What It Means to Be Black in the FRIDAY THE 13TH Universe

Friday the 13th is one of the most iconic, expansive, and experimental American horror franchises. The films’ infamous antagonist Jason Voorhees and his ice hockey mask have expanded far past the origin story’s Crystal Lake location. Fans have seen Jason take on Freddy, head to Manhattan, and even terrorize people in space. But despite 40 years of innovation and an expansive fandom, Friday the 13th never takes the time to evolve its representations of Black characters.

Those who have shown up over the years are often boxed into stereotypes. They are disposable placeholders for kill counts and sacrifice. Their presence has no real bearing on the overall story and only a few have any power within the series. In fact, many of the Black characters would be largely forgettable if they died in a more boring fashion.

The first two Friday the 13th movies do not feature any significant Black characters at all. This isn’t shocking considering that major contemporaries like Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre have primarily white casts and creative teams. Generally speaking, the ’80s was a lull for Black horror leads after most studios had milked the ’70s Blaxploitation era.

Most mainstream horror films at that time either left Black representation out altogether or fed into the “Black folks don’t survive” trope. Sure, almost anyone is fair game in horror, particularly slasher films. But because there are fewer Black people, it gets really old to see them consistently end up as victims instead of survivors.

So, let’s take a trip down horror memory lane and dive into how this franchise’s Black characters fit into the universe, their fates, and how things could have been different in some cases.

Ali and Fox (Friday the 13th Part III)
Ali and Fox from Friday the 13th Part III stand in a convenience store wearing biker gear

Paramount Pictures

Black people and Jason’s hockey mask both make their debut in this film. But while Jason’s mask still lives on forever, Ali and Fox don’t make it out alive. Friday the 13th Part III picks up with Jason healing from his injuries in the previous installment and grabbing some new threads from a lakefront store. Meanwhile, protagonist Chris Higgins and her assortment of friends show up to her former family home at Crystal Lake for a getaway.

Ali and Fox are not a part of this collective but instead secondary villains in the story. Along with Loco, they make up a small bike gang that ends up in a completely needless confrontation with two of Chris’ comrades in a convenience store. It’s already not looking great considering the optics of two Black people bullying and harassing innocent white people.

Fox really doesn’t get much development outside of her need to poke fun at vacationers (and a really cool outfit). We do see her reluctance at getting revenge against Shelly and Vera. Despite her tough girl demeanor, Fox doesn’t really want to hurt anyone but still goes along with Ali and Loco’s plan to burn the Higgins house down after their bikes are knocked over. (Overreaction much?) She plays around for a bit in the barn, showing off a more fun side of her character before Jason takes her out.

It would have been interesting to see Fox go in a different direction. Maybe she decides to reject her friend’s plans and slip away to warn Chris’ group. She could have even become an ally to help Chris “defeat” Jason. But nope. Fox dies despite being the least jerky member of her crew.

Fox’s death scene also leads to Loco’s demise and Ali being beaten to the point of unconsciousness. The film sidelines Ali before giving him a resurfacing scene. Why? Because he must be the “sacrificial Negro” and give Jason a “distraction” so the virginal white female protagonist can survive. Like, dude, self-preservation is an option, especially when you don’t know this lady.

It’s an unsurprising yet interesting turn of events considering the film’s alleged alternate ending. There have been rumors throughout the years that an alternate ending exists where Ali survives and helps Chris contact the authorities only for Jason’s body to go missing. It’s not clear if Ali would have simply woken up after everything was over, or if he could have gone from secondary villain to someone who aids Chris in the final moments. This could have been done in a way that doesn’t take away Chris’ agency—more like him giving an assist so she can deliver the final blow.

But, in order to maintain the increasingly popular “final girl” trope, Ali died in a frankly dumb way. Every franchise has its disposable side characters but it’s rather disappointing that the first two Black characters in this franchise didn’t get more development and screen time.

Reggie, Demon, George, and Anita (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning)
Demon and Anita Friday the 13th New Beginning sit inside a van smoking

Paramount Pictures

The initial “final chapter”—a.k.a. the fourth installment—didn’t have a significant Black presence. The only Black character is an unnamed woman who doesn’t feel great about having Jason in her ambulance. Thankfully, she doesn’t die… but she barely counts as a character. However, the franchise’s fifth film is a mixed bag of inclusion. One one hand, it includes several named Black characters and even allows one of them to take on a heroic role. However, the win feels cheapened by the fact that 1) only one Black character lives and 2) this ain’t the real Jason.

