“African American characters outlive other characters way more often than you’re lead to believe through genre jokes.” -Blair Hoyle, cinemaslasher.com
“I seen this movie, the Black dude dies first.” -Orlando Jones as Harry in Evolution (2001)
I’m a bit sour to the notion that Black characters (always) die first as the issue skitters the line of accuracy. I’ve always watched horror movies a bit removed from this concept, consistently watching films that more or less taint this formula. If Black people don’t die first, they perish later. My biggest gripe is the fact that Black characters are more times than not woefully underdeveloped, simplified tropes that, if and when they do die, are plants often for the white, central character we are to invest emotionally in. With the television series Fear The Walking Dead being the latest demonstration of Black and first fallen, I began thinking more about why this idea continues to prevail. Within film history in particular, does it have an origin?
With much speculation, there is no firm time stamp on when or how this inescapable sentiment arose. But noted is 1968’s Spider Baby, Or the Maddest Story Ever Told where Mantan Moreland died in the opening scene, marking “the literal death of the outdated black ‘spook’ stereotype in horror movies, and it christened a new, more modern stereotype: the black victim”. The reverse in Night Of The Living Dead (1968) where the Black male lead dies last, “not only reflected a sense of hopelessness about the modern landscape of the late 1960’s, but also launching a legacy of despair about the fate of black characters, even those in starring roles.”