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Multicultural Horror – Scary Movies Beyond White Hollywood

Most Horror films find origins in American and European folk tales. Even as cinema evolved and America became a melting pot, these tales often fell back on the same Euro-centric tropes and fables. When PoC roles were included, at best they played the same part as others, completely ignoring their ethnicity or culture in a white-dominant script, setting, or cast. At worst, they fell victim to numerous racially-charged tropes, including the First to Die, the Mystical Minority, or the Racial Stereotype.

Not that there haven’t been Western movies focusing on these other perspectives. Unfortunately, like much of representation in Hollywood, the selection is small and doesn’t exactly fit current audience demographics. Luckily, times have changed, and slowly the amount of Asian, Latin, and African-American films have been growing.

That’s the point of this article, to discuss these other types of Horror movies and to expose the audience to new worlds of the chilling and frightening. So buckle in as we take a trip through the United Nations of the supernatural and psychological thrillers.

Asian Horror

You can thank the 2002 remake of Ringu (Ring) for making this the most famous sub-genre among American audiences. Japanese Horror stretches back long before that, however, to such great films as Onibaba and Jigoku. Modern J-Horror actually started in the 90s, but most American audiences weren’t exposed until the works of Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu were brought overseas. Don’t think Japan has cornered the market, though, as China, Korea, and Thailand have plenty to offer, with films like 見鬼 (The Eye), 악마를 보았다 (I Saw the Devil), ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ (Shutter) and 장화, 홍련 (A Tale of Two Sisters). In fact, three of those were remade into American films, 2008’s The Eye and Shutter and 2009’s The Uninvitedbut I’d stick with the originals, as all of those failed miserably.

What makes Asian Horror stand apart is its origins in cultural tales that stretch back centuries. J-Horror’s ghost stories are often modern, spooky approaches to kaiden, folktales that were recorded as early as the 17th century. These films use many culturally-specific (and creepy) tropes, like white-clad ghost women and their long hair, rooted in Asian culture. Like the stories they’re based on, these movies act as warnings against forgetting traditions, breaking taboos or social norms, and allowing emotion to overshadow reason. Asian Horror is filled with Asian religion and myths, from Shinto and Buddhist symbols to some of the creepiest monster stories.

Latin and Hispanic Horror

Latin and Hispanic Horror is basically the Spanish (or Portuguese) speaking sibling to Hollywood productions. Most of the films mirrored the usual styles of the time, like the 60s thriller Hasta el viento tiene miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid), the 80s headtrip Santa Sangre (Holy Blood), or the 00s supernatural mystery La Sombra de Jennifer (Jennifer’s Shadow/Chronicle of the Raven). Mainstream success among English-speakers didn’t occur until one man: Guillermo del Toro. He presented American audiences with some of the most amazing tales of the supernatural, including Cronos and El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone). Del Toro would draw even more attention to Latin Horror by producing other directors and writers, including the Spanish short film (turned full-length movie), Mama. Today, you’ll find some of the greatest modern Horror films here, including Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are) and the REC series, both of which were remade as American variants.

Interestingly, Latin and Hispanic films often aren’t too different from their American counterparts, barring language. That isn’t to say they don’t have some unique cultural perspectives, often focused on history or faith. Guillermo del Toro has several supernatural films set in the Spanish Civil War, a period of history unfamiliar to many. Even better, the addition of Mesoamerican legends has added some great twists on everything from vampires to ghosts. Catholicism, blood rituals, and sexuality mix together into something new, with the biggest example the infamous film, Alucarda.

African-American Horror

Even more than Latin and Hispanic films, African-American Horror is intertwined with Hollywood and mirrors society’s history and social issues. A segregated (and racist) Hollywood kept African-Americans from producing much beyond silent films or docudramas, not to mention starting most of the worst stereotypes and tropes. Luckily, the rise of Black cinema in the 70’s brought African-American variants of your standard Horror plots. Ghosts (J.D.’s Revenge), exorcisms (Abby), and torture/exploitation films (Fight for Your Life) all seen through the lens of post-Civil Rights black culture. This continued into the 90’s (Def by Temptation and Tales from the Hood) and 00s (Holla and Nailed). No small amount of modern AA-Horror also involves urban settings and stories, like the gangs of Dead Heist and the streets of Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror.

The obvious difference with AA-Horror is the prevalence of African-American culture, from language to social commentary. Even better, this genre not only attempts to avoid racist tropes but also mocks them. Black characters live until the end (and without the assistance of White characters), any mystical character’s don’t rely on their race or ethnicity, and most stereotypes exist from the perspective of African-American society. These movies are great for making fun of the usual tropes, using no small amount of humor, as a lesson is to not be stupid. Even the taglines of some films laugh at the stereotypes, including quotes like “Don’t run… haul ass!”.

Other Genres

Now, I’ll apologize for the limited information on the following films. Sadly, due to a lack of distribution and exposure, many of these are rare and hard to find. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention these great movies.

Although African cinema is more limited than many others, Nigeria’s “Nollywood” has made some fun movies. Most of these films center on religious themes (especially Christianity), natural threats, or human-made conflicts. If you can find them, then you can’t go wrong with Agbara Nla or Ayamatanga.

Bollywood also has no small share of Horror films. Although many of these include classic folktales from Hindu lore, India has also produced a variety of remakes of American cinema. For a taste of Indian culture and monsters, then look at the classics like Mahal, Bees Saal Baad, and Raat. If you prefer something closer to western tastes, then try Raaz, 13 B, or Ragini MMS.

There is so much great Horror unknown or ignored by local audiences, and sadly those American or Western films that do focus on these cultures often fall victim to insulting tropes or stereotypes. Luckily, the 21st century has made the world smaller, and new audiences are exposed every day. I highly recommend Horror fans seek out these genres and the movies above.

Open your mind and try something new, because it can take you down some wonderful, terrifying paths.

About Brook H. (79 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... what hasn't Brook studied. Knowledge is power, which is probably why he ended up with degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology, not to mention majoring in everything from computers to business while working in theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance his children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate (he's HoH himself), lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

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