Black storytellers are changing the horror film genre by addressing racial tensions and trauma still prevalent in American society.
Jordan Peele, the critically acclaimed director of films such as “Get Out” and “Us,” ushered in this new era of Black creatives telling their story through film, television and writing.
“It’s apparent that racism is still a huge problem in the world today,” Joseph Crissman (junior, communications media) said. “With the rise of Black horror storytelling, people of color such as Jordan Peele can make films illustrating what it is like to be a person of color, dealing with the horrors of racism.”
In many stories by Black creators, the “villain” is often racism. In “Get Out,” this manifests itself when the main character, played by Daniel Kaluuya, visits his girlfriend’s rich white family for a weekend. While there, Kaluuya’s character unearths a disturbing secret about the family.
“When we think of horror, we think of jump scares, blood, and the occasional demon or crazy psychotic murder,” Crissman said. “What ‘Get Out’ does that sets itself apart is the major villain/horror is just some rich white people. As the audience, we get pulled into this lie that the main character’s girlfriend is good from what happens when they get pulled over by the police during the beginning stages during the movie.”
He said it completely blows your expectations away, especially if you’re not a person of color.
The success of “Get Out” certainly paved the way for other Black stories to be accepted into the mainstream media. The film made a net profit of $124.8 million, was chosen as one of the top 10 films of 2017 and won Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Peele’s second film, “Us,” was also largely successful. It starred Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave” and addressed systemic oppression and the guilt of privilege.
“Both ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ take your expectations and throws them in the trash with twists you never saw coming,” Crissman said. “Most horror movies nowadays rely on effects and costuming to scare you or leave you in suspense, but ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ do it with fantastic writing and directing by Jordan Peele.”
Another Black storyteller, writer and producer Misha Green, who produced the HBO series “Lovecraft Country” alongside Peele in which a young Black man travels across the Jim Crow South looking for his missing father.
Along the way, he learns dark secrets about a town on which famous horror writer H. P. Lovecraft supposedly based the location of many of his fictional tales. The show features Black main characters, including actors Jurnee Smollet, Jonathan Majors and Aunjanue Ellis.
“They’re talented,” Jeremy Waltman, a professor in the communications media department, said. “We’ll have to wait and see how the current wave of films affects the genre. Horror is broad and can allow for comment on society without taking the viewer out of the movie.”
Black storytellers are not going anywhere anytime soon, nor would we want them to. Peele has several highly anticipated projects in the works, including a remake of the 1992 supernatural horror film “Candyman” that follows a graduate student in Chicago who uncovers the legend of the Candyman, the ghost of an artist and son of a slave that was murdered in the late 19th century for his relationship with a white painter’s daughter.