Jordan Peele’s Get Out takes the existential realities of black men in this country and uses it as the plot for a horror film. A black man going to meet the parents of his white girlfriend is enough to send shivers down one’s spine—especially given the history of violence directed toward black men who were wrongly accused of merely whistling at a white woman. So for Peele to take that concept and develop a horror film is, honestly, ingenious. In fact, scholars of horror films argue that horror films embody the fears of a culture at any given time.
This got me thinking: what are other films, horror or otherwise, that reveal the history of anti-blackness in this country or make plain the evil that lies just beneath the surface of contemporary black life?
This is a film based on a brilliant play by Amiri Baraka. In it, a black man meets a white woman on a train and a problematic dialogue ensues. I won’t spoil how it ends, but suffice it to say that it warns of the danger posed by white women who fetishize black masculinity.
2: Green Room
This is written and directed by the filmmaker who made the indie hit Blue Ruin, and it tells the tale of a white punk rock group who unwittingly agrees to play for white supremacists in the woods of Oregon. Gory violence ensues, but this film reminds us that violent white supremacists are still around, and that there is no good reason for a person to go into the woods of Oregon.
3: Creature from the Black Lagoon
A classic horror film, it was not until I began to study the intersection of film and racialized fears that I began to realize that this film offers a glimpse into the fear black masculinity inspires within white America. The ‘creature’ is big, black and rises from the depths of a chaotic black lagoon to infringe upon (white) civilization. In fact, the first time we see the creature is when it attacks an innocent white woman. Not a great deal of deconstruction is needed to explain what is going on in the minds of the creators.
John Singleton, director of Boyz N The Hood and Poetic Justice, tells the story of a 1920s act of mass terrorism visited upon the prosperous all black town of Rosewood, Florida by citizens in a neighboring all white working class town. This film is terrifying because it lays bare the illogical nature of white supremacy.
I couldn’t look in a reflective surface for a week after seeing this film. (Editor's note: Nigga, I'm a grown-ass man and I still refuse to say Candyman five times in the mirror.) Real talk. I would just crawl into my bathroom beneath the view of the portal to evil that was my mirror. This horror movie wrestles with the legacy of institutional violence visited upon black people. One could do an analysis on how it may be a phenomenological meditation on white fears of black rage.
6. Friday The 13th
Jason Voorhees is a white dude in a white mask killing mostly white folks. However, if there is a black person in the film, they always die first. This film, and others like it, taught me not to be the token black friend. Only a person so completely divorced from the black experience that they go to Supercuts with Ben Carson for a line up would go out into the woods with nothing but white people and be the first to investigate the noise down in the cellar. I refuse to be that guy.
7: Higher Learning
The end of this film traumatized me by showing just how fragile white masculinity can be. A precursor to the mass shootings we see today perpetrated by white men, this film now reads as prescient.
8: Central Park Five
This Ken Burns documentary tells the story of five black and brown kids that were found guilty of raping and assaulting a white woman in 1980’s NYC. Like 13th, it reminds us how the American Criminal Justice system can ruin your life if you are a working class person of color. What scares me the most is how almost nothing was done to right the wrongs after they were cleared of the charges.
9: The Birth of a Nation (1915)
This is the quintessential horror film for black America. One could argue that many of the anti-black ideas that have permeated the culture during the 20th century find their genesis in this film. The myth of the black male rapist gained cultural currency with this film. The image of a burning cross that struck fear in the mind of our ancestors comes from this film. In fact, the KKK are depicted as the heroes of the film, protecting white society from the dredges of indiscriminate violence perpetrated by black folks. This is a horrific, despicable film—both because of its images and the impact it has had on the culture. If anyone wants to know if films matter, if they can have repercussions in the real world, all they need to do is examine the legacy of this film—the first that was ever shown in the White House.
10. Anything on CNN, MSNBC, and especially FOX NEWS
Because life is not a horror movie, but it feels like one these days.