Out Of The Box
by Megan Mulligan
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
The blonde dies first, the calm “cool guy” survives to the end, the killer probably wears a creepy mask—there are clichés and stereotypes in horror film often repeated ad nauseam.
Popular film genres, like horror, are good mediums to convey different ideas, thoughtful stories and interesting characters. But many of these films, often ones produced by major companies, use stereotypes like crutches.
In horror, a character of color may be the first one killed; a transgender or gender-nonconforming character may be the killer (such as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs). These stereotypes play on ideas and fears about minorities and LGBT characters, assumptions that are sometimes unfounded.
On the surface they’re just stories, but in the long-term, negative stereotypes of minorities and LGBT people perpetuate incorrect characterizations. The characters of color that die first have no room to develop; the transgender serial killer is shown as someone who’s just “confused.”
And these stereotypes do more than just portray characters “badly.” They continue the presentation of characters that represent entire groups of the population as flat and one-dimensional. Putting minority and LGBT characters into boxes reduces the characters—and, by extension, their communities—to a set of archetypes.
“These ‘clichés’ are essentially saying that certain people, when faced with danger, are deserving of the harm that befalls them,” said Karli Marulli (COM ’19), who majors in film and television. “It also just tells audiences that those characters are unessential to the narrative.”
“LGBT people often [serve] exclusively as a convenient punch line for a joke or a lackluster and misguided attempt to show the studio is ‘inclusive,’” writes critic Karly Rayner in an article for Movie Pilot. “Consequently, LGBT characters are rarely given the chance to blossom into a fully formed, complex personality.”
Horror films typically have higher rates of killed or dead characters, and the earlier a character is killed, the less time her or she has to develop onscreen. Without fully fleshed characters to break the mold, the media continues to rely on old characterizations of minorities and LGBT characters. Lack of representation in major movie productions is also a lack of visibility on a wider scale.
Characters of color are resigned to supporting roles, and some LGBT characters are just speculative; characters are not typically openly queer or transgender.
Get Out, a horror film set to release in February 2017 and directed by comedian Jordan Peele, features an African American in the lead role and tackles a number of issues—like systematic racism and economic inequality—as a part of its plot. It opens as a story about an interracial couple and ends “with an insane and terrifying commentary on race and American society,” according to attn.com.
“[Ending stereotypes] may just be as simple as writing/casting protagonists who are women and POCs,” said Marulli. “Secondary characters need to be multi-dimensional so they're not just a collection of clichés."
This kind of representation, according to critics and commentators, reflects a different perspective of current events and social issues other than the standard all-male, all-pale model.
The #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign brought attention to the lack of minority representation in films in general; a February 2016 study at USC found that only 28.3 percent of nonwhite film characters had dialogue. GLAAD’s 2015 Studio Responsibility Index found that only 22 films produced by major film companies included LGBT characters, and only 8 had “adequate” characterizations, dialogue, or both.
The Oscars nominations for 2017 will be announced on Monday, and it remains to be seen whether this year's ceremony will inspire another trending hashtag. It is clear, however, that a character can only develop as much as they are written, and viewers can only know what they are shown; inclusive films give viewers relatable characters and stories.
Simply including minority or LGBT characters is the easy way out. The quality of representation matters equally, if not more, than quantity. Characters that perpetuate negative stereotypes could be just as harmful as not having representation at all.