The Otter Student Union in partnership with the Otter Cross Cultural Center held the keynote event Laughing to Keep from Dying with Danielle Fuentes Morgan, who discussed the history of Black horror movies. Through navigating the satirical undertones of these films, there are realms opened that aid people in understanding the systemic racism plastered around us.
Horror movies have been noted for their ability to create nuanced exhibitions about the particular issues that affect our society. They act as gauges of social anxieties as they create imagery that mirrors the hostility and violence occurring within the environment. Morgan emphasized that the “real monsters are people and human nature.”
“Most horror films have to do with racial tensions and the fear of what we call ‘the other,’” Morgan said.
Making a comparison between an episode from Rod Sterling’s anthology series “The Twilight Zone” and Jordan Peele’s horror film “Us,” Morgan delivered the sentiment of the stark contrast in treatment that white and Black children receive within their society.
“It’s A Good Life,” an episode from “The Twilight Zone,” is centered on Anthony Fremont – a 6-year-old who creates destruction when he uses his godlike mental powers. Fremont perpetuates violence with no consequence. Morgan said that his behavior and lack of repercussions back up the assumption in the power inherent in whiteness and the expectation that white children would always be seen as “innocent.”
Jordan Peele’s “Us,” however, depicts the stark end of the spectrum for Black children. In the film, 9-year-old Adelaide Wilson becomes lost in a hall of mirrors when she escapes from her parents supervision and is confronted by her evil doppelgänger. During this scene, Wilson is wearing an adult shirt and drawing her frame, which Morgan explained is “signaling how she isn’t seen as a child.”
“Like a near adult, almost forced as a position of adulthood,” Morgan said. “Black children are never seen as children. They don’t have subjectivity and they’re not usually the ones that enact violence but they are usually the objects of our fears made manifested.”
Wilson remains victimized while Fremont is victimizer and is overly protected which is a detriment to all as his evil continues to be encouraged and allowed. Ultimately, Wilson and Fremont’s characters mirror the treatment of children within the eyes of the criminal justice system, as there is a clear depiction of who remains in power or who is disenfranchised.
Morgan also discussed another one of Peele’s films, “Get Out,” which illuminates the horror of both micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions.
“No longer do we see the snarling, over the top racists,” Morgan said. “But we meet racists who are kind, who are charming and who are beautiful.”
The antagonists of this film are the Armitage family. They are not overtly racist, but are rather highly educated, left-leaning folks who performatively don’t harbor racist feelings, but at the same time don’t have real relationships with Black people.
Although the Armitage family is non-racist, their family continues to engage in damaging racist acts. Morgan states that “not-racist is not the same as anti-racist.” The family engages in an ideology of performative liberalism that brushes the surge of racism and race, as if they only see these issues in a binary understanding rather than a nuanced way of thinking.
Ultimately, Morgan proved how horror movies are a viable way of talking about the issues ingrained within our world. Racialized horror allows us to see that one of the biggest monstrosities to exist is the haunting reality for Black people and the racism they continue to endure.
“Never do we have to invent a monster,” Morgan said. “Truth is stranger than fiction.”