One of the oldest tropes in movies and television is “the black guy dies first.” In countless horror movies in the 80’s and 90’s, black characters are the first ones to get killed. It got to that the media even became self-aware its violence against black characters and started cracking jokes about it in the early 2000s. Since then, this trope has been used less and less, as diversity becomes more marketable. However, just because black characters are not dying first in the media, does not mean that they are still not dying a lot. That is a problem.
Black death, in the media, often used as shock value or as a plot device. Black characters are dehumanized as they are brutally kill for no other reason than entertainment. An example of black death being used this way is the AMC series “The Walking Dead.”
Over the nine seasons that the show has been running, it has had a string of random black characters which it has introduced and then killed. Not only that, but besides, Michonne and Morgan, majority of these black roles on the show are minimal. “The Walking Dead” essentially introduces a black character only to murder them later for shock value.
It might arguable that “The Walking Dead” kills many of its characters for shock value. However, there is a clear difference between how black characters are treated in contrast to other characters. White characters, on the show, are able to have more of a presence and be fleshed out because they get more screen time. So, when they are killed, their deaths have more meaning than just being killed to surprise audiences. However, the black characters do not have that luxury since they do not get the same amount of screen time. When they die, the only meaning behind their deaths is shock value. They are treated more like plot devices and less like human beings.
Another example of black death being used in a degrading manner is “Widows.” “Widows” follows the story of widowed women attempting to pull of a heist that their thieving husband put together before they died. The film mainly follows Veronica Rawlins, the wife of the crew’s leader, Harry, who was killed with them. In the movie, we learn that Veronica and Harry had a son together, who has black. In a flashback, we see that son being murdered by the police as they spot his car. While the scene does provide more weight to Veronica’s and Harry’s relationship, it does not serve the plot at all. In fact, it could have been taken out and it would not have effect the movie at all. Their son only exists in the movie so that the audience can watch him die violently. His murder is just for shock value, ignoring the fact that he is a human being and continuing the trend of marketing dead black bodies.
For black lives to truly matter, black death cannot be portrayed as cheaply as movies and television have been portraying them. Black characters should be able to exist for more reasons other than just astonishing audiences with their deaths. By showing black death casually, the media gives a message that black lives are not important. It degrades as black lives as things that are disposable. America has been telling black people that they do not matter since it stole them from their land; they do not need to be told that again by what they watch.
If you are a director or screenwriter for a show or a movie, please take special care with your black characters. Please, treat them like actual human beings.