist history that acted as if it lived in a post-racial society. In his second film, Peele swung hard with the 2019s We. A film that demands everything audiences to reflect on the paradox of living in a capitalist system and how circumstance, not hard work, dictates opportunity. Because of that demanding commentary and the state of cinema during the pandemic, Peele decided he wanted to make a movie for all audiences – with a twist.
Well, he did. Peele’s Nope is the summer 2022 blockbuster and more. The film is a visual masterpiece with a disturbing soundscape that makes the film quite an immersive spectacle. This cinematic treasure has enough cinematic iconography to be Peele’s personal love letter to Hollywood and moviegoers. However, behind the balloons, the confetti and the spectacle of Nopethere is a subversive subtext that will challenge the audience: the fallacy of the American dream and the symptoms of its lies.
The problematic ethos of the United States began as Manifest Destiny during the westward expansion/invasion, which focused on exploiting the west for its land and resources. This movement morphed into what modern traditionalists call the American Dream. The evolution of European racial, ethnic and economic superiority turned into nationalist rhetoric about equal opportunities for all. Of course, the hypocrisies of the American ethos are known to those it most actively deprives, marginalizes and excludes. The truth is that the American dream is manipulative: it tempts you to look at the world’s opportunities, exploit them, put on a show, and continue a cycle of oppression in the name of material growth. Artists like Peele have become essential in illustrating those American hypocrisies that have the most negative impact on underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.
The attraction and therefore the fallacy of the American dream is manifested by Nopenumerous shows and is Peele’s stroke of genius. Accepting the American Dream as genuine and exploiting others as spectacles is sure to create casualties and a cycle of oppression that will reveal the American Nightmare. Some of the main victims of this nightmare are: the black jockey in the first film “The Horse in Motion”, who was exploited by the industry and lost to history (representing the history of the Haywood family); Park Ricky “Skirt” (steven yeun) who is exploited and symbolized because of his “otherness” as a young Asian American in Hollywood; the many chimpanzees who play Gordy on Gordy’s house who were torn from their real homes to star in sitcoms, and especially the sentient being (Jean Jacket) in the sky.
Jean Jacket is Peele’s most significant show. He is a literal sentient being who is a sky animal in the form of an amalgamation of a UFO (UAP – Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon), a cowboy hat, and a jellyfish. Metaphorically, it represents an illusion of opportunity which, if exploited, will continue a cycle of oppression. Key figures of Nope like Skirt, JO (Daniel Kaluuya), Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer), and Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), among other things, all look to Jean Jacket as a spectacle to be exploited: a floating opportunity for wealth and notoriety. Jean Jacket represents the temptation of the American economic system. However, the system is not good for anyone, especially disenfranchised groups from disadvantaged backgrounds. An alluring and manipulative trap, the American dream symbolized by Jean Jacket camouflages itself in the clouds as an opportunity; but, if you watch it long enough, it can suck you in and spit out whatever it wants.
Before unpacking Jupe, OJ, and Em’s relationship on the show, the film asks audiences to acknowledge the importance of Holst the cinematographer. This once-famous DP now works on horse commercials and stays at home looking for the impossible hit among B-roll. We watch Holst meticulously sift through his images of animals in their habitats, hoping to capture the unsettling moment a predator slays its prey – a harrowing yet poignant depiction of the economics of exploitation and show culture at which Holst is used to. When Holst snaps a photo of Jean Jacket, arguably the most important image in human history, he wants more. He scales a mountainside for better lighting and sacrifices himself for his ultimate show stunt he will never see. Peele’s juxtaposition of the seemingly helpful Holst with the tragic Jupe or the struggling OJ and Em is important in understanding the specter of exploitation. Holst is someone who already has the tools of the oppressive system; it is the white man behind the camera who chooses to find and create shows. At the end of his life, Holst’s ego and desire to be part of a show, not just witness it, risk the lives of OJ, Em, and others.
The contagious American Dream can indoctrinate anyone to be part of its oppressive cycle, and where people like Holst have had the opportunity to look the other way, others like Jupe, OJ and Em haven’t had as much. luck. Nope first focuses on Jupe as a young child actor to illustrate this unfair dilemma. His tragic upbringing as a child star symbolized by white Hollywood in movies like sheriff kid depicts how Jupe was exploited as a spectacle (see what Hollywood did to Ke Huy Quan). His trauma was someone else’s success story. As Jupe was exploited and her fame grew, so did her opportunities. During the tragic incident of Gordy’s house, Jupe survives not because of her connection to the chimp, but because of her decision to look at the golden opportunity covered in blood: her co-star’s mangled shoe. Once a victim, Jupe now exploits her tragic experiences and becomes a cog in the larger system as she lives out her adult life as the owner of the western amusement park Jupiter’s Claim. It’s possible this park is a satire of how Asian Americans were exploited during the Gold Rush and removed from American society after the Chinese Exclusion Act, in a strange way similar to exploiting people of color by Hollywood. Ultimately, the tragic story of Jupe and Jupiter’s Claims is part of spreading the fallacy of the American Dream and helping to continue the cycle of oppressive behavior by taking advantage of the Gordy’s house incident, as well as the exploitation of Jean Jacket until her last moments.
Looking at Nope in a vacuum, it may seem that the protagonists of the film are the Haywoods, in particular OJ and Em. These two young black Americans are trying to keep their family business, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, afloat after the death of their father. This family’s legacy begins with their great-great-great-grandfather as a black jockey who should have been immortalized as the first movie star. The family was chewed up and spat out by Hollywood. But what Peele unpacks with his allegory examining the contagious American dream, much like his thesis in Weis that no one is immune to being part of a larger American system of oppression. This collective reality highlights the paradox of American identity.
OJ and Em want the “Oprah” shot, the impossible image of Jean Jacket who will reclaim their family legacy and create their own. Peele writes Em authentically as a queer young black woman eager to prove herself because she has been underappreciated and undervalued in her life. However, Jean Jacket’s end is in the hands of the Haywoods, who unlike Holst, are less likely to survive, leaving the Haywoods to be part of the cycle of exploitation.
Most notably, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) The character arc best indicates how the Haywoods might be indoctrinated into the system. Angel, on the surface, is comic relief for the audience and technical support for the Haywoods. But by the end of the film, Angel is an unnamed Latino man absent from the spotlight and the cover of the Haywoods and their picture of Jean Jacket. His arc begins with his exploited job and time at Fry’s Electronics and ends with him isolated in a desert, covered in a tent, wrapped in barbed wire, three hours from the Mexican border. He’s someone who can inevitably be forgotten in history, just like the Haywoods’ great-great-great-grandfather, and sadly like many others on the frontier. In the end, the Haywoods have the bloodstained keys, but Peele isn’t nihilistically letting the public believe they’ll continue the toxic status quo, because it’s possible the Haywoods will be fundamental in helping reform the ethics of the states. united in exposing the fallacy of the American Dream.
Hollywood is a kind of microcosm of the American dream that Peele both immortalizes and satirizes. It is at his expense and that of the public, because we all participate in his terror. Nope is masterfully crafted as a summer blockbuster, a spectacle, which is what its films criticize most deeply. Peele’s self-awareness doesn’t end there, as the filmmaker has become a symbol of popular culture homage and a master satirist of the country’s obsession with spectacle. The essence of Nope captures the complexities of the paradoxical American ethos and is an examination of Peele’s ever-growing canvas and psyche.