Tommy Jarvis is still undoubtedly the main character in this film several years after Jason’s death. But it seems that Jason is back again when bodies start dropping near Tommy’s mental health institution. The facility introduces a litany of characters, including Reggie and Demon Winter, the grandsons of George Winter. The elder Winter is a cook at Pinehurst and it’s pretty clear he’s there to help with the kill count.

Reggie “The Reckless” is by far the most prominent Black character in A New Beginning. The mischievous jokester certainly gets more development than his predecessors, with a family and a connection to Tommy and Pam, the film’s deuteragonist who manages the facility. Reggie not only survives the film but plays a key role in taking down the antagonist. He bravely rams the masked killer with a tractor in a brilliant scene and continues to think (and be) quick on his feet.

Reggie sets up the final struggle with their tormentor dangling over the edge of a loft before Tommy goes in for the final kill. However, the ending reveals that the killer wasn’t the infamous Jason. Instead, it was Roy Burns, who went on a killing spree after learning about his son’s death at Pinehurst.

In a way, it kind of deflates the excitement over Reggie’s role because he never faced the franchise’s true antagonist at all. However, a killer is a killer and our guy made it out alive. We also never got final closure on Reggie’s story in a subsequent film. Did Pam really die at the hands of Tommy? If she did, then what happened to Reggie? These events would certainly cause a lot of trauma. One thing is for sure—he has no known family members alive.

A closeup photo of older Black man smiling

Paramount Pictures

George and Demon both die during the film. While George is a kind, caring, and attentive grandfather, Demon could have been the third member of Ali’s biker gang. He’s got the leather vest and penchant for getting in trouble but he also seems like a cool guy. Demon literally shows up just in time to get caught up and die in an outhouse of all things. His girlfriend Anita gets an even shorter stick with very little to say nor do before Roy Burns slits her throat offscreen. It’s not looking too good for Black women in this universe so far.

Elizabeth (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives)

Reggie’s survival seems to set up a new era for Black people in the franchise. There was much speculation that he could return in the next installment in some way. But Reggie is never to be seen nor heard from again. Instead, the next Jason film swerves in the complete opposite direction in more ways than one. Jason Lives introduces the supernatural elements that began to take the franchise on a frankly bizarre journey. Jason becomes (and remains) an immortal superhuman until the franchise reboot years later. It also introduces some self-referential humor and fourth wall breaks to give things a new feel.

But these updates don’t trickle down to how the franchise depicts Black people in its narratives. Jason Lives features one Black character, Elizabeth a.k.a. “Sissy,” who wouldn’t be memorable if it weren’t for the way she died. She’s a camp counselor (girl, why?) at the once-again open kid’s summer camp. Hey, it’s safe now because Crystal Lake is now named Forest Green.

Tommy comes back for one final round of confronting Jason and becoming the resident doomsayer. He tries to warn Megan Garris and her fellow counselors (including Elizabeth) but they ignore him. Elizabeth actually makes it pretty far into the film. But, as she was the sidekick to a white woman protagonist, it wasn’t in the cards for her to live. Elizabeth could have been such an interesting character as the first Black camp counselor that fans see on this cursed ground. We don’t get to see that intensity of the chase and attempts to fight back and escape through her perspective at all.

Instead, she pours soda on Jason’s head and gets her own head twisted off like bottle cap. It’s apparent that she was added in to fill a “pretty eye candy but make it diverse” quota in the camp counselor set. And it also further confirms that character development was not a priority for Black women.

Ben and Kate (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood)
Ben and Kate Friday the 13th teenagers sit on steps talking

Paramount Pictures

The Jason train continues to roll forward and get increasingly strange with The New Blood. Tommy Jarvis is finally (hopefully) minding his business somewhere far, far away from Crystal Lake. Now, the protagonist is Tina Shepard, a telekinetic teen who raises Jason from his watery grave. Next door, a group of friends are throwing a party for their buddy Michael. This is how we meet Ben, Michael’s friend, and his girlfriend Kate.

It’s pretty obvious that they are the next group of friends that Jason will pop up on and murder for sport. Why do people even live in the vicinity of Crystal Lake anymore? Anyway, the token Black couple fall into the franchise’s staple reason for killing anyone: having sex. Ben and Kate are in a van when—SURPRISE! They hear a noise. Ben is the dumb boyfriend who goes out to check on the noise. He dies swiftly before Kate sticks her head out the window to see what’s going on. She gets a party horn in her eye for her troubles.

