Black Horror Movies Per Year: 1970-2023

Number of Black Horror Movies Per Year

How Much Have Black Horror Roles Increased?

Tracking the number of modern horror movies per year with significant* Black roles. For  details on specific movies, refer to:

1970s | 1980s1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s

*Admittedly, “significant” is a subjective term that varies by era.

Number of Black Horror Movies Per Year

Black Horror 101: A Brief History of African Americans in Horror Cinema

Black Horror 101: A Brief History of African American Horror Cinema


Black Horror 101: A Brief History of African American Horror Cinema

1. Black Is Boo-Tiful

Jordan Peele Oscar

When Jordan Peeele’s Get Out became a breakout success in 2017, earning him the first Original Screenplay Oscar awarded to an African-American, “black horror movies” suddenly became the new hot property in Hollywood, with many people seeming to believe that this was an entirely new subset of the horror genre.

As landmark of a film as Get Out was, however, African Americans had written, directed and/or starred in horror movies since the early days of cinema — with little fanfare. Until the 1990s, these were largely low-budget, all-black (that is, mostly black) productions that struggled to gain acceptance outside of their target demographic, but as the century turned, major studios began dipping their toes into the sub-genre with fare like Candyman, Bones and Tales From the Hood, and within the first two decades of the 21st century, black horror became a sought-after commodity.

On its way to the Get Out tipping point, though, the state of African-American horror went through several distinct cycles reflecting the prevailing racial attitudes of the time, an evolution that continues to this day.

2. 1930s-40s: Race Films

The Devil's Daughter

The earliest all-black movies, called “race films,” were segregated more out of necessity than by choice, due to the limited opportunities available to African-American actors within the Hollywood studio system. While most race films were polite melodramas and murder mysteries featuring educated, upper-class protagonists, a string of more bawdy, working-class comedies also proved to be popular.

It’s these comedies that were the most likely of the race films to feature horror elements — primarily haunted houses or voodoo curses. Comedians Mantan Moreland (Lucky Ghost, Mr. Washington Goes to Town, Professor Creeps) and Pigmeat Markham (Mr. Smith Goes Ghost, Fight That Ghost) in particular headlined several such movies.

The use of black comedians in horror comedies even extended to major studio productions, with Moreland featured in King of the Zombies, Revenge of the Zombies and several Charlie Chan mysteries. Willie Best, meanwhile, played Bob Hope’s sidekick (credited as his “boy”) in The Ghost Breakers, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson had a significant role in Topper Returns, and Nick Stewart spiced up Zombies on Broadway with his wit. As prominent as these comedic roles were, though, they tended to reinforce African-American stereotypes — most prominently, an overly superstitious fear of the supernatural.

That said, several somber, dramatic race films featured horrific themes. Typically, they revolved around voodoo and religion, like Drums o’ Voodoo, The Devil’s Daughter with Nina Mae McKinney and Ouanga with Fredi Washington; or infrequently, they played out like a typical monster movie of the era, like Son of Ingagi. More serious-minded mainstream films likewise had occasional black supporting cast members — almost exclusively domestic servants or “dangerous” natives — as evident in King Kong, I Walked with a Zombie, Son of Dracula, The Mummy’s Curse and The Vampire’s Ghost.

3. 1950s-60s: Integration and Evaporation

Night of the Living Dead

African-American roles in horror movies all but dried up in the next two decades, for a couple of reasons. First, the 1950s witnessed the start of an era of integration on the big screen, as all-black race films faded into obscurity. Second, movie studios began to display a heightened sense of responsibility to show black people in a positive light due to pressure from civil rights groups like the NAACP. Thus, as Sidney Poitier came to epitomize the “dignified” cinematic African-American ideal, comedic actors like Mantan Moreland became synonymous with outdated racial stereotypes, and black roles in “low-brow” fare like horror movies dried up. Unfortunately, little arose within the genre to take their place.

