The Black Character Horror Movie Survival Guide

by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris

So, you’re Black and find yourself in a horror movie. Our condolences. We hope you have your affairs in order. But maybe, just maybe, you can make it through unscathed if you take precautions to minimize your exposure to potential harm. The horror gods may be fickle, but they play by the rules; you just have to know how to make the rules work for you. Here are some tips you can follow to avoid ending up in the crosshairs like a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Tip #1: Stay away from White people.

When Chad and Chelsea invite you to a weekend camping trip, take a page from Jordan Peele and just say NOPE. Even if they don’t have nefarious Get Out plans in store for you, it’s a scientific fact that White people in remote locations attract mayhem—from serial killers to alien abductors to possessive Deadites—so why put yourself in harm’s way? Don’t be tempted by what sounds like a fun cabin-in-the-woods party; FOMO will get your ass killed.

Tip #2: Learn voodoo.

If you somehow get suckered into a potentially dangerous outing, at least come prepared by learning some selfdefense. No, not martial arts; we’re talking spiritual arts. As a Black character, invariably, your knowledge of voodoo will come in handy when your White friends are trying to figure out how to banish the evil spirit they conjured with an innocent game of Ouija Board Twister. If you prove yourself useful enough to explain the predicament and the solution, you should last at least to the halfway point of the movie.

Tip #3: Be funny.

Whereas voodoo proves your utility to your fellow characters, being funny proves your utility to the audience. If you can make them laugh, they’ll want you to stick around, and maybe their goodwill can stave off death, like how clapping brings Tinker Bell back to life. Luckily, audiences love Black comic relief characters, so prepare to drop some F-bombs, jot down your funniest “crazy White people” one-liners, and limber up for some skedaddlin’ at the first sign of trouble.

Tip #4: Don’t be annoying.

You know the saying about Black people having to work twice as hard to get half as far? Well, the same applies to horror movies, where Black characters have to be twice as likable to last half as long as the average White character. As such, you’re afforded little leeway to get on the audience’s nerves. Annoying characters in horror films are designed to be discarded, so don’t be an a-hole whose prank on a high school outcast triggers fatal vengeance years later, and don’t be an irrational “Game over, man” scaredy-cat who freaks out when things go sideways, or the game will be over . . . for you.

Tip #5: Don’t be a hero.

That said, while you shouldn’t be an a-hole, you don’t need to stick your neck out to try to be a hero, either. There are fine lines to walk throughout the “horror rules.” While abject cowardice is a kiss of death, heroism is also frequently a fatal flaw—particularly for Black characters. You’d think that striving to be a hero would be a desired trait, but since Black characters so rarely end up actually being the hero, chances are your valiant effort will fall flat, and at best, you’ll end up in a heroic death, awarded a posthumous medal that your significant other can pin to you charred remains. So, resist the urge to be a Good Samaritan; when that disheveled White woman runs up to your car saying that her friends have been eaten by a giant sewer pigeon, hit the gas and pretend you never saw her. Your conscience will forgive you . . . because you’ll be alive.

Tip #6: Call in sick.

Work is bad enough without someone trying to remove your gallbladder with salad tongs, but that’s what tends to happen when you’re employed in a horror movie. Particularly vulnerable are security guards, morgue attendants, animal control officers, custodians in experimental labs, and truck drivers hauling crates with air holes drilled into them (i.e., blue-collar jobs frequently held by characters of color). You’re better off taking the day off or just quitting and moving back home with your parents. The crimp that puts in your sex life will be a good thing, since sex usually leads to death, too.

Tip #7: Be famous, preferably a rapper of some sort.

This could take some time if you have to (a) learn how to rap, (b) get signed to a record deal, (c) have a hit song, (d) get shot in order to prove your street cred, and (e) retire to become an actor, but it’ll all be worth it when the following you earn prior to the movie gives the studio pause when it comes time to decide your fate. Why risk alienating Team Drizzy or all the loyal Rob Baseheads in the audience?

Tip #8: Make your own movie.

Nowadays, all you need is an iPhone, a few lights, and a backyard. Just save two-thirds of your budget to create an awesomely misrepresentative movie poster that will bamboozle thirsty horror fans the world over. Ka-ching!

The Black Guy Dies First cover, showing a Black power fist punching out from a grave

Excerpted from The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris, published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2023.