Once again, the Black characters are throwaways who fall right into the “horny and dumb” stereotype with little to no impact on the story’s progression because, well, they barely have any real dialogue. In this case, it’s pretty forgivable to knock them off because everyone deserves to die in this trainwreck of a movie.

Julius (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan)

It’s Jason! It’s Manhattan! It is Jason in Manhattan! The undead masked killer hops on a ship with a few high school kids to see the Big Apple. Julius takes on the high school jock/tough guy character as a boxer who is first seen beating someone up in a fight. However, Julius does prove himself to be smart and pretty brave in the face of danger.

He actually believes the doomsayer and starts rounding up the troops to try to fight back. He has his hands and even a gun at his disposal but it doesn’t stop Jason from sneaking up on him and throwing him into the ocean. It seems that Julius may go the distance when he later shows back up to escape the boat with a few other survivors.

Julius fighting Jason Friday the 13th part 3

Paramount Pictures

Things get more complicated on land when Jason finds him; however, Julius will not take defeat lying down. He attempts to fight Jason, which ends with his head being literally punched off. Julius’ memorable and brutal death is all about killing the “tough” guy to show just how menacing the antagonist is. But is that really necessary at this point? We already understand that Jason is a scary dude.

Julius honestly makes for a better protagonist than the very dull Rennie with a lot of heart and humor. He tries to have a plan, won’t back down in fear, and cares about those around him even as the resident badass. Sure, his heroics can be a little dangerous at times, like when he wants to chase down muggers. But its better than him not caring about anyone’s safety but his own.  It seems like the filmmakers wanted to use him for jokes before turning their attention back to the people who “really matter.”

Phil and Creighton Duke (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday)

This film has one of the top three of worst Black representations in the Jason Voorhees’ universe. (And its not number two or three). A few years after not-dying in Manhattan, Jason walks into a trap by FBI and SWAT agents. Why? Because they apparently now care about the dozens of people who died at Camp Crystal Lake.

Jason becomes a body-jumping demon who can apparently control people’s minds and cause them to become possessed with his spirit. The unlucky fellow is of course the Black coroner Phil. Jason inhabits his body after a voice tells Phil to eat Jason’s heart in a painful gruesome way, taking body horror to a different level. Phil is no longer a person but a vehicle for evil as an unwilling accomplice to several murders.

He’s seen by others as a brutal murderer and it takes a while before his name is cleared. Eventually, Jason wears his body out and then he basically melts into a puddle of nothing.

Phil Friday the 13th Black character

New Line Cinema

Enter the film’s other Black character Creighton Duke, a confident bounty hunter with a healthy knowledge of how serial killers function. He knows that Jason didn’t die during the initial sting and has an idea of his own: send Jason to literal Hell. But this character is far from a trustworthy protagonist. He kidnaps a child as bait to get what he wants.

Duke then plays as the distracting force so Jessica, Jason’s family member who must kill him, can stab Jason with the dagger and send him to Hell. This sacrificial moment at least makes sense (as much as anything makes sense here) because it’s established in dialogue that a Voorhees must kill a Voorhees. So Jessica must be the hero in this scenario.

It appears that Duke dies when his spine is snapped. But the film’s director Adam Marcus later confirmed in an interview that Creighton Duke did not die! Marcus spoke about wanting to develop a spinoff movie about Creighton Duke. There’s been no word since then but it does open up an interesting possibility for expanding the universe in a fresh way that isn’t centered on Jason.

Who knows what other killers and incredible adventures that Duke had before the events of this movie? And with him not really fitting into the typical hero prototype, he would be such an interesting character to watch.

Waylander, Brodski, and Geko (Jason X)

Jason goes to the future and space in this installment. Jason X shows him taking down students on a spaceship in the year 2455. Rowan, a scientist, and Jason were frozen in space and minding their own popsicle business on the Crystal Lake Research Facility after a 2008 battle. Now, a professor and his students on their way to a field trip to Earth are exploring the facility. For reasons that make no sense, they bring the bodies aboard their ship. Sure, they likely know nothing about Jason in the distant future, but he also looks like a scary murderer.

