When Black creatives set out to make a scary movie, we don’t have to reach far into our imaginations in order to construct a nightmare.

-Andrew Keahey

by Andrew Keahey

Black horror films have a consistent combination of factors that make them successful in the public eye: relatability and catharsis. The elements in our horror movies meant to frighten and upset are often familiar to us, and are scary because the fear is something we have felt before, and often.

When the red and blue flashing lights suddenly appear behind you in the middle of the night while you’re driving along what you thought was a deserted stretch of road, you feel that fear in your chest. Your palms sweat, and you can’t do anything but keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes facing forward.

Maybe you walk into the 7-11, and there’s a cop in there, and he’s got his eyes on you in a gaze that he won’t break — a predator just waiting for you to make that one wrong move so he can pick you off. Or maybe you’re just afraid of working hard for what you want, and being denied because of your “ethnic sounding name” or your skin color. Maybe you just smiled at a white woman in the wrong town.

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Our mutual fears and terrifying history often stand in the place of menacing creatures in Black horror. When Black creatives set out to make a scary movie, we don’t necessarily have to reach far into our imaginations in order to construct a nightmare.

We have a real-life nightmare pool from which to draw on, and it’s more than capable of making us lose sleep. Many of us lie awake at night, praying and begging that these injustices won’t have to be suffered by our children, and that justice will come to those that keep us suppressed and in fear. This is how horror movies can sometimes bring catharsis.

Black filmmakers know what to do in order to scare us, but you need more than that to really capture the audience. Yes, the police can be very frightening if you’re the wrong color. They serve as judge, jury, and executioner in breaking stories we see across the nation daily. To many, Black bodies are threatening, and ultimately disposable.

But when we see them get theirs? When we see them feel that fear the same way we do? That’s the sweet spot. We always assume they’re going to get away with it, and when horror movies don’t let them, it’s hard to keep from feeling good, even if it’s just for a moment. I think we’re about to see a film that will hit both of these points hard, and there’s a good chance it will be a hit, too.

Mary J. Blige has just signed on to star in the new horror thriller, Body Cam, from Paramount Pictures. Tonally, this film has been described as a mixture of Get Out and End of Watch. This is good news, since both of those films were very successful at making their audiences uncomfortable, and that’s how you make a successful horror film.

The apparent premise is that a Black youth is killed by two white LAPD officers and a malevolent presence comes to torment them after they destroy the body camera footage in a coverup. The tragic chain of events causes another officer –played by Blige — to begin having mysterious visions, which lead her to investigate the conspiracy.

The film is being directed by Malik Vitthal, a successful short film director who broke into the mainstream with the 2014 Netflix crime drama Imperial Dreams, starring John Boyega. This is a very exciting prospect.

Just having Mary J. Blige’s involvement sells me on it, as she’s an incredible talent who will no doubt do this complex role justice. She secured two Oscar nominations for her work on the 2017 film Mudbound (for both Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song), work that won her a BFCC Award as well as a Gotham Film Award. She’s a powerful actress, and a revolutionary recording artist. She’s got that spirit that can give life to a role, and it’s very exciting to see her enter a new genre.

Even more, one of the writers is John Ridley, an accomplished Black novelist with seven books under his belt and the writer of such film and television projects as The Wanda Sykes Show, Barbershop: The TV Series, Third Watch, and 12 Years A Slave. He’s a writing powerhouse with a history of skillfully penning excellent works regarding race in this country (problematic though he may be), who will no doubt take this film above and beyond your typical hack ‘n’ slash flick.

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Black horror has always been a genre of political commentary and exploration, and the more the horror genre as a whole gains mainstream popularity and. visibility, the more widespread the influential it has the potential to be.

The film and the subject matter are sure to rattle some cages, but that’s exactly what this genre does best! It grabs you by the shoulders, shakes you, and forces you to not only face the horror of what lies in the dark of our world, but also the darkness within ourselves.

The fact that this is a horror film that can be made today with this much Black creative power behind it really does show how far we’ve come, but it also shows how far we have left to go.

Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry