Black folks don’t do horror—right?! Wrong.
The correct answer: It’s complicated. Blackness and horror are two concepts that until recently, didn’t really seem to harmoniously coexist. After all, who wants to pay to see their play-cousins either be axed first—to flutter around as the magical negro or sacrifice their life so the white savior may live—in a movie?
Count me out.
The fact is horror films—from The Birth of a Nation (a film that many black people consider scary) on down to Gerard McMurray’s The First Purge (and beyond)—provide commentary on America’s views on race.
Tananarive Due is an award-winning author, who teaches the wildly popular class, “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival and the Black Horror Aesthetic” at UCLA. She’s also executive producer of the documentary Horror Noire, based off of a book by Professor Robin R. Means Coleman.
Due says that viewers can trace white supremacy through horror. “It starts with something like The Birth of a Nation.” The author continued, “Depicting black people as the dangerous black menace, and heralding the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes who will protect the American way of life, especially as it has to do with white womanhood.” The executive producer also reminds us that the characterization of black people (read: white people in blackface) in The Birth of a Nation is just one example of the tropes historically relegated to black people in horror films.
Fear not, horror heads—in recent years movies like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us have broken away from the archaic stereotypes and injected some seasoning into otherwise incredibly bland white narratives and spaces.
Black directors are pushing the needle forward—shifting black people from being the focal point of white fears to the heroes—surviving the entire film! For black audiences, having a survivor who looks like you is even more critical.
“Those kinds of images I think are very important for us, especially as black people because our family histories are so full of stories of people who did not survive. This person got lynched. This person got run out of town. This person died in jail.”
Due says finally, “Horror can feel more healing and healthy a space—to visit, at least—than real life.”
See the entire video above.