From the moment the trailer for “Us” premiered Christmas Day, featuring Winston Duke in a Howard University sweatshirt, many were ecstatic that a historically Black institution was so prominent in a major studio release.
Fast-forward to a screening of “Us” Wednesday evening at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium, where a students-only audience got to preview the film, followed by a question-and-answer session with director, screenwriter and producer Jordan Peele, along with its stars, Duke and Lupita Nyong’o.
While waiting for the screening to begin, I overheard many people say that they did not really like horror movies. I won’t even try to get inside of Peele’s brain, but in “Us,” he created a continuous flow of edge-of-your-seat moments that start almost immediately.
“Us” shows Black parents Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, played by Nyong’o and Duke, and their two children Zora and Jason (played by standouts Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) as they begin a vacation. Things start uneventfully, but gradually change. You don’t have to wait too long to feel the scariness.
Much of the drama is rooted in Adelaide’s childhood experiences. Scenarios move into survival mode where female strength and the smartness of the children are in full force.
When talking about how this movie was approached, Peele shared that 50 percent can be attributed to the film’s music selections, which ranged from ’90s rap hit “I Got 5 on It” by Oakland, Calif., duo Luniz to “Les Fleurs” by Minnie Riperton.
Peele also spoke about the difference between his major movie debut “Get Out” and his follow-up, “Us.”
“‘Get Out’ was about race,” Peele said during the post-screening Q&A session. “With ‘Us,’ I felt a certain obligation to make a movie where a Black family was at the center of it, but it was not about race. ‘Us’ can be anything. It can be your family, it can be your class. When you have ‘us,’ there’s a ‘them.'”
Clocking in at just under two hours, “Us” is a blend of horror, thriller and revelations. The horror aspect is revealed through the family’s doppelgängers who wreak havoc throughout the film. There were audience gasps at the right moments. Then there were those “What just happened?” moments that had the audience trying connect the dots.
The pace of this movie is fast. When the movie ends, you will still ponder, “Well, how did…?”
For the screening, sponsored by Universal Pictures, Cramton Auditorium was transformed to provide a major movie theater experience, with a big screen spanning the entire stage and added speakers to produce a surround sound experience.
Howard Provost and Chief Academic Officer Anthony K. Wutoh said the university’s social media team immediately took action once the trailer began creating a loud buzz over the Christmas holiday.
“They started putting our posts, asking Peele to bring a screening to Howard,” Wutoh said before the film began.
Conversely, the university’s campus is popular with D.C.’s robust film industry, having been featured in a number of productions over the years. Some recent Howard sightings have been on the hit NBC show “This is Us” and in the award-winning movie “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
“We often get calls and the campus marketing department goes into action,” said a campus communications spokesperson. “We’re used to this.”
“Us” opens nationwide Friday.