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Why Black Male Survivors in Horror Films Matter

Black men have dominated specific cinematic genres such as comedy, however, when it comes to Black men in horror films, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and the survivability factor is limited.

Mekhi Phifer in "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" (1998)

Omar Epps, Mekhi Phifer, Bill Cobbs, and Danny Glover are just some of the many Black male actors whose characters met their end before the credits of the respective horror films they starred in. It has been shown that in the horror genre, Black male representation is lacking and when Black male characters are featured in these movies, they are underdeveloped and expendable.

When looking at race within the horror genre, Black characters are generally relegated to supporting roles such as the police officer working with the town sheriff to stop the serial killer, or the roommate, best friend, or neighbor of the leading character. These characters are also first put in danger and are often shown as the first characters to be attacked like in the movie Scream 2. Early on in the film, Omar Epps' character meets his end at the hands of Ghostface in a movie theater before audiences learn more about his character.

Omar Epps in "Scream 2" (1997)

It is also later revealed that Epps' character was simply killed off because his name matched one of Ghostface’s earlier victims. Epps’ inclusion in the movie itself was simply to follow in a tradition of killing off a famous movie star at the start of the film. Before Scream 2, Epps had gained mainstream visibility with his supporting role in Major League II.

While the horror genre dates back to the early 1900s, the first time a Black male protagonist character was developed in a horror movie wasn't until 1968’s Night of the Living Dead with the character Ben played by Duane Jones. While Ben survived most of the movie in the role of a hero saving most of the main characters, he was gunned down in the end in a case of mistaken identity (a circumstance that is still unfortunately faced by many Black men today).

LL Cool J in "Halloween H20: 20 Year Later" (1998)

A decade following the release of Night of the Living Dead, the first film in the massively successful Halloween film franchise was released, however, there were no Black male characters depicted in Haddonfield, Illinois, the fictional town where the series takes place. It wasn’t until twenty years later in Halloween H20 when a Black male character, played by LL Cool J, had a visible and meaty role in the film.

Busta Rhymes in "Halloween Resurrection" (2002)

The series followed up featuring another Black male character played by Busta Rhymes, who survived Michael Myers in Halloween Resurrection. LL’s character was a school campus security guard who had no role in battling Michael Myers, however, Rhymes’ character had a face-to-face battle with Myers. Both LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes’ character’s survival in both films were linked to helping to protect the final white girl in their respective films.

Omar J. Dorsey in "Halloween Kills" (2022)

In the latest reboot of the Halloween series, the principal surviving Black male character is played by Omar J. Dorsey whose character survived the new trilogy while also helping to protect another white woman, Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, from Michael Myers.

Mason Gooding in "Scream" (2022)

It was another decade between Scream 4 and the latest installment Scream 5 titled Scream, that we saw Black male characters live. After Scream 4, the Black Lives Matter movement occurred. When Scream was released this past January, the character Chad Meeks-Martin portrayed by Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Gooding Jr. made it to the end and will return for Scream 6. Could it be possible that the Black Lives Matter movement made screenwriters reconsider killing off Black men in the horror genre?

Clé Bennett in "Jigsaw" (2017) Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer/Liongate

In another post-Black Lives Matter horror film, Jigsaw, the eighth film in the Saw film franchise, Clé Bennett’s character survived until the end. While it’s enlightening to see the survival and visibility of Black men in horror seem to be increasing, more needs to be done to showcase Black men in leading and not just supporting roles in horror.

By continuing to only show Black males in supporting or minor roles in horror, it not only marginalizes the existence of the group but continues to hide how Black men handle terror and evilness. While non-Black characters can defeat and overcome the terror and evilness that haunts them in the horror film genre, Black men are not often given that chance. In showing Black men in surviving leading roles in horror films such as in Jordan Peele's Get Out and Us, it serves as an example of how Black men can defeat evil rather than letting evil lead to their demise.

Daniel Kaluuya in "Get Out" (2017)

Black men are known to survive in everyday life, whether it be surviving racism or the horrors of economic struggle and violence. Although they say art imitates life and stereotypical Black men are seen as meeting tragic fates more often than their counterparts, Black men are thriving and surviving more than films are showing and that should be reflected within the horror genre. When I saw films like Get Out or Us, as well as Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J’s survival in the Halloween series films after battling Michael Myers, it helped give me confidence that I could overcome whatever terror may come my way.

Horror films are much more than simple entertainment and can carry a message while delivering thrills and jump scares. And the message of Black men surviving is a story that should always be told.


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