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Black Representation in Horror Films

Mainstream Hollywood producers and other creators behind horror movies have a long history of exploiting race to generate fear and suspense. Unfortunately, when casting directors hire Black actors in horror movies, a recurring theme of discourse perpetuates negative stereotypes and harmful tropes that place Black characters at the center. We see the most common trope shortly after a film begins, where Black characters or groups are discarded in the movie through their death, despite producers often advertising the film with the face of the Black characters at the front of the poster. In the rare instances that Black characters have a decent amount of screen time, writers portray stereotypes such as ‘the angry black woman,’ ‘the thug or criminal,’ ‘the token/ sidekick friend,’ and many others.

Hollywood is ever-growing, and movie franchises will continue to preserve such tropes. Black directors have taken a stand in the form of parodies or satire to address such issues. For instance, filmmaker Jordan Peele is notorious for creating horror films with Black characters defying all odds and being the ones to survive. Along the same lines, the movie franchise, Scary Movie, uses a clear and comedic lens to mock typical tropes in other horror movies. 

Along the same lines, there is a clear allegory between Black characters dying first in films and the presence of police brutality in the United States. While the Black community generally fears police brutality, seeing Black characters killed off first may be traumatizing because it represents their reality. When Black viewers of fictional horror movies see White dominance, fear is invoked in this audience through a real-life translation of systemic racism. As a result, society must acknowledge the potential benefits of including White individual perspectives. Parallel to Black Lives Matter, White privilege, if appropriately used instead of reactive activism, is a helpful tool highlighting the need for intervention within the horror film field. White people who recognize their power to advocate with Black folks who cannot escape issues of race and racism, even in a fictional space, have the ability to create change on a larger scale. 

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