Black History Month: Why do we still need horror movies when the news exists?
A look at representation in horror and how Jordan Peele is changing the conversation.
Horror is a long-beloved genre and in the hands of expert filmmakers such as Jordan Peele a necessary unpacking of race, gender and fear. Fresh directors and the emergence of a new narrative is changing a genre previously rife with discrimination. We are all aware of the horror movie stereotype of a token black character getting immediately axed, both literally and figuratively, leaving the white characters reassuringly centre stage. Actor and comedian Eddie Murphy once went as far as to say that horror is a white genre, that black people are more acquainted with the fear and violence of everyday life and so would react differently and be savvy enough to leave a clearly haunted house well alone.
Horror movies are also potent for reflecting anxieties entrenched in society, as they have the power to create monsters. What we consider monstrous characteristics and why can be a minefield for women and people of colour. Stereotypes abound from race coding monsters to women being demonized for sexual autonomy, appetite and even menstruating if you're Carrie White. Which is why movies, where the protagonist is a fully realized black woman, are such a breath of fresh air.
Jordan Peele’s “Us” deconstructs identity at its core and puts on trial the ‘us vs them’ mentality that is currently gripping America like seemingly never before. With an election on the horizon that has the potential to affect the state of world affairs and claims of fascism and white supremacy nipping at the heels of the current President the notions of who we stand with and who we fight against have never been more important. The story follows a seemingly ordinary family of four who end up being stalked and attacked by near animalistic doppelgangers called the Tethered. Lupita Nyong’o is the lead and delivers a soaring unmatchable performance, as both Adelaide and her twin the stomach-churning Red. There is a consistent theme of doubling throughout and the imagery of a counterpart in the light who is cared for and a shadow who is ignored and forsaken is reflective of the inequality experienced by people of colour. The twist at the end (Spoilers) is that Adelaide is from the underground and Red is originally from the surface. The two Adelaides fight each other for their right to live on the surface, away from the darkness, both having been so hurt they don’t realise they could share. Them both living free would have broken the system. The safety in assumptions is gone, as the audience realizes our assumptions were based on a false narrative.
Horror movies that accurately include women and minorities continue to be scarily important because they construct a narrative. A rare tale where the black woman not only survives but has agency, power and humanity, work to build a narrative audiences need. Questioning how naturally we can be led to alienate people, is a lesson we need to be taught now just as much as ever.
By Rebecca Ricketts