It’s become such a popular trope that anytime you’re watching a movie, even if it’s not horror, you start wondering if the Black character in the movie for no apparent reason other than being the “Token Minority” is just there to die first. We should point out that this trope isn’t just relegated only to Black people, but rather that most token minorities in a film are often the first to go (or at least guaranteed never to make it to the end). Let’s take a quick look at this trope and ten horror movies where the Black person dies first.
Why do Black people die first in movies?
There are a few possible explanations for this, but TVTropes.org explains it best as the fact that movies were initially made with White people in mind, and when you have a main cast of all White characters and one token minority for the sake of diversity, who are you going to kill off as a director or writer? The big A-list actor, or the Black person that adds nothing to the plot except for racial balance? It’s a pretty grim explanation, but it makes sense when you consider the racial biases prevalent throughout the film industry and audiences of that time.
That said, it certainly has improved and moved from, “Oh, this Black guy is totally kicking the bucket first” to “Okay, he’s probably not going to be the first to die, but he’s definitely #2 or #3 on the killer’s list.” Overall, the “Black Guy Dies First” trope can also easily just be the “Black Guy Always Dies” trope, as rarely does the token minority ever make it to the end of a horror movie.
The other side of the “Black Guy Dies First” trope is the “Final Girl” trope, where no matter what, the female character in a horror film that doesn’t drink, do drugs, and appears innocent will make it to the end of the movie after a horrific chain of events that no average person would come out of alive. Anyways, here are 6 horror movies where the Black guy (or gal) dies first, even with a healthy pool of other choices available to the killer.
Stephen King’s The Shining is a great novel, but the movie adaptation with Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall might be even better. There were a few differences between the novel and the film, most noticeably the fact that Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) goes from being the hero of the novel to the first on-screen death after Jack Torrance (Nicholson) whacks him in the back with an axe.
The sequel to one of the most popular slasher flicks of all time, Scream 2, kills off two Black characters right in the film’s opening. Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) and Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) are catching a sneak preview of Stab, an in-universe film based on the events of the previous film.
Before the film starts, Phil heads to the bathroom, where he is stabbed by Ghostface through the bathroom stall. Ghostface then sits down next to Maureen in the theater and stabs her multiple times, with no one in the crowd believing her screams as they all think it’s just a prank or publicity stunt for the movie.
One Missed Call
Shelley Baum (Megan Good) is the first person to die in this horrible remake of the Japanese film of the same name. Shelley hears her cat meowing near a fountain and is quickly drowned (along with her cat) by the hand of an unseen character. There’s not much else to say, but if you’re interested in a good Japanese horror movie, check out the original and avoid the American remake at all costs.
In the 1986 sequel to the sci-fi horror Alien, Aliens sees Private Frost (Ricco Ross) die first, shortly after the crew discovers that the inhabitants of the original planet from the first movie have fallen victim to the Xenomorphs. After killing a chest-burster, the Xenomorphs begin attacking the squad. Private Dietrich accidentally sets Frost on fire with her flamethrower, causing him to stumble over a railing and fall to his death—while on fire. Pretty gnarly way to go, but at least it wasn’t a chest-burster.
First off, the fact that this movie and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom forced the Movie Picture Association of America to come out with the PG-13 rating classification is pretty funny, but anyways—Gremlins kills off Roy Hanson (Glynn Turman), the science teacher that Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) brings one of the Mogwai to for him to look at. After eating some food in the lab, the Mogwai turns into a Gremlin and quickly kills Hanson, marking the first death of the movie.
More of a thriller than a straight-up horror movie, but still following in line with the trope at hand, American Psycho may or may not qualify depending on whether or not you believe Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) actually killed all those people. Bateman is weirdly idolized these days, which hopefully means that people are forgetting that he’s a deranged sociopath who kills a Black homeless man and his dog as a way to relieve stress after seeing Paul Allen’s business card at the start of the movie.
The Reverse – Night of the Living Dead
Now that we’ve covered a few movies that utilize this trope, here’s one film that perfectly executes the opposite. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead features a black protagonist, something wildly uncommon for the time, as it was the 1960s and the peak of the Civil Rights movement.
Duane Jones plays Ben, a character that is the complete opposite of what most Black characters had been up to this point—a level-headed man who, if listened to, could have probably saved the other characters in the film from the ghouls. He even makes it to the very end and is the sole surviving character from the core cast.
That is, until a posse shows up and shoots him in the head, mistaking him for a ghoul. There have been countless theories that this is an allusion to racism and whatnot, but Romero himself has said that they weren’t looking for a Black actor when they cast the film and that Jones was the best guy for the part. The script wasn’t altered either, so the main character was doomed to die no matter his color.