The most notable exception was Duane Jones as Ben in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, whose ahead-of-its-time casting as the film’s heroic last man standing set the stage for the Blaxploitation movement of the coming decade.

4. 1970s: Blaxploitation


In 1970, the so-called “Blaxploitation” era began as a backlash against integrated films that had either marginalized black characters or presented them in such flat (albeit sometimes idealized) terms that they were rendered unrepresentative. While most of the all-black films of this time were crime dramas and action-oriented, quite a few of the 200-plus Blaxploitation movies released in the decade fell into the horror genre.

Much of Blaxploitation horror simply put an African-American spin on established works like Dracula (Blacula), Frankenstein (Blackenstein), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) and even The Exorcist (Abby), but for the most part, these films rose beyond their basic premises with strong acting and direction. Original plots like the zombie revenge flick Sugar Hill, the cerebral vampire tale Ganja and Hess and ghost stories The House on Skull Mountain and J.D.’s Revenge furthered the depth of the era’s black horror offerings.

The influence of Blaxploitation bled into mainstream studio films during the decade, with prominent black roles that were largely absent in previous decades, such as Rosalind Cash in The Omega Man, Calvin Lockhart in The Beast Must Die, Teresa Graves in Old Dracula and Rosie Grier in The Thing with Two Heads.

5. 1980s: The End of an Era

Black Devil Doll from Hell
Black Devil Doll from Hell

All good things, however, must come to an end. By the start of the 1980s, studios had glutted the market with all-black fare, thus ensuring smaller and smaller profits. To some, the uniqueness of the Blaxploitation genre had become stale. Hollywood assumed that the “fad” had run its course and cut funding for such films. Taking a cue from the Reagan administration’s slashing of social service programs that disproportionately benefited African Americans, the studios began a decade of benign neglect when it came to black cinema. Thus, the few black movies made during the decade — horror or otherwise — generally had to be made outside of the studio system.

Practically the only horror films with primarily black casts (aside from the kid-friendly PBS mystery The House of Dies Drear) produced during that time came from writer/director Chester Norvell Turner. His Black Devil Doll From Hell and Tales From the Quadead Zone were so cheap and poorly made and, in the case of Black Devil Doll in particular, contained such scandalous content that they have since become cult favorites.

In mainstream ’80s horror, Vamp was one of the only horror movies of note headlined by a black actor — Grace Jones — granted, she had only about 10 minutes of screen time. The Bride and Vampire’s Kiss, meanwhile, featured Jennifer Beals, but she was widely perceived to be white — as evidenced by the fact that she was offered the Molly Ringwald role in Pretty in Pink — or at best race neutral, diminishing the cultural impact of her casting.

While the genre continued the uptick in black representation that began during the Blaxploitation era, black characters were less likely to be the leads during a decade that seemed to care more about tokenism than roles of substance. Thus, with the growing popularity of slasher films, in which anyone who isn’t the lead is likely to be killed, the ‘80s almost single-handedly spawned the running joke that the “black guy” always dies in horror movies.

6. 1990s: Urban Horror

Tales from the Hood
Clarence Williams III in Tales from the Hood

By the early 1990s, young black filmmakers like Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, John Singleton and Keenan Ivory Wayans had begun to fill the void left since the end of the Blaxploitation era. Their ability to create quality material with popular appeal showed studios that films with primarily African-American casts could indeed be marketable. And with the plight of black life in the inner cities faring poorly during the ‘80s, there was plenty of fodder for drama, spurring a vogue for movies with realistic, sympathetic portrayals of black people dealing with crime, violence, drugs and poverty.

Within this atmosphere of voyeuristic fascination grew several black horror movies with inner city settings, which became known as “urban horror.” Notable examples included Candyman (although the heroine was white), Bones, Tales From the Hood, Def By Temptation and a pair of films from established horror master Wes Craven: The People Under the Stairs and Vampire in Brooklyn.