The collective doesn’t listen to a newly-thawed Rowan, and they got a lot of death for their troubles. Jason X features a few Black characters, including the space soldier Sergeant Brodski, Geko, and Waylander. The sole Black woman of the bunch, Geko, is relegated to doing grunt work under Brodski. She’s sent right into the certain arms of death after looking first for Jason and then a co-worker.

Waylander Jason X character

New Line Cinema

Geko’s body tissue is used post-mortem to make Jason a cyborg. It’s a sad ending considering at this point there had been Black horror heroines who survived in other subgenres like Karla, Jeryline, and Selena. They are not only characters in the storyline but they play significant and prominent roles in the overall narrative. But, for whatever reason, the Friday the 13th franchise refuses to let its Black women characters evolve and expand.

There’s not a lot to say for her male counterparts in this film either. Geeky Waylander gives his life to save Rowan and a couple of other residual survivors as he sets off explosives. Brodski does go quite the distance in the film but he ends up sacrificing his life too. He allows everyone to escape so he can send himself and Jason hurtling towards Earth Two and certain death. So, not one but two Black men put their lives on the line to save white people… and an android.

Kia and Kinsey (Freddy vs. Jason)

After running out of ways to resurrect Jason, the franchise finally decided to go to his fellow killer Freddy Krueger. The battle royale between the two classic killers is as bombastic and bizarre as fans would expect. The film also gives us two more Black characters: Kia and Kinsey. Kia fills the same role as Scream 2’s Hallie and Lisa in Prom Night (2008) as the “sassy Black girl best friend” to a white female protagonist.

And she dies, just like many of her comrades who get caught up in white people’s mess. Kia does not have a real agenda nor life of her own. Her primary focus is being “the help” as she tries to steer Lori towards dating again. The only real details we find out about her are that she’s mean to nerds and wants a nose job.

Freddy vs. Jason Kia stands outside in dark with bloody lip

New Line Cinema

She becomes a Freddy target and has to give Jason CPR to save them all. Jason repays her kindness by sending her flying into a tree towards her death. But before she dies, she stands between Jason and Freddy in a cringeworthy showdown scene. Kia makes fun of Freddy’s masculinity and sweater with inexplicable confidence. He also calls her “dark meat” during the film, indicating that this character is specifically written to be Black.

It’s pretty cool that she’s not afraid of Freddy and fought back against Jason. But her death also falls under the “sacrificial lamb” column because she drew Freddy away from Lori. Kia wasn’t perfect and could even be annoying but the character may have had some potential if she was allowed to be her own woman. She’s the last person to die before both franchises get a big reboot and proof that Black women won’t elevate in either franchise.

Meanwhile, the only other Black character in this film, Kinsey, only survives because he doesn’t play a part in the narrative nor even interact with either killer at any point. So he barely deserves a spot on this list.

Lawrence (Friday the 13th reboot)

An entire reboot couldn’t even save Black people from tropes. This 2009 Friday the 13th film makes Jason a simple (and athletic) man who kills almost everyone in his path. He’s holding hostage a woman who looks like his mother while prepping to kill the next crew of unsuspecting vacationers. The protagonist, Trent, owns a summer cabin and brings along his friends, including Lawrence.

He’s literally a sentient sack of tropes—the token Black guy, a stoner, an idiot, a rapper, and obsessed with sex. He doesn’t seem to fit in with these people and they tolerate him at best. His bestie is Chewie, a stereotypical token Asian stoner character. And guess what? They both die and, to be fair, you cannot blame the white people for not coming to their rescue. It’s honestly kind of sad and frustrating considering this was yet another chance to get POC representation right.

This look into Friday the 13th‘s history is not to suggest that every Black or POC character should automatically survive because of their race. Nor should they all be necessarily “model” characters. But it becomes a problem when in 40 years of films that not one single Black woman survives and only a handful of Black men survive in ways that don’t appear definitive onscreen.

The mounting sacrificial deaths suggest that Black characters are only there to be distractions and “good kills,” so that the real characters—the white protagonists—can survive. White characters are a dime a dozen in these films; even with their share of disposable white kills, you also have characters with in-depth stories like Tommy. But there are already so few Black counterparts, so it feels more disheartening to see most of them get little to no solid characterization before inevitably dying. Would it really have been such a task to have a few of these characters subvert tropes and expectations to make it to the end? Why do the ultimate heroes have to be white?

Hopefully Friday the 13th will never, ever come back again. It’s time to let Jason die for real. But if it does return, the franchise should certainly reexamine how it includes and treats its Black characters.

Featured Image: New Line Cinema

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