White Leads and Race in Horror Films

Movies such as The Grudge, The Forest, and The Other Side of the Door take place in countries such as Japan and India. However, rather than the protagonists being people of color, the lead roles tend to go to white American or English actresses such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Natalie Dormer, and Sarah Wayne Callies. Indeed, white people do exist in these countries, but there is a dearth of leads of color in horror, even when a white person would likely be the setting’s racial minority.

Analyze the potential racial implications. What are the possible reasons for casting predominantly white actors (for example, the often-cited “star power”), and does this suggest anything about the horror genre and its treatment of race? Are there any films that do not adhere to this trend? Going beyond white characters abroad as the premise, the article could possibly unpack horror movies such as Night of the Living Dead (black male protagonist killed by mistaken gunfire) and Candyman (black male antagonist killed by mob for an interracial relationship with a white woman).

  • I don't know much about horror. I scare easy. But this sounds like a good topic that I would be interested to learn about because I think sometimes filmmakers don't fully appreciate that diverse casts add so much more depth. I always like to refer to the original Star Trek when this topic comes up. At the height of the Cold War, just after the McCarthyism, Gene Roddenberry had Chekov on the bridge of the Enterprise. Back then, a radical role and casting decision. Yet here we are in 2016 with the end of communism. I think if you look at the really good horrors or any classic movies they transcend time to reach audiences of all generations. Maybe a good place to start would be the vampire legend. It did start in Transylvania, Romania. – Munjeera 8 years ago
  • Great points, Munjeera. If anyone who writes this looks at horror in general (not just film), they could look at anti-Eastern European and anti-Romani sentiments in vampire literature, which also connects with pseudo-science being used to try to legitimize racism. The reason Stoker emphasizes Dracula's distinctly Eastern European features is to connect them to degeneracy because back then it was thought that the shape of the skull/facial features determined intelligence and morality. This was in turn used to "explain" why other races were "inferior." – Emily Deibler 8 years ago
  • Yes, that was the school of thought, phrenology among other names, back then. It probably was influenced by intra-ethnic hierarchy among Europeans. Maybe whoever writes this article could look at Blade with Wesley Snipes. – Munjeera 8 years ago
  • You're right, and i just remembered that physiognomy is the name of the study of facial expressions that normally led to scientific racism toward people of color and xenophobia toward white people seen as "lesser" (Eastern Europeans; the Irish). The writer could possibly discuss horror as a genre that deals with fear of the unknown, and this may be connected to how people thought of as "Others" are treated in films. For a specific horror subgenre, there's also slasher film tropes such as the black character dying first or the typically virginal white woman being the sole survivor. – Emily Deibler 8 years ago

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