Later in the ’90s, as technological advances made filmmaking more accessible to everyday people, urban horror exploded on home video. Companies like Full Moon and Maverick began to produce a slew of cheaply made urban horror releases benefiting from the popularity of hip-hop culture (and often featuring rappers), including Killjoy, Ragdoll, Hood Rat, Cryptz, Zombiez, Vampiyaz, The Evil One and Urban Menace. Since then, direct-to-video movies under the urban horror moniker — which in some minds has come to embody all African-American horror, regardless of locale — have become a steady presence within the horror genre, with even established franchises from Leprechaun and Children of the Corn shifting their focus to “the hood.”

The move towards showcasing black stories in the ’90s even reflected occasionally in mainstream, non-black horror, with starring roles in major films like Demon Knight, Event Horizon, Blade, Spawn, Fallen and House on Haunted Hill — a major shift from the lily white leads of ’80s horror.

7. 2000s: Get Out and Mainstream Breakthrough

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

Through the first decade and a half of the 21st century, there was a steady stream of mostly direct-to-video black horror offerings that flew under the radar despite a slow but perceptible growth in overall quality and diversity of storytelling from the “urban horror” days of the ’90s and early ’00s. Perhaps most prominent were horror-adjacent “black thrillers” of the Fatal Attraction variety (Obsessed, No Good Deed, The Perfect Guy, When the Bough Breaks, Lakeview Terrace) and horror comedies from the Scary Movie, A Haunted House and Madea franchises.

All the while, starring black roles in mainstream horror (I Am Legend, Alien vs. Predator, Gothika, Queen of the Damned) became gradually more common — in part, due to public pressure to diversify casting, as epitomized by the #OscarsSoWhite backlash of 2015 — as did racially conscious stories like The Skeleton Key, Jessabelle and the Purge franchise.

Then, in 2017, Get Out exploded onto the scene, its critical and commercial success almost single-handedly legitimizing black horror as a sub-genre in many people’s eyes. Hollywood studios and producers rushed to find their own films with black stars and themes — nominally because it satiated a public demand for diversity and social consciousness, but in truth, they also wanted to cash in. A slew of movies followed — from Peele’s own Us to Antebellum, Ma, The First Purge, Body Cam, Bad Hair, Vampires vs. the Bronx, Thriller, Spell, His House, Black Box and Kindred, not to mention the HBO TV series Lovecraft Country, which dripped with racial commentary — all reflecting increased public awareness of issues of social justice and institutional racism.

An offshoot of “the Get Out effect” was the continued upward trend in leading roles for black actors and actresses in mainstream horror films whose plots ostensibly have little to do with race — including Escape Room, The Cloverfield Paradox, Overlord, Little Monsters, Slice, Jacob’s Ladder, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Intruder, The Perfection, Pooka, Tragedy Girls, Rattlesnake and Sweetheart. By the start of the 2020s, black representation in horror was at an all-time peak — not only in the quantity of roles, but also in the quality and diversity of stories being told — a far cry from the scarce, narrowly drawn roles that epitomized the opportunities Hollywood afforded to black performers for so many years.

Boss Up Here: The Revolutionary Legacy of Night of the Living Dead’s Ben

The Revolutionary Legacy of Night of the Living Dead's Ben

Originally written for Salem Horror Fest

One of my earliest memories of genuine horror fandom came in the mid-’80s when I popped a VHS tape of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead into my family’s VCR and watched as the character Ben (Duane Jones) led a ragtag group of strangers in their effort to survive a zombie siege, barricaded inside a remote Pennsylvania farmhouse. He was brave. He was take-charge. He was intelligent. He was handsome. He was heroic. And he was black.

It was the latter in particular that drew me to him, because he was somebody who looked like me, and people who looked like me historically didn’t play roles like Ben. Frankly, in the 1960s, apart from Sidney Poitier, there were scarcely any black stars headlining mainstream movies, and within the horror genre, you’d be hard-pressed to find ANY black actors or actresses — stars or otherwise.

