‘Them’ Is Not The Black Horror Series We Need, Or Want
I found it audacious of everyone involved in this project to label the controversial show as a horror.
April 21, 2021 at 4:16 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Whew! That's all I had to say when the credits rolled after wasting two binge days viewing Amazon Prime's newest series, Them.
(Spoilers ahead, so don't come for me.)
I was speechless, appalled, frightened and disturbed. When it comes to a great horror flick, the aforementioned feelings I felt are usually a good thing after viewing classic films like Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, The Shining and Get Out. However, in this case, I was completely disgusted and a little embarrassed.
There are a plethora of things to unpack with this series, but we ain't got time like that. Aside from the blatant fact that Them is full of Black trauma, I found it audacious of everyone involved in this project to label the controversial show as a horror.
Them, is a 10-episode anthology that tells the story of a Black family from North Carolina who moves to Los Angeles in 1953 after they suffer an unimaginable tragedy. I assumed this series was created to merely highlight the hardships Black Americans faced during The Second Great Migration, another moment in Black history that was not taught in school.
But I soon discovered Them was packed with superfluous Black trauma porn that doesn't seem to quit. Ever. If you've seen Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls, then you may remember the tension you felt while viewing that film. Them is 100 times worse.
Considering the times that we’re in, Black audiences want to view content that includes us but still serves as an escape from the harsh realities we face as a people. I understand that desire because, yeah, we deserve to be represented in lighthearted rom-coms, supernatural stories, real horror projects and comedies that aren't modern minstrel shows.
Initially, I defended Them in the days leading up to its release. I'm a bonafide, certified fresh, scream queen. I adore horror films and TV shows, and I watch them even when it's not spooky season. I'm currently writing a horror feature, and I also belong to a horror Facebook group. Yes, it's that serious.
Jordan Peele stepping into the horror/thriller genre will always be remembered as a breath of fresh air for a Black horror fan such as myself. As you may have been brought up to believe, Black people and horror don't usually mix. Next to science fiction and fantasy, the horror genre is often the last place we see ourselves in. So when we were graced with Peele's Get Out and Us, followed by Misha Green's Lovecraft Country, it felt as if Hollywood was reading my heart and mind.
The trailer for Them intrigued me and I was geeked to tune in, albeit with a few reservations.
I recognized similarities between Them and Peele's Us with the cinematography style and the marketing, which I figured was homage rather than copying, per sé. I also noticed that films and TV shows exploring the theme of racism equating to horror is slowly but surely trending in mainstream filmmaking. And, when I saw that Lena Waithe was the executive producer of the series, I knew that would strike a nerve for some. Waithe hasn't been a favorite amongst Black folks since Queen & Slim.
But, as a true horror fan, I started the series the day it was released. I should've stopped right there.
I managed to get through episodes one through four and, honestly, I was entertained to some capacity. But, I was also slightly annoyed. There's a thin line between angering your audience in a good way and in a bad way, and Them was teetering on that line heavily. The opening scene in episode one alone made me shout at my television.
It's when I got to episode five that I realized this was indeed trauma porn with a little bit of horror — just like Twitter said from the jump. I don't even recall a warning message flashing across my screen, and episode number five definitely needed one. I yelped during the "cat-in-a-bag" scene. What exactly was the reason for showing us an entire sexual assault of a Black woman on-screen, while a creepy white woman swung an infant around in a pillowcase until he died? I wouldn't label something this traumatic as "horror."
I wasn’t spooked, paranoid or the tiniest bit scared while watching Them — I was mad. The few horror elements that were laced throughout the series did not trump the anger that the series caused me to experience. The best horror films and thrillers I've seen made me yell at the female lead to not run upstairs, but also frightened me enough to make me double-check my locked windows and doors at night.
Topsy and Bopsy, the ghoulish dancing duo in episode eight of Lovecraft Country scared the hell out of me. But what was even more fascinating was the backstory behind those characters. What made Lovecraft shine was that it was based on true racial historical moments that really were horror. What Them attempted to do was take a historical time in Black history and lace the story with creepy vibes that didn't triumph over the trauma. That's the difference between Them and other horror projects, like Get Out and Lovecraft Country, that place race as its theme — it betted on trauma rather than the lucid elements.
Them’s storyline had potential, but it did not deliver as I had hoped. Though I wasn't entertained, I won't write off the show’s creator, Little Marvin. Whether I accept it or not, this series was his contribution to bringing awareness about the past and what we face as a race to this day. I can respect that, but I will be wary of his future projects moving forward.
I have yet to see a positive review from Black viewers on this one. However, in my aforementioned Facebook horror group, my white counterparts raved about it. As Carrie Bradshaw famously voiced, I couldn't help but wonder who exactly was this series created for.
Do you prefer ‘The Temptations’ or ‘The Five Heartbeats’? Is Jamie Foxx in ‘Ray’ one of your favorite performances of all time? Do you watch BET all day when 'The Jacksons: An American Dream' comes on? If you can answer any of these questions, vote in our Black Music Bracket here! You won't be disappointed.