Jay Pharoah Believes “The Blackening” Will Go Down as a Cult Classic: “So Culturally Innovative”
“The Blackening” is finally changing the narrative for Black characters in the horror space – and it’s about damn time.
The Tim Story-directed horror-comedy mashup, cowritten by Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins, reunites a group of friends – portrayed by Perkins, Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, and Yvonne Orji – for a Juneteenth cabin trip gone horribly (and gorily) wrong, as they all find themselves trapped playing a deadly game with a deranged killer on the loose. While the scenario may sound familiar, it’s unlike anything audiences – especially Black audiences – have ever seen before.
With its comedic moments, satirical elements, and hero-esque endgame, “The Blackening” is rare compared to traditional horror stories where Black characters don’t get to control their own fate, much less survive until the end of a movie. So the cast consider it an honor to bring this unique tale to the big screen with a sound message to match. In fact, Robertson tells POPSUGAR, “It felt like a gift.”
“Every time I watch it, every time I hear someone talk about it, there’s just an overwhelming sense of pride that comes from being a part of it.”
“It was so well written. It’s so nice to see writers that take the time to write Blackness in its fullness as opposed to being diluted through the scope of whiteness,” she says ahead of the film’s American Black Film Festival (ABFF) screening on June 15. “I feel like it was just nice that [Oliver and Perkins] went for it and wanted to show the world that this is us unapologetically, not the idea or notion that you have of us.”
Walls echoes his costar, adding, “For me, it always starts on the page. I’ve been really blessed over these last few years to have material that I think is always saying something. . . . Coming through the Black Lives Matter movement, coming out of the pandemic and then reading this, I was like, ‘Oh, this is so smart. This is so on time. This is so informed. It’s from Black writers. It has a point of view.’ So I was just proud to be a part of it. Every time I watch it, every time I hear someone talk about it, there’s just an overwhelming sense of pride that comes from being a part of it.”
According to Oliver, her and Perkins’s screenplay for “The Blackening” began as a funny short film the latter created years ago. Comedy Central viewers may even remember the 2018 sketch, which posed the same question as the new movie: “If the entire cast of a horror movie is Black, who dies first?”
“I like the fact that we can just be ourselves and not think about the trope of how we’re seen through the lens of whoever else.”
“I just thought it was funny, and I love that it was all Black and all these different types of Black characters all in one,” Oliver explains to POPSUGAR. She also says this was her first time collaborating with Perkins, adding that their “similar silly sense of humor,” “shared love of comedy and horror,” and “take on pop culture and Black culture” helped them bring the story to life. She notes, “All of those kind of combined really well into this movie.”
As teased ahead of its worldwide debut, “The Blackening” satirizes the Black character horror tropes that have historically treated these roles as expendable to the plot. But with fresh storytelling and new personalities in the mix, the movie acts like an ode to a genre that more or less has been lacking the nuances of Blackness. “I like the fact that we can just be ourselves and not think about the trope of how we’re seen through the lens of whoever else . . . Seeing who we are and not what you think we are,” Gregg shares.
Mayo’s favorite trope to break down in “The Blackening,” she says, was the Black queer man, Perkins’s character. “It’s definitely not the subservient character. He is not trying to serve the rest of the entire cast, he does not have all the answers,” she explains. “When it comes to Black queer people, it’s just [normally] very one-note. So [seeing] my favorite, my baby, Dewayne, do that on set, that was amazing.”
The cast all agree that “The Blackening” pushes the envelope for Black people in horror because “you get us in an unapologetic way that you don’t typically see when there’s only one of us,” Gregg suggests. “It’s a Black-to-Black point of view written for a film that’s going to be culturally innovative,” Pharoah adds. Perkins, meanwhile, believes the film offers “a breath of fresh air to allow Black people to act in things like Black people and use what is inherently within them to survive, because we’re survivors.” “We’re not going to give up,” he adds.
“We’re not the token. We are not a monolith. We are the main characters of our own story.”
Maybe most of all, “The Blackening” is staking claim for Black characters in the horror space and making it possible for authentic Black horror stories to exist. “I love horror satire, and the fact that we have our own now means a lot to me,” Fowler states.
The resounding sentiment among the cast is the powerful representation in “The Blackening” also sends a message about our freedom as well. “Throughout the film, the theme was friends fighting for their lives and loyalty, and that’s what we think Juneteenth is about, which is why we wanted to release it during this time frame,” Robertson explains during the film’s ABFF Q&A.
As she points out to POPSUGAR, “It’s a statement when you have all of these Black leads, different hues of Blackness leading a film. We’re not the token. We are not a monolith. We are the main characters of our own story.”
It’s because of this that Pharoah has high hopes for the film’s impact. “It’s going to be a cult classic,” he declares. “People are going to be talking about this for years and the opportunity that more Black folks are going to be able to get from this movie. Tracy and Dewayne getting their voices out there, more and more Black people seeing us together and saying, ‘We can do that too.'” Hollywood, we hope you’re listening.
“The Blackening” is now playing in theaters.