While the Blaxploitation era of the ’70s provided greater exposure for black cast members, it was a largely segregated movement, and by the time I sat transfixed by NOTLD in the ’80s, black leading roles were once again scarce in Hollywood. Aside from megastars like Eddie Murphy or Whoopi Goldberg, the best black actors and actresses could hope for was a gig as a sidekick. More likely, they’d be Mugger #2 or Foul-Mouthed Hooker, and in horror, this marginalization manifested itself in an especially drastic manner: death. This was such a common occurrence, in fact, it became a running joke within American pop culture that in horror movies, “the black guy” always dies first.

And so, as I watched this zombie classic, which had so many great things going for it — a legendary director making his debut, edgy gore effects that would signal a shift in genre aesthetics, a redefinition of zombie lore that would serve as a template for the next half century — it was this plucky black man who inspired my awe and showed me how a genre as critically reviled as horror could actually be socially relevant and, dare I say, revolutionary.

It was stunning to me to watch this black-and-white film from the 1960s, populated by actors who looked like they should be in a newsreel about the Civil Rights Movement in the Jim Crow South, but rather than the black man being hosed by policemen or attacked by dogs, he was the one in control. He was the undisputed leader of this group, barking orders at white people and daring to get physical with them if necessary. “Get the hell down in the cellar,” he tells the obstinate Harry. “You can be the boss down there; I’m boss up here.” Even if it had been set in the same era in which I was watching it, this portrayal would’ve been a revelation.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Ben’s role in normalizing black leads in Hollywood movies (granted, that remains a work in progress). Its popularity helped paved the long, circuitous route towards what some have called a new Harlem Renaissance in cinema today, boasting an unprecedented mix of commercial and critical success for movies with black headliners. (In the 70 years the Academy Awards were held during the 20th century, there were 16 nominations and one win for black talent in the Best Actor/Actress categories. In the two decades since 2000, there have been 19 nominations and four wins.)

Because Ben was written as white, NOTLD was one of the first films of any genre starring black actors or actresses that didn’t have a plot specifying their race. Although Romero hired Jones through a color-blind audition process, however, the impact of his color was not lost on Jones, who later stated, “It never occurred to me that I was hired because I was black, but it did occur to me that because I was black, it would give a different historic element to the film.”1

Thus, Ben’s tense interactions with the white characters, the sense of rage he emanates throughout the film and the shocking ending — in which he’s killed by a group of white authorities akin to a lynch mob — all carry racial overtones unprecedented in horror that are still quite potent, regardless of genre. The somber ending in particular helped establish a pessimistic tone for zombie movies to come, while simultaneously reflecting the racial reality of an era in which assassinations and riots had replaced sit-ins and marches (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death having occurred just six months prior to NOTLD‘s premiere).

In fact, when Romero was considering filming an alternate ending in which Ben doesn’t die, Jones lobbied against it. He knew Ben could serve as a symbolic martyr of sorts for African Americans. “I convinced George that the black community would rather see me dead than saved, after all that had gone on.”2

More than 50 years later, as racial unrest once again scorched American soil in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents of police brutality, perhaps there was no better testament to the enduring legacy of Ben’s death than the homage paid to it at the end of Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror hit Get Out. In it, the black hero, having survived the onslaught of the film’s primary antagonists, is approached by the flashing lights of what appears to be a police car — raising anticipation that, like Ben, he will be gunned down by overzealous authorities. Unlike Jones, however, Peele felt that the on-edge nation needed an ending “that gives us a hero, that gives us an escape, that gives us a positive feeling,”3 so he opted for a happy resolution and cause for optimism — an alternative, it could be argued, made possible by the example set by Ben half a century earlier.

1 Joe Kane, Night Of The Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever, 32.
2 Kane, 36.
3 Nigatu, Heben and Tracy Clayton. “Incognegro”. Another Round. Podcast audio, March 1, 2017.

