Horror hasn’t always loved black people but that’s changing

Illustration by Sammy Newman.

Brianna ScottOpinions Editor

Preface: Fun drinking game for you legal kids — take a shot every time I say the word “horror” or “black!”

Horror hasn’t always been the genre where black people are the prime stars and are shown love. As a horror movie fan myself, specifically of classic slasher films, my favorite movies have few, if any, black characters. And if they do, they’re always killed first, in one of horror’s biggest cliches. From “Halloween” to “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” — I cannot recall seeing more than one black person, and they usually aren’t a main character. They’re sidekicks and background actors or the only black friend in a group of white people.

Some of 2018’s top-grossed horror films such as, “The Nun,” “Hereditary,” “Strangers: Prey at Night” and the highest-grossing horror film of the year “A Quiet Place,” had little to no black characters or people of color in general. None of the films featured a non-white main character.

Just as in every genre, it’s not that there is a lack of black actors. It’s that black people aren’t cast in these roles. In addition to that, there aren’t many filmmakers of color. A UCLA study shows that ethnic and racial minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, but only 18 percent of directors, 12 percent of film writers and 6 percent of studio CEOs and chairmen.

There have been a good — albeit small — number of black horror films with a sizable black cast such as “Blacula,” “Def by Temptation,” “Candyman,” “Blade,” ironically the “Scary Movie” franchise and recently “The First Purge.” Despite black people never receiving attention in the horror genre, the tide is changing thanks to director Jordan Peele. He didn’t invent black horror, but he’s revolutionizing it and proving black actors can be cast as leads in horror films and properly carry the franchise.

The first marked horror film to feature a black character was George A. Romero’s 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.” Actor Duane Jones portrayed Ben in the film and — spoiler alert for a movie that has been out for more than 50 years — is the hero, despite being shot at the end by a white man who thinks he shot a zombie. In interviews, Romero said he never intended for “Night of the Living Dead” to have racial undertones, but it happened to work out that way. Ben is trapped in a house with a bunch of white people, which alone creates tension, while trying to fight off zombies.

“Get Out” and “Night of the Living Dead” have similar parallels. Chris from “Get Out,” portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, is visiting his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend, and it turns into a very similar storyline to Romero’s film. Chris is trapped in this house with a liberal white family — which is quite honestly one of the most terrifying situations to be in. There’s nothing worse than being around white liberal people who think they aren’t homophobic because they approve of marriage equality or aren’t racist because they voted for Barack Obama.

“Get Out” addresses how much white America loves black culture and what black people have, but not black people themselves. In this film’s case, the bodies and talents of black people are sold to white people, whose brains will be transplanted into black bodies. The host of the body remains conscious in the “sunken place,” but they are completely powerless.

As a director, Peele weaves in societal issues into cinematically beautiful and captivating horror movies where black people are at the forefront. In Peele’s films, black people are important figures who aren’t solely there to die or advance the narrative of a white character.

Peele’s second horror movie, “Us,” is coming out this Friday, and the ratings are already pouring in from critics saying the movie is a winner. “Get Out” wasn’t just a one-off special, Peele is showing us that black people have a place in horror.

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