Oakland, CA — October — the spooky season is when the boogeyman comes out of hiding, when the vampires search for their next victim at night and when we consume an endless amount of horror shows and movies.
Watching is fascinating, yet scary about watching a horror show. It’s the hair-raising, heightened senses and fast-beating heart that keeps us enthralled. But for a large history of this genre, Black women were either not given an adequate storyline or they die early on. They are cast to be terrorized and then quickly die to support the main character, not given a fighting chance to survive. This can be seen in Jada Pinkett’s death in the opening scene of “Scream 2” and in Kelly Rowland’s performance in “Freddy vs Jason.” Black women shouldn’t have to watch themselves on-screen in horror films only to die or be used as pawns for the white protagonist.
Black actresses have a range; they shouldn’t be pigeonholed, limiting our ability to see them in different genres. Fortunately, they are now being featured as the main protagonists in these types of stories without assuming the role of the best friend who dies saving the main character. Because we often don’t see enough of them, I would like to highlight five actresses who have given outstanding performances in horror stories proving that Black women are capable and worthy of being given these roles.
Lupita Nyong’O in “US”
Jordan Peele is a well-known comedian, but has quickly made a name for himself as a director in the horror genre. “US” is about a Black family that gets terrorized by evil replicas of themselves from another world. Lupita Nyong’O gives a chilling performance as both the villain and as the woman fighting to protect her family. She stretches her acting ability through her portrayal of both characters, leaving audiences at a loss for who to root for.
Nathalie Immanuel in “The Invitation”
“The Invitation” is about a woman played by Nathalie Immanuel who takes a DNA test and finds out that she is related to a long-lost cousin. Unbeknownst to her, her newfound family are vampires and the secret wedding she is invited to is her initiation to become a vampire. At the start of the film, she is an introvert who mostly keeps to herself having no family but slowly transforms throughout the movie into a certified vampire hunter.
Octavia Spencer in “Ma”
In “Ma,” Octavia Spencer takes on the villainous role as a woman that terrorizes a group of teenagers after letting them host a party in her basement. Her performance is terrifying as she preys on the kids, leaving the audience unsure of her next actions. This role was different from what we were used to seeing Spencer in, but she showed whether it’s a drama or horror genre, she can be brilliant in both.
Danai Gurira in “The Walking Dead”
Before Danai Gurira’s appearance, the show had few Black people, and the ones who did appear died early on and had little to no character development. When she came on the show, Black women finally saw themselves in the story and connected with her character. She held her own next to the main hero, Rick Grimes, and her storyline was not dependent on him.
Teyonah Harris in “Candyman”
A sequel to the 1992 film, “Candyman” is the story of the urban legend man whose spirit appears if his name is repeated five times in front of a mirror and kills people. In this film, Teyonah Harris plays the role of the main protagonist’s girlfriend whose wise counsel would have saved him had he listened to her, proving once again that people need to listen to Black women. Her quick-witted thinking gave her the advantage to escape the clutches of Candyman and survive until the end.