The State of Black Horror: Get Out and Beyond

The State of Black Horror: Get Out and Beyond

Today, the status of African Americans in horror films is tied intrinsically to the status of African Americans in cinema as a whole. That is, it has come a long way since the wild-eyed tribesmen of King Kong and has even seen notable advances just within the past decade, but there are still significant strides to be made toward a more equitable share of leading roles and roles that aren’t reliant on outdated racial stereotypes.

Race and Representation

Just as there has been a spike in the prominence of movies featuring black roles in recent years (as evidenced by the fact that the number of black actors and actresses winning Oscars in the four major acting categories thus far in the 21st century has already nearly doubled the number of wins in the entire 20th century), so has there been a spike in the prominence of horror movies featuring black roles. Just within the past year or two, films like Get Out, It Comes At Night, The Purge: Election Year, The Cloverfield Paradox, Kong: Skull IslandThe Girl With All the Gifts, Cell, The Invitation, Traffik, The Transfiguration and spoofs Meet the Blacks and the Madea Halloween movies have painted a black face (as it were) on a genre in which African Americans have historically been relegated to fodder for the bloodthirsty villain.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox.

Because of the unprecedented recent level of recognition and critical acclaim for movies with black leads, the state of 2010s cinema has been compared to the Harlem Renaissance, but such unfettered optimism should be tempered by the reality that the annual number of movies produced overall (and horror movies in particular) has exploded over the past two decades, meaning black-featured genre films have benefited from that upward trend. Thanks largely to the increased viability of independent cinema and affordability of filmmaking technology, more than twice the number of movies were released in 2016 (795, per than in 1995 (310). For horror movies, the increase is similar, with the average number of genre films released in theaters annually in 1995-2003 being 13.3 and the average from 2004-2017 topping 27.

That said, while the number of black-featured genre films has increased, and while there are prominent examples that thrive in the limelight, the bulk of American horror (like other genres) remains an overwhelmingly Caucasian affair. Mirroring the underrepresentation that spawned the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag shortly after announcement of the 2015 Oscar nominees, the 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies found that, of the 54 top-earning horror movies from 2011 to 2015, 48 (89%) had casts in which 20% or fewer of the actors and actresses consisted of racial minorities. This came despite the fact that minorities accounted for about 40% of the US population in 2015, and people of color bought 45% of domestic movie tickets that year.

It Follows, for instance, one of the most acclaimed horror movies of 2015, features no major black characters despite taking place in working-class Detroit. Other than half-Iraqi Alia Shawkat (whose ethnicity is never mentioned), the cast of the well-regarded 2016 survival thriller Green Room is devoid of minorities even though the antagonists are neo-Nazi gang members. Other recent prominent genre films, like the colonial-era The Witch and period pieces like Crimson Peak, the Woman in Black films and the Conjuring movies, based on real-life cases of paranormal investigation, have the convenient excuse of historical accuracy to exclude black characters.

The Conjuring movies are part of the current horror trend of the moment: haunted house fare. Beginning with 2009’s Paranormal Activity, the Saw franchise’s “torture porn” era gave way to more traditional ghostly scares, culminating in a slew of hits, including the Conjuring, Insidious, Sinister and Ouija series, plus one-offs like Mama, Lights Out, Oculus, the Poltergeist remake, The Haunting in Connecticut and The Possession. One unexpected bit of collateral damage from this new vogue has been the near-complete exclusion of African-American cast members because, as stereotypically “urban” players, they don’t fit into Hollywood’s vision for suburban (read: Caucasian) domestic bliss turning into a nightmare.

White Fright; Or, Why Are There No Black People in Haunted House Movies?
Insidious: I see white people.

Independent films, however, are not as profit-driven and thus not as concerned with the longstanding fear that black-led films have trouble finding audiences internationally (a belief that was at least partially disproven by the Hollywood Diversity Report, which found that, while movie with casts of greater than 50% minorities haven’t performed well overseas, casts with less than 10% minorities have likewise underperformed; the best performers have had 21-50% minority casts), so indies have proven more amenable to larger, more prominent African-American representation. These smaller, non-studio productions tend to feature roles that don’t fit neatly into the stock Hollywood black character types, which, in horror, tend to include disposable characters like criminals, high school jocks, voodoo practitioners, one-dimensional authority figures and sidekicks willing to sacrifice themselves for the hero.

