1) You may not survive the movie if you have sex.
2) You may not survive the movie if you drink or do drugs.
3) You may not survive the movie if you say “I’ll be right back,” “hello?” or “who’s there?”
Those were the rules laid down for us in 1996, although I took liberties with Randy Meeks’ more frantic and colorful language. Other debated horror devices include: When does the black guy die? Is there ever cell reception in murderous neighborhoods? Are women capable of running without spontaneously falling down? It’s fun, right? We, as humans, love looking for patterns and rules; we feel safer when we’re ahead of the game. Call me crazy, but I’m more frightened by what horror movies say about the state of equality than which fictitious characters will make it to the sequel. While it isn’t news to many of us that Hollywood has a diversity problem, few of us realize how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone. That’s where this column comes in: stepping into our sometimes mindless consumption to point out what we’ve become blind to. Sound unpleasant? Enlightening? Stressful? It will likely be all three and then some. Stick with me, kid, we’ll get through this.
How bad is it? Pretty bad. In 2016, the University of Southern California released the first Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (CARD) and the findings are disturbing. The Annenberg Report analyzed the inclusion of women, LGBT folks, and Underrepresented races/ethnicities (Black, Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern) on screen and in production across ten major media companies. I highly recommend reading the full report but I’ll give you the reader’s digest version:
- Women comprised only 28.7% of speaking roles in film.
- Of speaking roles in film/television: 71.7% were white, 12.2% were black, 5.8% were latinx, 5.1% were asian, and 2.2% were middle eastern.
- Of 11,194 speaking roles studied: 158 were gay, 49 were lesbian, 17 were bisexual, and 7 were transgender.
Seems ridiculous, right? Well, it gets worse. The study also looked at the gender balance with regards to age and found roles aged 40+ to be 74.3% men and 25.7% women. Perhaps most strikingly, it found that while only 7.6% of male characters were shown in sexualized attire and 10.8% with actual nudity, for women, the numbers were 34.8% for sexy attire and 34.2% for nudity, with the numbers rising further still for Latinx women (39.5% and 35.5%). Yikes. That was a lot of number talk (thanks for sticking with me) but the point is: Yeah, it’s bad.
Do we have to? I get it. Television and movies often serve as our escape from a world of inequality. Do we really have to ruin a good thing? You bet we do. It all comes down to this: Representation matters. Like it or not, we see media as a reflection of the world we live in. I won’t go too far into the implications of a misrepresentative film industry here, but take a moment to ponder how this could go wrong: young girls seeing a world dominated by men and effectively being told that their breasts, butt, and legs are there for mass comsumption, black kids only ever seeing their skin color on the screen in prison suit orange or holding a gun, LGBT youth struggling to come out plainly seeing that they aren’t even acceptable in a made up world on TV. This is serious stuff.
Why horror movies? First: Because one thing at a time. While I work in the entertainment industry, I can hardly claim ultimate knowledge of the nuances of all film and television. I’m a horror movie enthusiast. I enjoy the tension and the adrenaline rush, and nothing gets me hooked like a good paranormal theory. If I want to address inequality, I have to be willing to look at the things I enjoy most. Second (and most important): Because in a world of monsters, ghosts, demons, aliens, and civilians doing battle with evil, the horror industry can not use “realism” as an excuse for its misrepresentation. If we made a character in Jaws gay, is the unbelievable part really that there’s a gay fisherman and not that there’s a 25 foot Great White Shark with a personal vendetta against him? C’mon, folks.
How is this gonna go down? By and large, I’ll be coming to you week by week with a feminist breakdown of a horror movie. That’s the short version. The longer version is that I’ll be using a variety of tools and research to point out the entertainment industry’s equality problem in specific horror films. It isn’t meant to be a drag and it definitely isn’t meant to be a lecture. We’re in this together. We’re going to put the spotlight on some pretty ridiculous stuff and by the end of it we’ll all be playing a rousing game of Spot The Gross Under- and Misrepresentation Of Minority Groups (I’m open to new names).
Scream had their fun and now it’s Intersectional Feminism‘s turn. These are my rules to surviving a Feminist Horror Movie Review:
1) You may not survive if the movie disproportionately features men, straight folks, and white folks.
2) You may not survive if the movie doesn’t feature women, people of color (POC), and LGBT folks in meaningful roles.
3) You may not survive if women are overly sexualized.
4) You may not survive if the production team lacks diversity.
So there you have it. What’s your favorite scary movie?