Jordan Peele: Out There Screaming is intersectional horror at its best – review

Jordan Peele: Out There Screaming is intersectional horror at its best – review

Jordan Peele's profound exploration of Black trauma and triumph in the world of horror

by Suswati Basu

Jordan Peele, the Emmy and Oscar Award-winning maestro behind the horror classics “Get Out” and “Us”, has curated a groundbreaking horror anthology, “Out There Screaming.” It seamlessly melds everyday fears and historic traumas endured by Black Americans, reimagining popular culture through a refreshing lens.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
“Out There Screaming,” edited by Jordan Peele.

The anthology boasts a rich tapestry of horrifying tales, including contributions from science fiction luminary Nnedi Okorafor and N. K. Jemisin, author of “The City We Became.” Their stories resonate with both the eerie allure of the supernatural and Peele’s signature brand of ‘elevated’ horror.

Anthological genius from Jordan Peele: a new horror landscape

Jordan Peele, who stormed the cinematic world with the instant classic “Get Out” in 2017, and later with “Us” and “Nope”, has an undeniable flair for the genre.

“Out There Screaming” spans a spectrum of stories, touching on issues such as police brutality, to evoking memories of the Freedom Riders and lynch mobs. Notably, one tale brilliantly intertwines African folklore and magical realism, capturing the journey of a girl venturing into the earth’s depths after a demon.

“When you did eventually expire, they didn’t even bother retrieving your body. The elegant name for this horrifically simple contraption comes from the French word oublier, which means ‘to forget.’”

Jordan Peele, “Out There Screaming” Editor

Peele poignantly addresses the anthology’s essence, asking writers to explore their personal and ancestral “sunken places”. He shares, “In this collection, nineteen brilliant Black authors give us their Sunken Places, their oubliettes […] They are raw imaginings of our deepest dreads and desires. And they will not be forgotten.”

Who are the authors of Out There Screaming?

List of author names in front of black background in "Out There Screaming" edited by Jordan Peele.

N. K. Jemisin
Cadwell Turnbull
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Erin E. Adams
Tananarive Due
Justin C. Key
Ezra Claytan Daniels
Nnedi Okorafor
Rebecca Roanhorse
Violet Allen
L. D. Lewis
Nalo Hopkinson
Maurice Broaddus
Rion Amilcar Scott
Nicole D. Sconiers
Chesya Burke
Terence Taylor
P. Djeli Clark
Tochi Onyebuchi
Every author in “Out There Screaming” edited by Jordan Peele. Credit: Suswati Basu.

Unmasking the horror of systemic racism

Jemisin’s “Reckless Eyeballing” plunges into the corrupt psyche of a police officer, Carl, providing an unsettling mix of “Christine” and “Bad Lieutenant.” The racially-biased police officer clearly has questionable morals and a knack for brutality, as well as planting evidence. The first scene includes him stopping a Black woman driving a Tesla solely based on racial profiling and he contemplates abusing his power to harm or arrest her without cause.

“Black female, approximately midthirties, alone. Driving a hundred-thousand-dollar Tesla? Yeah, Carl would’ve stopped her regardless. Casually dressed. Not light-skinned or pretty enough to be some wealthy man’s side piece.”

N. K. Jemisin, “Reckless Eyeballing” in “Out There Screaming”

Carl’s problematic behaviour isn’t restricted to this single incident. He also recalls a violent encounter with a Middle Eastern woman in a hijab, revealing his deeply ingrained Islamophobia and misogyny. The woman faces physical abuse at Carl’s hands and is then accused of overreacting when she calls out the abuse as sexual assault.

Not to mention, the story sheds light on the systemic issues that allow officers like Carl to act without accountability. Despite being a repeat offender of police misconduct, Carl remains on the force and isn’t overly concerned about facing any serious consequences, indicating a flawed system that often fails to hold officers accountable. Jemisin’s use of the supernatural to highlight the profound damage and consequences of unchecked power and racial bias is powerful. Through this chilling tale, she compels readers to reflect on the deep-seated prejudices within society and the consequences of turning a blind eye to them.