Urban Horror

That said, the typical indie fright flick still falls short of the 40% non-white representation of the US population at large. Movies with black casts that exceed that level tend to fall into the so-called “urban horror” sub-genre. A modern reincarnation of the black-and-white “race films” and later Blaxploitation fare, urban horror is an offshoot of the overall explosion of African-American cinema during the ’90s that spawned from the success of filmmakers like Spike Lee, John Singleton, Robert Townsend, Mario Van Peebles, Julie Dash and Reginald Hudlin, proving the viability of black films to the major Hollywood studios.

Unlike the works of leading black filmmakers, urban horror movies tend to be low-budget, direct-to-video affairs (with exceptions like Tales from the Hood, Bones, Vampire in Brooklyn and genre comedies like A Haunted House and Meet the Blacks). They frequently revel in “hood” stereotypes, sacrificing plot for hip-hop swagger, as evidenced by titles like Zombiez, Vampz, Bloodz vs. Wolvez, Cryptz, Snake Outta Compton, Hood of the Living Dead and Leprechaun in the Hood. Even the higher quality examples have done little more than mimic successful mainstream films (Scream becomes Holla, for instance.).

Leprechaun in the Hood
The Leprechaun RAPPING in Leprechaun in the Hood.

In recent years, major studios have found that black female-led thrillers — Obsessed, When the Bough Breaks, The Perfect Guy, No Good Deed, Breaking In — have struck a chord with moviegoers, although again, they’ve mined other popular movies (in this case, Fatal Attraction and its ilk) for content, leaving African-American genre fare without a defining voice. That is, until Get Out.

Get Out and Beyond

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of 2017’s Get Out to the state of black horror cinema. The Jordan Peele film overcame the odds to earn more than any film on horror mega-producer Jason Blum’s resume, including the long-running Paranormal Activity, Purge and Insidious franchises. It also set a record for the highest domestic gross ($175.4 million) for an African-American-helmed film of any genre — a title it held for just a few weeks until F. Gary Gray’s The Fate of the Furious kicked off the summer blockbuster season (followed by the inevitable Black Panther explosion the next year). If you don’t count spoofs like the largely integrated Scary Movie, which grossed $157 million in 2000, or suspense thrillers like Obsessed ($68.2 million in 2009), the most a horror movie with a largely black cast had earned at the box office until Get Out was Candyman‘s $25.7 million in 1992 (and even that film centered around a white heroine).

Get Out‘s success — both commercially and critically, as it earned an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — not only legitimizes black horror to studios (whose modest $5 million investment in its budget illustrates how little Hollywood is willing to risk on African-American films in general, but especially in unproven genre fare), but it also legitimizes black horror to audiences whose expectations for this sub-genre were understandably low. Finally, it legitimizes black horror for filmmakers interested in the genre and sets a high bar of excellence, while reawakening the possibilities in the genre for allegory, satire and social commentary.

The story of a black man (Daniel Kaluuya) visiting his white girlfriend’s family, only to find them pathologically obsessed with his race, Get Out tackles racial dynamics head-on, taking Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to Stepford Wives extremes in order to hit home the prevalence of racial prejudice in all walks of life and in more guises than people would care to admit.

It’s an in-your-face approach that might not have resonated with non-white audiences five years ago, when many people were insulated in a bubble of self-proclaimed post-racialism, but given highly publicized incidents of racially motivated violence, police brutality and the racially charged 2016 Presidential campaign, it found its mark. It remains to be seen whether horror — a genre known for jumping on trends — will see the release of other similarly pointed black films, but just as it took a string of successful black movies to convince studios that there is a market for African-American cinema as a whole (something that seemingly has to be proven every decade or so), it may take similar convincing to build on Get Out‘s success. In fact, we may need to wait and see how Peele’s follow-up, Us, performs in 2019 before Hollywood truly gives into black horror. In terms of proving the box office potential of black films, Jordan Peele might be horror’s Tyler Perry.

