Mainstream Horror: Are contemporary horror films “too white”?
The Hollywood Reporter recently posted a story about the rebirth of horror at New Line Cinema, aka The House That Freddy Built. Borys Kit’s piece focuses on The Conjuring, Annabelle, and their sequels, relatively low-budget flicks that have made a ton of money (with the obvious exception of Annabelle 2).
There’s no doubt that the so-called Conjuring cinematic universe has been extremely profitable, with more entries on the way that are likely to be similarly successful. So yes, horror is doing very well at New Line, and if one were to focus on basically any horror movie that James Wan (who is Malaysian/Australian) is involved with one way or another, you could say horror in general is thriving right now.
There is another way to look at it though. Studio horror is incredibly white and boring right now. All of the movies in The Conjuring sphere are about white people and their problems with the supernatural. Let’s expand the list of studio movies and go beyond New Line releases. This year has seen or will see the release of The Forest, The Witch, Lights Out, Blair Witch, Ouija: Origins of Evil, The Darkness, Rings, and Before I Wake.
What do all of those movies have in common? They are about white people and their problems with the supernatural. It’s not that all of them are bad (or look bad). The Witch is fantastic. Lights Out is receiving good reviews and we’re told (this writers has yet to see it) it’s pretty scary. The Conjuring is great and in general viewers seem to like its sequel, which received mostly good reviews. Individual quality isn’t really the issue here.
The lack of diversity in terms of both stories and casts is disconcerting and disappointing. Look at TV right now. Horror has been thriving in the last few years. Hannibal, Bates Motel, Scream, Wayward Pines, Dead of Summer, The Strain, Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story, Grimm, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Scream Queens. That’s not even every title. There’s a whole lot more cast and story diversity on television, which is partly why, in general, small screen horror is so much better than studio horror.
Of course people will be able to point to outliers (at least in terms of story, not necessarily cast), like the recent The Shallows. But these are few and far between. The major studios are primarily making supernatural horror movies starring white people. That needs to change…
When Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was released by Paramount a couple years ago, it was marketed as a Latino spin off of the series. Many praised it as a smart move since the Latino population in the U.S. is large and growing. Even though it grossed much less than previous entries, it still made $90 million worldwide on a $5 million budget. Most would consider that a resounding success (that’s almost the exact same worldwide gross as The Purge on almost the exact same budget), yet it didn’t really lead to more diversity in studio horror.
2015 might have been even worse than this year. Major studio releases include The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Lazarus Effect, It Follows, Unfriended, Poltergeist, Insidious Chapter 3, The Gallows, Sinister 2, Crimson Peak, and, ironically, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. That list includes almost every studio horror movie released last year. All contain a supernatural element. The casts, in particular the leads, are almost entirely white.
That’s way too many supernatural horror movies over the course of two years. It’s time for a new trend or two. Trailers for upcoming supernatural movies make them look like a rehash of many of the others released recently. It feels like the same jump scares and story beats are being used. I see a kid doing something or looking creepy (like their eyes are all white and gross) and it seems like it’s for the twentieth time in the last few months.
As for cast diversity, we have to do better. This is 2016 and America is a diverse country that’s growing more diverse every day. Movies with diverse casts are successful all the time. TV shows with diverse casts get great ratings, and the Fast and Furious films are frequently cited as examples of movies with diverse casts achieving massive box office success. All people deserve representation and everyone likes horror movies. There’s no reason new studio horror movies, even supernatural ones, shouldn’t feature people of color as lead characters.
It should at least be happening more than it currently is.
What do you think?