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Race and Horror: A Review of Them

 

Little Marvin and Lena Waithe’s up-and-coming horror anthology series, set in 1950s America, centres around the first black family to move to an all-white neighbourhood. With just simple glimpses into this nightmarish world, the two trailers that were released onto Youtube provide us with ample shocks and scares, enough to leave us clinging to our seats. Some of these images do not, however, seem new. In fact, all that the trailers did was open a whole can of controversy for fans of politically driven narratives and modern horror buffs of the like.

The Emory family moves from their rural home in North Carolina to an idyllic home in Compton, in a suburb that seems to be ripped right from the old 50s ‘American Dream’ advertisements. This perfect home soon becomes the family’s worst nightmare as their white neighbours do everything in their power to get them to leave. At the same time the family is plagued by a seemingly otherworldly force, just as hellbent as their neighbours, on their destruction.

The big question that plagued Twitter shortly after the release of the trailers for Them was: ‘Aren’t they just ripping off Jordan Peele?’. With films like Get Out and Us leaving lasting impressions on us, it’s hard not to compare the works of director Jordan Peele to Them. Comparisons between the films Us and Them were made in terms of the casting of Shahadi Wright Joseph, the word play of the films side by side as well as the emphasis on family in both plotlines. Even though Peele does not own the monopoly on black trauma horrors, it at the very least seems like the creators of Them took inspiration from his work. 

More questions rose with people asking why race is the driving plotline in horror films and shows starring black actors, and specifically dark-skinned actors, with one Twitter user stating: “I appreciate Jordan Peele for getting black folks into the horror genre but black horror does not have to centre around white folks all the time like damn”, leaving other users questioning whether black horror films really do black people justice at all. Other users thought otherwise: “This is going to be THE series to watch. I was fortunate to screen during #sxsw and it is ? Amazing writing, storytelling and can we get into this talented and beautiful starring cast? #Them @ThemOnPrime” said critic, Jeandra LeBeauf. 

Despite the trailer’s mixed response – co-executive producer, Lena Waithe, had this to say about the show from an article by Entertainment Weekly: “I’ve always been a genre fan…I love specifically psychological horror. I always wanted to put a black family, frankly, at the heart of the kinds of stories I love the most, the classic kinds of horror movies that I never saw us centred in.”

Love it or hate it, stories like these, whether they be horrors or not need to be told. More media needs to break the white formula and produce films and shows with people of colour at the forefront and that is exactly what Them is doing.

 

Jasmine is a second year student at the University of Cape Town, majoring in English and film studies. Writing and reading are her two greatest passions, next to geeking out about the newest Netflix series and listening to chill lo-fi beats.
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