Years ago I wrote something that I classified as a horror short story. It was about a girl who murdered her step-father because he sexually abused her. The publisher turned it down and stated that the girl's ordeal was horrible for sure, but it was not a horror genre story. He was right, and I understood.
Imagine looking out of your window in the morning and sitting in front of your home are dozens of women cloaked in pastel-colored dresses and displaying smiles stiffer than a mannequin is capable of. Or how about driving slowly down a neighborhood street and being watched suspiciously by all of your neighbors? Imagine how you would feel if you were a high schooler and the entire class taunts you because you are…you, and your teacher writes you up because you are disrupting the class? But it gets worse; how about being gang-raped by hillbilly inbreds while your baby is placed in a burlap bag and beat to death?
None of those things have anything to do with the supernatural. But for Black people, these things are only a reminder of genuine acts of cruelty that has been placed in the police blotters and history books and the memories of African Americans since the last century.
I watched Lovecraft Country and Them. These are series from HBO and Amazon Prime. It is apparent that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” has influenced many filmmakers, and I believe that this trend may go on for a little while at least. I call it race horror: Horror movies with a high dose of American Racism with the horror itself taking a backseat (no pun intended) to the plausible struggles African Americans face. These movies are well budgeted and well-directed. The actors are, in my view, spectacular!
When I watch these horror series, I feel like I am the one being tortured. Since the characters are African American and the story is set in the early 1950s, just before the civil rights era kicked off, it is almost mandatory that the writer brings up American racism. After all, the main characters are African American. There is no way to place any Black characters in an American setting during the Jim Crow years without having some element written that indicates the societal norms of that time.
However, Them and Lovecraft Country lean heavily on the racism side. And they hit you over the head with it every chance they get. If I want to be depressed about atrocities inflicted on Black people, I will watch a documentary or the news. These shows are supposed to be entertainment. I am not entertained by school children mocking a lone Black student by making monkey sounds while she’s trying to give her teacher an answer. It’s not entertaining to me to see an entire community of white people plot to get the “niggers” out of their neighborhood; they piss on their laundry, sit in front of their home and play loud music all day, “I thought niggers like music,” one of the characters say. The Stepford-like neighbors also set their Black neighbors’ lawn on fire, and they confront the Black family, threatening physical harm if they don’t leave. All of that is the first three episodes.
This is all too real for me. When the supernatural aspect sets in, it is almost like comic relief. You want to see the monsters and ghosts because it is supposed to be escapism. The ghosts and demons are why I watched in the first place: Entertainment. But after watching the main character being raped by hillbillies and her baby being murdered while this is happening, everything that comes after that, be it ghosts, ghouls, demons, vampires, werewolves, or zombies, is anti-climatic. As a matter of fact, it feels great to step away from the authentic horrors that these families (all members of this family have serious emotional issues) encounter between their encounters with the supernatural. I am on edge when the family walks around the community or even when they get on a bus.
In one scene in Them, the family walked into a malt shop full of white people. I am thinking: What form of degradation will they encounter now? Will he get arrested for trying to buy an ice cream sundae or be humiliated in front of his children? In this case, they were able to buy their refreshments without incident. Thank God! However, since nothing really happened in that scene, it was apparent that the filmmakers purposely did that to build up uneasiness. The way they filmed it, with everyone stopping to look at the family, tells me they purposely built the tension. Mission accomplished. I have a feeling that few White people felt the tension in that little scene.
However, that is my entire point. Sure the scene builds tension, but it was not a good tension. Instead of being entertained, it kept reminding me what my parents had to go through and reminds me of what the country is going through right now. The Derek Chauvin murder trial is being held at this writing. I can’t help but think about that while watching the corrupt police in Them and how that same fear of traveling still haunts African Americans today.
I did not do deep research about the filmmakers. I only wanted to address the trend itself. The filmmakers seem to be messaging a specific group of people. That message is not for Black people. The message is for White people. It seems to say, “Look what you put us through.” as if they are looking for some apology or at least some understanding about what African Americans have been through in this country. It reminds me of those Springer-like talk shows where Black people beg klansmen to get to know them instead of making racist judgments.
African Americans already know about racism’s absolute horror, so the series’s message has to be aimed at White people. Watching these racial supernatural movies is not a lot of fun. They slowly and methodically dig at our culture’s scabs that are still unhealed. It’s not fun to me because I already know the end of the story they are telling, whether redlining or segregation. Fiction can give us small victories in a bubble, but sometimes that is negated because we have a much wider view of the problems they are battling.
Many people do not feel like I do. And I have never experienced the type of racism that my parents and grandparents faced. But I am old enough to experience both the civil rights struggle and the beginning of the black power movement, so I have been watching trends for a long time. I question myself all the time by asking if I went too far or too deep on this topic. After all, it’s only entertainment. But until the real-life horror subsides, I think fans of the show can forgive me for not being entertained by this trend of racial horror.