Welcome to the latest puzzle in my ongoing series, Eyes Open, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights protests.
The media we consume can have an incredible influence on how we feel, what we’re exposed to, and even what becomes common knowledge. For instance, many viewers were completely unaware of the Tulsa race riot of 1921 until it was featured in HBO’s Watchmen TV show.
One of the genres that reveals the most about who we are and what drives us is horror. Horror movies are a reflection of modern society. They reflect not just our fears, but our expectations, our biases, and our most primal emotions.
And minorities, whether people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or both, have never been treated well in horror cinema.
Most black characters in early horror films were portrayed as servants or savages. With the advent of films about dark magic and zombies, black people were featured as the monsters, in addition to servants or savages.
[Image courtesy of Keith & the Movies.]
It wasn’t until 1968’s Night of the Living Dead that we had a black character in horror who wasn’t just competent, but heroic. And, sadly, even he comes to a bad end before the film is through.
The 70s ushered in a new era in black horror, as blaxploitation films exploded onto the scene. Although they reinforced many negative stereotypes about African-American culture, they still provided a platform for black performers and black filmmakers alike.
The introduction of slasher movies in the 80s pushed black characters in horror back into the background. Never serving as lead characters, often treated as fodder for the killer or sacrifices so the white characters could escape and live to fight another day, there were few bright spots in this period.
Often, the most horrific, violent, and unnecessarily gruesome deaths are reserved for minorities. Even into the 2000s, you could easily point out the most horrendous deaths, and invariably, a member of an already mistreated social, gender, or ethnic group is the victim.
Many times, expressions of sexuality are considered deviant and punished. And sadly, for decades, LGBTQIA+ individuals (not to mention women making their own sexual choices) were lumped in as deviant and punished in equally brutal fashion.
[Image courtesy of The Wrap.]
2017’s Get Out has been treated as a coming-out party for black horror, but in truth, it stands on the shoulders of brave entrepreneurs who forced Hollywood and mainstream audiences to accept black characters as more than monsters, filler, or fodder. Representation both in front of and behind the camera is getting better, but we still have a long way to go.
And sadly, transgender characters are just as vilified and victimized. Their sexuality and identity is used either as a shock reveal (Sleepaway Camp, Homicidal, House at the End of the Street) or as motivation for murder (Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Dressed to Kill). You virtually never encounter a trans character who is simply treated as a person.
Horror is a spotlight, rooting out our fears and presuppositions, demanding that we face up to them. It is a small reflection of the bravery of those who speak up, who protest, who stand for the rights of others, by dragging these subjects into the light of day for all to experience.
Today’s puzzle may seem like a seasonal digression from our previous efforts, but it’s meant to celebrate the films and filmmakers who have helped transform, shape, and guide black cinema across decades.
As author Tananarive Due said in the Shudder documentary Horror Noire, and as we’ve quoted for the title of today’s puzzle, “Black history is black horror.”
I hope this puzzle serves to both engage you as a solver and encourage you to learn more about the role that black horror plays not only in cinema, but in society as well.
[Click this link to download a PDF of this puzzle.]
If you have suggestions for more topics for me to cover in future puzzles, please let me know. If you’re a person of color and you’d like to share a puzzle of your own, or to collaborate with me on a puzzle, please let me know.
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, and you have ideas, please let me know. If you’re a trans person, or a non-binary individual, and you feel underrepresented in puzzles, please let me know.
I would like this to become something bigger, but hopefully, this is at the very least a start.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for standing up, speaking up, and fighting the good fight.
Support LGBTQIA+ people.
Black lives matter.