Horror movies got a bad rap for their predictable slashers and often low-budget offerings once the genre’s glory days of the 90s and early noughties gradually faded (some of us remained devoted).
But Jordan Peele’s 2017 masterpiece Get Out offered a lifeline. It unapologetically confronted awkward issues surrounding racism and interracial relationships in the most refreshing and clever way, seemingly creating a whole new sub-genre in horror.
Until Get Out, it didn’t seem possible that serious issues like the adversity faced by the black community could be packaged so neatly into a horror film that was both entertaining and eye-opening.
Of course, the Scary Movie franchise did well in playing to racial stereotypes in comical form if you like that sort of thing, but Get Out was perhaps the first time that the message had been crystal clear in horror.
It’s an understatement to say that it feels like we’re in a real life nightmare right now. First, coronavirus seemed like something straight out of a zombie movie and the anti-racism protests have only heightened the surrealism of living through a pandemic.
And while Get Out takes on social conversations in a blatant way, it doesn’t entirely stand alone.
If there ever was a time to look at the more nuanced racial themes in other horror movies, it would be now.
SPOILERS lie ahead.
Get Out (2017)
Daniel Kaluuya stars as Christopher Washington, a black photographer who is meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.
He’s nervous about it, being that Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) claims he’s her first black boyfriend. It doesn’t help that when he gets to the house, Rose’s white relatives compare Chris to other black men such as Tiger Woods while others fawn over his physique while literally prodding him without permission.
Peele brilliantly plays to the theme of cultural appropriation when it later emerges the white supremacists hunt black people to steal their physical attributes. They entrap African-Americans as their house slaves, forcing them into a state of submission so they can simply survive and exist.
There is even a literal hunt which you might interpret to represent the way African-Americans are often hunted by white supremacists in the street, like Ahmaud Arbery going for a jog, Breyonna Taylor sleeping in bed, or Trayvon Martin simply walking through a neighbourhood.
Get Out is perhaps the reason why recent social commentary horrors like The Hunt and, to an extent, Ready Or Not exist.
The remake of this horror classic would have been released this summer but, of course due to certain events, we’ll have to wait until September to see what direction it takes.
However the 1992 original, starring the ever brilliant Tony Todd as the frightening boogeyman who comes when you call his name five times in the mirror, will forever be burned in our brains.
While watching Candyman as a young child (yes, I was somewhat hardcore), Candyman was simply one of the most terrifying baddies in film much like Freddy Krueger.
But as a 30-something adult, it’s much easier to understand the painful history behind his character.
It turns out, the true horror is what happened to the real Candyman before he began terrorising people in the mirror.
In the film, which was based on a novel, the hook-handed killer was the son of a slave and became accepted by white society due to his father’s prominence mass-producing shoes after the Civil War.
But Candyman fell in love with a white woman and fathered her child, prompting his lover’s father to send a lynch mob after him. And Candyman, who was then just an ordinary, hard-working African-American man, was subsequently murdered by a group of white supremacists and it’s not too far from notable real life events.
Emmett Till was the subject of a horrifying true story that should have been fiction. The young black boy was wrongfully accused of offending a white woman, prompting her family to seek out Emmett at his home before torturing and killing him, sparking public outcry.
The First Purge (2018)
The Purge movies have gradually received mixed reviews but are still big box office hits.
Some of us have stood by the franchise and can see past certain weak plot points to the deeper meaning.
Particularly with sequel The Purge: Anarchy, which switched the setting from a wealthy white family apparently safe from the annual crime spree thanks to their state of the art home security, to those less well-off and forced to fend for themselves.
The sequel explored what the purge would be like for the disadvantaged – the poor and the ethnic minority communities, many of who are black.
Although very much fiction, The Purge: Anarchy wasn’t so far a stretch of the imagination to think those who are disadvantaged in BAME groups would be less equipped to defend themselves from a purge night.
It showed the very real possibility that some black people who are on low wages, for example, might struggle to stockpile on food when the city goes into lockdown for purge, while others would likely be working on the frontline and therefore exposing themselves to danger.
In real life, we’re going through something similar now. Studies have shown in the US and UK that black people are more likely to die from coronavirus, for reasons yet to be officially determined.
The most recent Purge movie, The First Purge, features a black anti-Purge activist rallying the troops to campaign to stop the first purge in order to protect those most vulnerable during the crime spree.
And it’s all too similar to the Black Lives Matter protests unfolding before our eyes.
The Craft (1996)
Just one of the many reasons to love The Craft, it wasn’t afraid to show ugly forms of racism ingrained in the school system.
Rochelle, played by Rachel True, is the only black character in the 1998 witchcraft horror and, perhaps that was intentional to highlight what it can be like for a black student to navigate a majority white school.
In one uncomfortable scene, Rochelle’s nemesis Laura picks up a hairbrush with disgust and says: ‘Oh god, look. There is a pubic hair in my brush. Oh no, wait. That’s just one of Rochelle’s little nappy hairs.’
In another, she calls her a ‘negroid’.
Many black children experiencing similar forms of bullying could probably relate when Rochelle stirs up the courage to ask: ‘Why are you doing this to me?’
Of course, Laura offers a reply which by no means justifies the bullying Rochelle was subjected to.
Rarely have we seen a horror be so blatant about racism.
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