Arriana McLymore | Editor-in-Chief
The film industry has reached monumental milestones in enhancing its diversity on the screen. Actors and actresses such as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Hattie McDaniel and Halle Berry have established records as Black firsts in Hollywood, hoping to inspire future generations of Black actors and film industry members.
Although diversity in Hollywood is growing, Black actors, directors, and producers still have a long way to go. The Black presence in the film industry is taken for granted in genres like drama, comedy, romance, and horror. African- American performers are often type-casted and forced into stereotypical roles in movies.
Constant portrayals of the angry Black woman, the servant, the token, the funny-but-dumb sidekick and other discouraging perceptions of Blackness fill television and movie screens for the world to see, without delving into the complexity of the Black community. Horror is a genre that partners these stereotypes with in annihilation of Black characters early in its films.
Robin Means-Coleman’s “Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror films from the 1890’s to Present” explores the evolution and characterization of Black people in the genre. “The tie that binds all of the films I examine here is their ability to inspire provocative treatments of race and to offer unique lessons and messages about race relations,” said Means-Coleman in the preface of her book. From the beginning instances of Black people in horror films such as “The Eyes of a Mummy” (1918), there is a negative association to their presence.
Horror films are in dire need of complex Black characters, especially ones who die within the first 20 minutes of the movies. African- Americans have worked to make their names known in the horror film industry through Blaxploitation scary movies and various mainstream motion pictures, but only a handful of their characters are able to make it to the closing credits. Blackhorrormovies.com dedicates hundreds of pictures to Black horror movie characters who perished in their respective films.
“If there were no black people, who would die in horror movies?,” questioned the website’s owner and horror movie expert, Mark H. Harris. “In the horror realm, it could actually be seen as a badge of honor to be important enough to score a death scene. It’s with this in mind that I honor these thankless heroes.”
The 1970’s introduced Blaxploitation horror movies that pushed for more Blackness in the genre. “Blacula”, “Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde”, “Blackenstein” and “The Omega Man”, each served as a Black adaption of a previously known scary story. Blaxploitation horror later developed with more original stories and manifested itself into the early 2000’s with Craig Ross’ Killjoy and Ernest Dickerson’s Bones.
As horror films evolved, so has the need for African- American portrayal in the genre. American Horror Story creators and producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have helped bring light to African-Americans in horror by providing powerful and reoccurring roles into the show. When a character dies on American Horror Story, it does not necessarily mean the character is gone for good. The writers often find ways to incorporate a character back into various episodes if and when they die. This brings new life and opportunities for the Black actors and actresses who are casted on the show.
Some of the most notable Black actors and actresses that have been on the show are Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Morris Chestnut and Richard T. Jones. Naomi Campbell has had cameos in the latest season, “American Horror Story: Hotel.” As the seasons have progressed, Black actors have had more solidified roles. The third season, American Horror Story: Coven, was the first season to establish Black people as a crucial part of the storyline.
Other directors and producers should follow Murphy and Falchuk’s lead to provide African Americans with more prominent roles in horror movies and shows. Black filmmakers should also offer roles that allow for an increased Black presence in the horror movie industry.
It will take efforts from all genres of the industry to make a major leap into a fully diverse Hollywood. Horror films are making slight moves towards improvement, but it is not enough to be satisfied with. It is now time for Black people to break the mold in horror films and to give Hollywood what is has been missing.