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Guest Post:Zombie Bait & Screaming Bimbos: Diversity in Horror By Ann Dávila Cardinal

Zombie Bait & Screaming Bimbos: Diversity in Horror

by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Sadly, the concept of diversity in horror is more of a fantasy than a reality. Don’t get me wrong, we have made SO much progress in the last few years. Leaps and bounds, but when I looked back at the continuum of horror literature and films over my fifty-six years of being a fan, I realize just how limited the scope was. From the start horror has been a male-dominated field. Yes, you can point to Mary Shelley, Anne Rice, and Kathryn Bigelow, but the VAST majority of work has been published and produced by men. Specifically, young white men, reflecting predominantly white male attitudes and values. For example, recently I reread one of the favorite books of my youth, IT by Stephen King. I was floored when I got to the part where the eleven-year-old girl has sex with her male friends to break the curse. Let me say that again: the then thirty-nine-year-old male author wrote about an eleven-year-old girl having sex with her six male friends. This would never be published today, thank God, but even then, only a man would write that scene. Which brings me to perceived audience.

The demographic aimed for with published and produced horror has traditionally been 15-25-year-old, cis-gender, heterosexual, white men. This demographic is why we get the traditional tropes of big busted screaming women and girls who trip when being chased by the monster and require saving. Not to mention that there is always punishment for sex (almost always when it is women initiating or wanting sex). These tropes seem dated now, but they were what dominated the genre for many, many years. And if there was a black man in a horror film, he was certain to be dead by Act Three. George Romero managed to dramatize this issue as far back as 1968 in his original Night of the Living Dead film. Ben, the only sensible human in the house surrounded by the living dead, manages to survive the zombie attack only to get shot by the southern white sheriff. As he was in so many ways, Romero was way ahead of his time (and was, in fact, Latinx). But on the whole, the perception of Hollywood (and publishing, for that matter) was a black actor couldn’t carry a commercial film. Of course, Jordan Peele proved that grossly inaccurate with two words: Get Out. $111,000,000 later and the Hollywood machine realized that there was money to be made. And when there’s money to be made…

And speaking of money…there are many masterpieces of Japanese horror in literature and cinema, and in the interest of making money, Hollywood has remade a string of them into American films and novelizations. The RingThe GrudgePulse, Dark WaterThe Uninvited, are just a few examples. This involves the white-washing of the Asian casts and storylines, and without exception these reimaginings tear the narrative heart out of the original versions. These remakes focus more on special effects at the expense of slow burning tension, to make them more palatable to an American audience. 

Don’t even get me started on Latinx presence in horror. Ironically, we are a culture that is primed to dig right in to the paranormal. You are talking about a group of cultures that created some of the most compelling mythic monsters of all time. Chupacabra, La Llorona, and, the monster I wrote about in my new book Five Midnights, El Cuco. Mexican cinema has had horror masterpieces since the beginning of film, from the 1930s with Juan Bustillo Oro’s films to today’s masters such as Guillermo de Toro and Robert Rodriguez, but until the 90s most were not available on this side of the border or in English.

Though there are always exceptions, the horror genre, in this millennium, has been a white man’s game. And as a Latinx girl who has loved horror since she could walk, I can tell you that the cinematic and publishing machine has always misunderstood the audience for such work. We’ve been there all along, though until recently we didn’t see or read about people who looked like us in these works, but we bought them all the same. I am just grateful to arrive at a time where publishers are acquiring works from writers like Daniel José Older, Justina Ireland, Victor LaValle, Mariana Enríquez, and N.K. Jemisin.  And authors such as Anna-Marie McLemore and Adam McOmber are out there writing queer horror fiction. 

So, I’m ending with cautious hope. We are moving towards representation in this genre that is so very dear to my heart. But when I looked back at the horror “canon,” it is clear we have a long way to go. It is my wish that agents, editors, publishers, screenwriters, directors, and studios who buy and produce work in this genre will continue the progress we’ve made thus far and produce a new canon that better reflects the makeup of its audience and readership. Cause we’re out here, and we’re tired of being zombie fodder. We’re ready to be the heroes. 


Ann is a novelist and Director of Recruitment for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She has a B.A. in Latino Studies from Norwich University, an M.A. in sociology from UI&U and an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She also helped create VCFA’s winter Writing residency in Puerto Rico.

Ann’s first novel, Sister Chicas was released from New American Library in 2006. Her next novel, a horror YA work titled Five Midnights, will be released by Tor Teen in June 2019.

Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (2005) and Women Writing the Weird (2012) and she contributed to the Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, And Society in the United States edited by Ilan Stavans. Her essays have appeared in American ScholarVermont WomanAARP, and Latina Magazines.

Ann lives in Vermont.

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