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As Black Horror Enters Its Golden Age, Tracing The Genre’s History And How Contemporaries Are Pushing Its Boundaries

Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us (2019).
Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us (2019).
Claudette Barius - © Universal Pictures

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If the releases of Jordan Peele's critically acclaimed "Us," Justin Simien's "Bad Hair" or HBO's "Lovecraft Country" tell you anything about present-day Black horror, it’s that the genre has entered its golden age. 

Throughout the lengthy history of horror cinema, Black people often had little representation in the genre’s films, both on and off-screen. Black actors mainly took on roles as background characters in the early to mid 20th century. While Black actors' roles in 1980s and 1990s horror films evolved to have more substance, they often played sidekicks, a casting decision informing the "Black characters die first in a preyed upon group" cliché.

But Jordan Peele's critical acclaim of his 2017 film "Get Out" and 2019 film "Us" shows the viability of Black horror cinema in engaging broad audiences. Peele's success is an example of a new wave of horror storytelling that shows films created by Black people and starring Black people as protagonists.

Today on FilmWeek, we talk with horror expert Robin R. Means Coleman and film critic Tim Cogshell about the history of Black horror and the circumstances that led the genre to enter its current renaissance.


Robin R. Means Coleman, vice president and associate provost for diversity and professor of communication at Texas A&M University; she is the author of the book “Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present” (Routledge, 2011), which was the basis for the 2019 documentary “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror”; she tweets @MeansColeman

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC, Alt-Film Guide and; he tweets @CinemaInMind