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A definitive and surprising exploration of the history of Black horror films, after the rising success of Get Out, Candyman, and Lovecraft Country from creators behind the acclaimed documentary, Horror Noire.
The Black Guy Dies First explores the Black journey in modern horror cinema, from the fodder epitomized by Spider Baby to the Oscar-winning cinematic heights of Get Out and beyond. This eye-opening book delves into the themes, tropes, and traits that have come to characterize Black roles in horror since 1968, a year in which race made national headlines in iconic moments from the enactment of the 1968 Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April. This timely book is a must-read for cinema and horror fans alike.
As a white guy in a 100% white town, I grew up not thinking much about how black people were portrayed in horror movies. I loved Candyman and The People Under the Stairs, but I did not think of them as black movies or the impact they had in the community. It was not until I was older, when I was listening to a lady at the video store yelling at the worker because she accidentally rented Tales from the Hood instead of the Disney movie Tall Tale that I was aware of black movie makers making horror for black audiences. This was an eye opening experience I had in 1995. Many people had this same experience with Get Out in 2017. The reaction to Get Out and the rise of horror that does not have straight white guys as the target audience has grown since Get Out. It is interesting to read a book like The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar now because you can see the change in the sheer amount of examples from the past five years versus the previous four decades.
Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris start with the first two real examples of black people in horror, Spider Baby and Night of the Living Dead, to the present day films like Us, Candyman (2021), and Bad Hair. Harris runs the website, blackhorrormovies.com, and some of this book, particularly the first 100 pages, feels like a long blog post. There are many lists that break up the introduction, and this feels like it is intentional to let us know that even though there are some very important, uncomfortable conversations they are going to bring up about race in horror movies, they want the reader to be disarmed. It is interesting because one of the first topics that they mention is how black people in early horror movies were used as comic relief, ways to cut tension in the scenes. They use some of these tactics in their writing.
Some of the early films are repeated over and over because they match many of the subjects discussed, but also because many decades, particularly the 80s and 90s were not very rich with black horror cinema. I would like to see a follow up to this book in another 10 years, because we are in a golden age of inclusive horror, with more cinema including people of color and other marginalized groups in lead roles in horror movies. Personally I think this is a good thing. The more films I watch and the more books that I read that I feel like I am not the target audience, the more I know that other people are getting films that mean more to them.
The Black Guy Dies First is an interesting, well researched study. I have seen many of the films mentioned, but there are a few that I now want to revisit, and a few I never really considered watching before now (like Surf Nazis Must Die). There are a few times when this book feels repetitive because there are so many of the films that fall into several different categories, but as a whole this is a good, well research study. I really want to visit blackhorrormovies.com and use it as a resource for movies I need to watch.
I received this as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.