Jordan Peele on the set of Get Out.
Jordan Peele and Betty Gabriel on the set of Get Out.

The contemporary horror movies that most closely resemble Get Out‘s approach are the Purge films. Like Get Out, they utilize hyperbole based on the reality of social inequality. While the Purge franchise is more focused on economic schisms, such divisions are inextricably tied with race, and as such, each of the movies in the series has featured major black characters struggling to survive against rich, mostly Caucasian elitists who view them as expendable.

Within the context of social movements like the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and the Women’s March, these films (each seemingly more politically charged than the one before it) have struck a chord with audiences, propelling the franchise to sustained success through three entries, with a fourth, the prequel The First Purge, due later this year. Notably, it’s the first in the series with mostly black leads and a black director, Gerard McMurray. In terms of determining the commercial viability of black horror in the minds of Hollywood studios, The First Purge is likely the most important film since Get Out.

But flying under the radar are horror movies with less pointed messages about race that are nonetheless just as vital in advancing the black presence in horror. More than ever before, black actors and actresses are being cast in fright film roles that aren’t race-specific. Whereas a few years ago, the entire premise of the thriller Lakeview Terrace revolved around one man’s (Samuel L. Jackson) contempt for a neighbor’s interracial relationship, the 2017 thriller It Comes At Night revolves around an interracial couple, and yet race is never mentioned. The same goes for 2016’s The Invitation. The title character in the 2017 zombie film The Girl with All the Gifts is black, but she could just as well be Caucasian, Asian, Latina or any other race. Same goes for Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s starring role in The Cloverfield Paradox.

Compared to Get Out‘s blunt approach to race, this integration strategy is more subtle, and it appears to be more common in indie films — although 21st-century genre films like 28 Days Later and Alien vs. Predator pulled it off nicely. While it’s perhaps susceptible to falling into the sort of color-blind mentality that fails to account for any level of racial sensitivity, this sort of gradual assimilation can help normalize the presence of black protagonists as merely a reflection of reality — something for which studies like the Hollywood Diversity Report strive.

Regardless of whether a horror movie’s approach to race is direct or subtle, its impact would be limited if the film itself was not good. The power of Get Out is that it not only educates, but it also entertains, and neither aspect would be wholly successful without the other. It’s this level of quality — not just from Get Out, but from a string of horror films in the past year or two featuring prominent black roles — that could make this a watershed period for black horror. Sure, there is still forgettable, low-brow urban horror fare, but it’s increasingly tempered by more original, more thoughtful, more skillfully put together films. While Get Out, It Comes At Night, The Girl with All The Gifts, The Cloverfield Paradox, Traffik and The Invitation get more publicity, recent low-budget works like The Transfiguration, The Alchemist Cookbook, They Remain, Unsullied, Parasites, The Sickle, Initiation and Soft Matter have similarly helped up the ante for black-led horror. And on the horizon are promising films like the satirical Bad Hair from Dear White People creator Justin Simien and Slice, starring Chance the Rapper and Zazie Beetz, from sizzling hot indie studio A24 (Moonlight, The Witch, Hereditary, Lady Bird, Ex Machina, Room, It Comes at Night).

Ty Hickson in The Alchemist Cookbook.
Ty Hickson in The Alchemist Cookbook.

In the ’90s, black cinema — including urban horror, which dwindled by the early 21st century — was wrung dry, stretched thin and then discarded, as if all aspects of black life had been fully explored. It was a post-racial lie that Hollywood told itself, foreshadowing the post-racial label that was to accompany the Obama presidency — a label that Peele set out to repudiate in Get Out. Now, appropriately, Get Out is part of the next great wave of black cinema, helping to define a voice for black horror that can’t be so easily dismissed or extinguished.