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The seeds for "Get Out," the $136-million-grossing comedy-horror film, were sown in school.
In a recent interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" with host Terry Gross, the film's creator Jordan Peele said he first felt a sense of otherness and racial isolation when filling out the paperwork that came with standardized tests:
PEELE: I'd been taught from an early age that I was in the other category on the standardized tests. You know, I had to go down the checklist -- Caucasian, African American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, and then, you know, at the bottom is other. So, you know, very early on I was taught, in a way, that I was somehow this anomaly. And, you know, it's hard. I might be too close to it to really be able to tell you how all of that went into the movie. But it very clearly did. It very clearly did.
GROSS: What impact did it have on you as a kid to be told to check the box other?
PEELE: You know, I — not a pleasant one. I think in some ways, it felt — you know, even as a young person, you sort of felt like — OK, well, first of all, there's a weird hierarchy going on because this is a list. And it's put in some weird order. I don't know if it was -- what the point of the order was — or if I got the order correct, I think I did. But, yeah, it was — it's probably one of the reasons that I fell in love with horror and comedy, which I think are genres that really appeal to someone who identifies with the outsider or the other, which is many of us.
Peele went on to say that he had trouble squaring lessons about Martin Luther King's dream with having to put himself in a racial box. By the time he was in fourth or fifth grade, he said, he began checking the African American box. It "brought me comfort to, you know, be able to identify with a group more, which is sad," he said.
The election of Barack Obama, he said, changed his feelings about identity and ultimately inspired "Get Out."
For what it's worth: Students in California don't fill out those boxes. The state's relatively new online tests auto-populate those fields, so that kids don't have to. Research shows that some students can perform worse on tests if they're forced to affirm their minority status right before taking an exam — because stereotypes can hold them back.
In California, districts usually get background information from students' parents during school registration.
On California's older pencil-and-paper tests, most students were asked to fill in a bubble corresponding to their race.
And there was no "other" category. There still isn't an "other" in the way state educational officials designate race: