Appreciation of Black Women In Horror
Happy Halloween goblins, witches, vampires, and other ghoulish creatures!
For my final 31 Films of Halloween: Women in Horror Edition post, I decided to show appreciation for the Black women in horror! The first Black women who began appearing in horror films were in the 1930’s, and they held roles that strongly represented the social values of America at the time. Films like Chloe, Love is Calling You (1934) and Ouanga (1936) showed Black women as the villain White people (mostly White women) had convinced themselves that they were- thieves of their babies and their men. As the film industry progressed and the horror genre pressed on making more films, the role of Black women in these films didn’t increase in number nor in value. They were pigeon-holed into roles that further stigmatized the ideas around Black people and their culture. They were voodoo priestess’s, gyrating natives, and loyal mammies who served the only purpose of furthering a plot or storyline.
Then, came in the 1970’s. Just as Black pride movements continued their ever-increasing momentum- with an emphasis on Black hair, culture, clothes, and more- came the rise of the Blaxploitation film genre. During this decade, approximately 13 horror films were made that centered around Black women. Most of them were Blaxploitation. They told stories that stepped away from mammie-tropes and the like, and they focused on what horror was truly about- zombies, possession, and more- while Black women served as the focal point, the heroines. Characters like Sugar Hill and Abby Williams are truly a revelation when you go back throughout history and re-watch these stories.
After the 70’s, however, horror films were starring less and less Black women all over again. With the exception of a few, Black women took on a new role- the doting, sacrificial best friend. Scream 2, Freddy vs. Jason, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and even The Vampire Diaries placed Black women in this new role. They weren’t stereotyped; they were just irrelevant. Their fate could have gone either way, and it wouldn’t have effected any aspect of the film.
Everything wasn’t all bad though, right? Of course not! After the birth and death of Blaxploitation, audiences were gifted some really memorable- no iconic- Black female characters in film. Even if they only came once every few years, they still made a stamp where they stood. In 1986, Grace Jones played one of the most stylish, groovy vampires in film ever. Vamp is a campy, cult classic with Jones being the highlight of it all. In 1995, Jada Pinkett Smith plays the demon slayer in Demon Knight, and that same year, Angela Bassett plays Rita Veder in Vampire in Brooklyn. Both were roles you’d hardly ever- if ever- seen Black women play. Vampire in Brooklyn is a reimagination of vampire-lore unlike any other.
Recently, the 2000’s definitely seem to have gotten the ball rolling a little faster. 28 Days Later, Gothika, and Alien vs. Predator all came out the same decade, and they all have a powerful Black woman charging the head of their film. More recent years also seem to be catching wind of the want- no the need- of more Black women in horror. It’s no doubt that Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in Us will go down as one of the most outstanding and popular performances of this decade. And films like Ma allow for Black women to be fun and campy the way we all love horror to be. As the film industry expands its definition of diversity, it’s sometimes easy to feel annoyed with how late and how slow their progress really is. But I also can’t help but feel so excited about what the future has to offer.. What, with things like Candyman in the near future and all.
SO without further ado, here are some of my favorite Black female characters in horror. There’s so many more that deserve recognition, but enjoy this modest list of mine.