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Thursday, June 25, 2020

How Horror Movies Parallel Being Black in America

Wes Craven once famously said that horror films don’t create fear, they release it. And he’s right. We sit in a theater with people we don’t know and go through a proverbial haunted house for about two hours. We scream, we laugh, we sometimes cry. In fact, some of us scream, toss popcorn into the air and bolt out of the theater; these things happen. For most audiences, that released fear stays in the theater because the idea of being chased by an indestructible masked man is laughable. 

Unless you’re Black. As author Tananarive Due says in Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, “Black history is Black horror.” 

Black Americans survive true horror in this country and the things most see as fantasy on a screen are actually deeply rooted in our reality. Almost every subgenre of horror is a parallel for the racism Black Americans deal with. Whether it’s 2020, 1920, or 1619.

Systemic racism is the subtle, slow-burn horror movie, like The Witch, The House of the Devil, or The Wicker Man. These movies, often dealing with the paranormal, are filled with main characters telling anyone who will listen that something just isn’t right. Whether it’s Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby, Renai in Insidious or pretty much any woman in the Paranormal Activity flicks. These characters know they’re not crazy when they complain to friends or significant others that something is very wrong, but no one believes them. 

No matter how much they yell or how terrified they are, the burden of proof always falls on the shoulders of the aggrieved, lest they are condemned or put in an insane asylum. But how do you prove the devil wants your baby? How do you show someone there’s a ghost haunting your child? How do you provide incontrovertible proof of your affliction to someone who either can’t believe it or doesn’t want to believe it?  

That’s what it’s like living in America; knowing there are things built into society that tilt against you that you can’t quantify to a White person because they can’t relate. What happened to George Floyd is no different than what happens to Black men year after year and day after day. But it’s not just dealing with cops, hence the word systemic. It’s in our education, our access to decent healthcare, and even our food choices.  

How? Glad you asked. The practice of redlining lowers the property value in black neighborhoods. The lower the property value, the less property taxes paid, which results in less funding for schools and lower wages for teachers. The same equation applies to healthcare facilities and attracting the best doctors to an area.  

We see this inequality in modern-day voter suppression when polling places in our neighborhoods are suddenly whisked away for…reasons. And we see it with increased police presence in our neighborhoods. But these inequalities are built into the system that claims to work for everyone. 

One of the most obvious culprits of systemic racism is the Confederate flag. It flies high all-around America, along with giant participation trophies built in honor of men who lost a war, betrayed our country, and just so happen to be people who said we were lower than animals on the American totem pole. Black men and women often yell about two different Americas. And far too often, a lot of those yells are met with silence, indifference, or worse. You know how you feel watching Katie beg Mika in Paranormal Activity to take her haunting seriously and how frustrating it is that he refuses to do so? Yeah, it’s a lot like that – only multiplied by several hundred years. 

But we survived and continue to survive. 

If systemic racism is the methodical and tension-building horror on one hand, then overt racism is the black gloved slasher wielding a weapon on the other. Slashers are fundamental to scary movies and easy for audiences to understand. We all have a visceral fear of someone in a mask relentlessly chasing us down. No matter how fast the characters run, the big bad always manages to show up when and where they least expect. This is nonfiction for Black people in America and continues to be a part of our lives. No disrespect to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Harry Warden, but they’ve got nothing on any member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’

To be Black in America is to constantly live in fear of someone with a covered face running up on you with the intent to kill. But unlike Michael and Jason, KKK members roam freely amongst us and their acts of terror and general worldview are given tacit consent. They run for office, they have statues built in their honor, and of course, the President says their associates are very fine people. Can you imagine Woodsboro High School honoring Billy and Stu in a Scream sequel? Even after they slaughtered several classmates and the school principal? And all because they were Woodsboro students therefore their legacy deserves to be preserved? Yeah, didn’t think so.

In the movies, the hero is lauded for beating the men in masks. Sidney Prescott is a legend and Laurie Strode is a tough-as-nails survivor. The kids from the Friday the 13th movies…well, they’re all rotten to begin with so the less said about them the better. But damn near every survivor of a slasher movie—who lives through the sequel anyway—is given props for making it through the night. Compare that to groups like the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter, who are vilified and put on the FBI watchlist for having the audacity to ask America to be the country it says it is. Sure, everyone wants to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. now and cite him as their hero, but he had to die to get that popularity. Our final guys and girls get slandered and wiretapped for fighting monsters of inequality and martyrdom seems to be their only reward.    

But we survive and continue to survive. 

Funny Games? The Strangers? We’ve lived that in the past when neighbors, Klan members, police, or sometimes all three together, invaded our homes. Today, that terror takes a different shape. Black men and women, while relaxing in their homes, are killed by cops for no reason at all or killed while jogging as two guys reenact the end of Night of the Living Dead. We’re looked at sideways when moving into predominantly White communities. We’re followed in stores because we “fit the profile,” and we can’t even bird watch in peace. 

Yeah, it’s not the same as a brick through our window or getting dragged out our front door, but the purpose is the same now as it was then, and it’s the same reason horror movie villains do it to their prey: intimidation. However, unlike most horror movies where that intimidation happens to the protagonists because of some past sin they or a friend committed or some ancient curse they stupidly chose to conjure, these things happened to us and continue to happen simply because we exist. To paraphrase Dollface from The Strangers, horror happens to us because we are home. 

But we survive and continue to survive. 

Black people are Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street when it comes to calling out race and racism in America. We tell White people what’s going on only to be ignored until they see it for themselves, and it’s always way too late. We hoped Emmett Till was them seeing it for themselves. We hoped Rodney King was them seeing it for themselves. And we continue to hope, despite past evidence, that George Floyd is truly a moment of clarity. 

But how many more Black residents of Elm St. have to be aggrieved, scarred, or killed before all of White America realizes the boogeyman is real? We’ve survived 400 years of legitimate horror movies and we’re tired of merely surviving. It’s time to roll credits and allow us to breathe in, exhale, and leave it all in the theater.  

LaKeith Stanfield in ‘Get Out’



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3621382/horror-movies-parallel-black-america/

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