Black Lives Matter in Horror

Hey Horror Fans,

We just finished the last entry in our 90s Teen Slasher series. We took a 2-week break between the 3rd entry and the last entry. We didn’t want to release that article with no immediate follow up regarding the recent protests—the recent movement—unfolding in the US.

Because Black Lives Matter.

But for horror genre and fandom: how can Black Lives Matter if the ‘Black Dude Dies First’ (if there’s a BlPOC in the movie at all)?

Horror has a lot to account for, a long way to go. But we are seeing progress, and I’m very excited to see horror genre change for the better.

For a full exploration of this topic, check out the documentary Horror Noire if you can. I have been wanting to watch Horror Noire ever since its 2019 release. But it’s on Shudder, you can only get it via subscription.

Otherwise, get online and educate yourself—learning is always worthwhile. Follow Jordan Peele’s production company Monkeypaw Productions. Follow Tananarive Due, a black horror author and executive producer of Horror Noire. Follow Ashlee Blackwell, co-writer of Horror Noire and a member of the Graveyard Shift Sisters, which works to promote black women horror writers. Check out the Black Horror Movies blog to read a huge archive of reviews and analysis of horror movies from the perspective of a black movie fan. (Shout out to this blog in particular, as it’s clearly a one-person work of love, much like this one.)

If you want exposure to how simply living life in America for black Americans is like living in a horror movie, watch the recently released 8:46 by Dave Chappelle. It speaks to a level of bleakness, dread, and terror that belongs in harmless fiction rather than cruel reality.

One of the most powerful moments in modern horror is at the end of Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Have you seen it? No? WTF are you doing read this stupid blog? Enrich yourself and go watch it!

In every other scary movie (lookatourvery white slasher series), when the red and blue lights arrive, the danger is over. Our white heroes will be safe. But at the end of Get Out, your stomach sinks when you see those lights.

What struck me about this moment in Get Out is that it creates a perfect loop of modern horror films.

In 1968, an independent filmmaker named George Romero completely transformed horror movies with Night of the Living Dead. For those of us that love special effects, survivalism, and symbolism in horror movies, Night of the Living Dead is where the modern era really takes off. A film that was created by some guys in small town PA and that captured the imagination—the nightmares, of the world.

It is one of the few films of its time, and sadly still today, that features a black hero. Duane Jones plays Ben, who leads the charge of trying to save this small group of townspeople from the zombies. He is a leader. He kicks ass. He lives while all the white people around him perish.

And how does the film end? He emerges, the lone survivor of this supernatural terror. And he is shot dead by some roaming white police posse (CONTENT WARNING on this link). Because they just assume he’s ‘one of them.’

Night of the Living Dead couldn’t not have a racial message in that scene, especially during that time. Romero has said in interviews that the night the finished film was put together, he heard on the radio that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Romero understood that this final scene of the film carried immense power. …But it is worth saying that this wasn’t the initial intent. Romero has emphasized that the character Ben was never intended to be any particular race, and that Duane Jones got the role simply by value of his great performance.

There’s an importance distinction there, between intent and result. Romero was a great creative mind for metaphor in horror. But as a white guy, the depth of what his own film had the potential to communicate escaped him.

Horror genre’s journey began with that spark of awareness in Night of the Living Dead. But then we reach this point in Get Out brought to us by a black director, a black writer.

Romero and Peele both understand that monsters aren’t isolated to little gated communities. Or graveyards. Or nightmares.

“The call is coming from inside the house,” as we say.

It takes diversity in perspective to truly elevate art, to hold society accountable for its failures. Romero’s scene is broadly applied. Peele’s scene is sharply incisive.

Horror is about showing an evil funhouse mirror to society’s face. Both society and horror genre need to take a good long look in the mirror. To see how much those exposed flaws are accurate rather than exaggerated.

As a point of hope, I think we’re going to see some incredible art coming out of these real-life horrific conditions. And I do believe that art can change the world, not merely entertain. I think we will get to see art that previously would not have gotten as much traction because it’s “too controversial.” What is and isn’t controversial is evolving very quickly right now. That could have a tremendous impact on the kinds of messages we might get to see soon.

In August, HBO will be releasing Lovecraft Country, based on the novel by Matt Ruff. That is going to be a very important series to watch.  Also if you haven’t, go see see HBO’s Watchmen, which I genuinely think helped to enable participation in protests and engagement by white allies this year.

We were supposed to get 2 new Jordan Peele projects this year—Antebellum and Candyman. The COVID pandemic has temporarily delayed these releases, but they should arrive in August and September respectively.

And I hope that Jordan Peele is just the beginning of incredible black creators welcomed into the revitalized horror genre.

It’s going to be awesome. I’m genuinely really excited for it.

Now for this blog’s part, Your Intrepid Host is white. I have an inherently limited perspective.

What I am going to do is do a series on works by black horror writers. There are some other articles in the works regarding urban legends and race.

But reading books and research take time. So we’re going to do another movie series, another round of distraction and laughs as we all go through these massive changes and stresses together.

But I am also going to work to prioritize exposing readers to diverse perspectives in horror. That is literally the very least I can do out of this little hobby, this little blog. It is not enough. But it’s a commitment I can make.

…to all five of you readers out there. *waves*

Stay Safe.
Black Lives Matter.
The Call Is Coming From Inside the House. (So we should build a better house.)

—Your Intrepid Host.

One thought on “Black Lives Matter in Horror

  1. slickdungeon

    Great post. Another thing I noticed in Get Out was how at the beginning an affluent white neighborhood is a setting of utter horror and danger, which almost completely flips on its head those slasher films where those neighborhoods are seen as safe. I happen to be white as well but I agree black lives matter in horror and I am ready to see more of it.

    Like

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