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The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar

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A definitive and surprising exploration of the history of Black horror films, after the rising success of Get Out, Candyman, and Lovecraft Country from creators behind the acclaimed documentary, Horror Noire.

The Black Guy Dies First explores the Black journey in modern horror cinema, from the fodder epitomized by Spider Baby to the Oscar-​winning cinematic heights of Get Out and beyond. This eye-opening book delves into the themes, tropes, and traits that have come to characterize Black roles in horror since 1968, a year in which race made national headlines in iconic moments from the enactment of the 1968 Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April. This timely book is a must-read for cinema and horror fans alike.

ISBN-13: 9781982186531

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press

Publication Date: 02-07-2023

Pages: 336

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman is Northwestern’s vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion. An internationally prominent and award-winning scholar, Dr. Coleman’s work focuses on media studies and the cultural politics of Blackness. Dr. Coleman is the author of Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present and African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor. She is coauthor of Intercultural Communication for Everyday Life. She is the editor of Say It Loud: African American Audiences, Media, and Identity and coeditor of Fight the Power: The Spike Lee Reader. She is also the author of a number of other academic and popular publications. Dr. Coleman is featured in, and executive produced, the critically acclaimed documentary film Horror Noire which is based on her book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present. Mark H. Harris is an entertainment journalist who has written about cinema and pop culture for over twenty years for New York magazine, Vulture, Rotten Tomatoes, About.com, PopMatters, Salem Horror Fest, Napster, MadAtoms, Pretty Scary, Ugly Planet, and THEiNDI. A lifelong horror fan, he created the website BlackHorrorMovies.com in 2005 as the premier online source chronicling the history of Black representation and achievement in horror cinema. He was a featured commentator in the acclaimed documentary Horror Noire and the Shudder series Behind the Monsters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Black Guy Dies First

Types of Black Horror Movie Deaths



Anyone who habitually roots for Black characters to survive horror movies is used to disappointment. Sometimes the best you can do is hope that the inevitable death is a good one: one that’s memorable, integral to the plot, and/or worthy of martyrdom instead of ridicule. Not all deaths are created equal, after all. Here’s the range of what you can expect, from best to worst.

Heroic Death to Save the World

If you’re gonna go out, it may as well be a death of Black Jesus–level sacrificial proportions, like using your blood to cure a global pandemic or blowing up the comments section of YouTube.

FUNERAL: 21-gun salute; casket filled with glazed donuts for the afterlife; Wiz Khalifa performs “See You Again”

Heroic Death to Save the White “Hero”

This sort of devotion to the White star might seem a bit Uncle Tom-ish to some, but within the context of the movie, it’s as prominent a death as a Black supporting character can get.

FUNERAL: 21–Nerf gun salute; Charlie Puth performs “See You Again”; White hero adopts your children

Climactic Death

You were this close to being the hero; you made it to the final showdown with the Big Bad, but it turns out you were the sidekick all along. Bummer.

FUNERAL: Eulogy given by either Oprah Winfrey or Gayle King, whoever is more available and cost-effective

Creative Body Count Death

Sure, in the big scheme of things, your death amounted to little more than padding the movie’s body count, but at least the way the killer turned your intestines into balloon animals looked cool.

FUNERAL: Held during Sunday brunch at Red Lobster; Tyler Perry booked for a five-minute appearance as Madea

Pedestrian Body Count Death

A regular ol’ knife to the gut? Really, doesn’t anyone take pride in homicide anymore?

FUNERAL: Held during Thursday early bird dinner at Hooters; Lance Crouther booked for a five-minute appearance as Pootie Tang

Opening Scene Death

“The Black Guy Dies First,” indeed. Way to beat a dead horse.

FUNERAL: Pallbearers are one-half of Milli Vanilli, two-thirds of Bell Biv DeVoe, and all the Baha Men

Off-Screen Death

If a horror movie character dies in a forest, but there are no cameras around, does it even matter?

FUNERAL: Your body’s orifices may or may not be used to smuggle cocaine through Customs; life insurance paid out in Spam sandwiches

Anonymous Death

You’re so inconsequential, you don’t even get a name—just one of dozens of people who get stepped on by Godzilla or gnawed on by zombies.

FUNERAL: Involuntary cremation via Silly String and a Bic lighter; ashes snorted by Jeff Bezos in order to attain immortality