A journey into generational trauma

Cadwell Turnbull’s “Wandering Devil” subtly delves into the complexities of generational trauma, particularly as experienced by Black individuals, through the lens of the supernatural. The narrative speaks to the broader idea of legacy, family, and personal responsibility, intertwined with elements of race, memory, and redemption.

The protagonist, Freddy, struggles with an internal battle defined by a history of abandonment, as indicated by the story of his mother. His struggles reveal a deep-seated fear of perpetuating this legacy and hurting those he loves. This is evident in his relationship with Dilah, where he is constantly in a state of introspection about the path he should choose, reflecting a broader issue that many Black individuals grapple with: the weight of familial and societal expectations versus personal aspirations.

“‘You know, wanderers like us could fall right through the earth and no one would know where to look. Or even bother. People like us’—he cleared some of the rasp from his throat— ‘we leave a string of broken hearts behind. And hatred long and black as a shadow at dawn.'”

Cadwell Turnbull, “Wandering Devil” IN “OUT THERE SCREAMING”

The tale then introduces readers to “Old Black Billy,” an intriguing and mysterious figure who, through his interactions with Freddy, symbolises the collective memory of the Black community. The way he describes himself as a “wandering devil” and “Old Black Billy” serves as a connection to the stories, folklore, and experiences of Black individuals throughout history. His prophecies and warnings to Freddy are not just about personal choices but hint at the broader consequences that one’s decisions can have on their community and lineage.

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Furthermore, the story’s supernatural elements, such as the menacing hands that grasp Freddy or the eerie descriptions of another realm, underscore the haunting nature of the past. These manifestations can be seen as symbolic of the trauma and scars that previous generations leave behind, which continue to influence and affect the present generation.

In essence, “Wandering Devil” uses a blend of supernatural and real-world elements to emphasise the challenges of navigating personal and racial identity. Turnbull’s narrative provides a rich exploration of how anti-Black racism and historical trauma impact the individual psyche, the choices one makes, and the relationships they form.

History as horror: stories from Due, Broaddus, and Burke

Other authors find horror in history: in Tananarive Due’s “The Rider,” two Freedom Riders on their way to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1961, are joined on their bus by a strange being whose presence may spell their doom, while “The Norwood Trouble” by Maurice Broaddus concerns a Reconstruction-era community calling upon higher powers to bring bloody justice to a lynch mob of Night Riders. 

A tapestry of terror, tradition, and truth

“An American Fable” by Chesya Burke exposes the deeply entrenched racism faced by Black individuals in America. Set against the backdrop of the early 20th century, the story follows Noble Washington, a Black soldier returning home, confronting not only the overt hostility of white supremacy but also the systemic racism inherent in societal norms and expectations.

“The white man threw his ticket under the glass and snorted. ‘Nice uniform.’ Noble caught it as it floated to the ground, not looking back at the man as he walked away. ‘It won’t protect you, Noble!'”

Chesya Burke, “An American Fable” in “Out There Screaming”

Despite serving his country, Noble’s uniform offers no protection from prejudice and violence. His journey reveals the paradoxical sentiment of white Southerners: not wanting Black people to leave but not wanting them to stay either. Throughout the narrative, moments of supernatural intervention provide a unique contrast, showcasing the horrors of real-life racism as being even more harrowing than mythical or otherworldly threats.

Read: Juneteenth books: 6 powerful reads on emancipation

The final advice to Noble to burn his uniform, which should have been a symbol of honour and service, underscores the story’s central theme: for Black Americans, such symbols were rendered meaningless in the face of relentless racial oppression.

These stories, terrifyingly imaginative yet grounded in the grim realities of anti-Black prejudice, are unmissable. Every tale in this anthology urges introspection, ensuring that “Out There Screaming” is not merely a reading experience, but a resonating revelation. For any horror aficionado, this anthology is paramount.

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Lauren Becker November 1, 2023 - 1:04 pm

Wonderful review. sounds like a really well done anthology.

Lauren @

Suswati Basu November 1, 2023 - 1:25 pm

Thanks Lauren! If you liked Peele’s elevated horror, then this anthology may be a treat!


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