After premiering this past Friday, Amazon Prime’s Them has already contracted a growing level of controversy. Executive Produced by The Chi creator Lena Waithe, the show is a horror series about a Black family, The Emorys, that moves into a white suburban L.A. Neighborhood in the ’50s. In the vein of Lovecraft Country and Get Out ,it’s clear from the start that there are more malevolent forces at play in their new home, besides the violent hatred of their neighbors. Ahead of its release, while the program garnered mixed reviews, seeds of discontent were already planted with the release of the trailer. Many immediately took issue with the fact that Hollywood seemed to be producing yet another show based on the traumas of Black people. Taking to social media to vent their concerns, users noted Hollywood’s sketchy history of Black representation and how much of Black stories in Hollywood either relied on horrible stereotypes or the exploitation of Black trauma. Furthermore, the apparent prioritization of such stories over more nuanced Black films and TV seemed to also be a point of contention, especially after the Golden Globes infamously snubbed Issa Rae’s Insecure and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You just this year.
While in recent years the horror genre has seen a Black Renaissance with Jordan Peele’s eerie yet gripping horror films, audiences are not amused with the release of Them. Some have noted the lack of Black talent behind the scenes helped to make the show feel more exploitative than exciting. While none of the talent on-screen or off-screen has responded to the backlash, growing the criticism of the show is growing increasingly harder to ignore. However, not everyone has a bone to pick with the recently released series. Horror-enthusiast and world-renowned author Stephen King took to Twitter to praise the show stating that, “The first episode scared the hell out of me, and I’m hard to scare.” and encouraged fans and followers to give the show a watch. But can the scare quality of the show save it, or does it simply cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed?
As expected in any horror series, throughout the show, the Emorys are tortured and tormented in various graphic ways. But since this show is a period piece that hinges on the explosive racial politics of a Black family moving into a white neighborhood in the suburbs, the horrors featured aren’t the typical jump-scares viewers might be accustomed to. These horrors are very much real and a not-to-distant part of American history. Vandalized lawns and hanged puppet dolls are only just the tips of the iceberg when it comes to racialized violence depicted on screen. The horrors only intensify from there, taking no expense to layout out every gory detail for viewers. While Them certainly sets out to make a clear point about the horrors upon which this nation is founded, its brutal and at times gratuitous violence has made many wonders if it’s time to retire narratives of Black trauma and explore more nuanced narratives of the lives and scope of the Black identity.