I Still Know What You Did Last Summer capitalized on the revitalization of slasher horror films in the mid to late ‘90s. The original film was a who’s who of teen movie actors—Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Ryan Phillippe, and Sarah Michelle Gellar—and an interesting take on a killer origin story. So, it only made sense to follow it up with another installment. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer hit theaters on November 13, 1998 with a destination horror story and a few new characters. It may not outshine the original nor rank high on a greatest horror sequels list, but there is one redeeming factor of this flick: Karla Wilson.
Julie’s roommate and best friend Karla was portrayed by none other than R&B singer and actor Brandy. At that time, Brandy was the IT girl of Black music with her TV show Moesha, massively popular album Never Say Never, dolls, and other ventures under her belt at just 19 years old. Brandy was the obvious choice to reel in a ton of viewers who wanted to see if their music idol could make it out alive. The general rules of horror movies had all the cards stacked against Karla as the final girl’s closest friend and a Black woman. We did see what happened to Sidney Prescott’s roommate Hallie, after all. But she made it to the bitter end and that alone is worthy of praise.
Karla was the stylish, fun, studious, and supportive friend to the perpetually paranoid Julie. Yes, she was a fool to think that a radio station would call her for a vacation contest, but a broke ‘90s college student is easy to fool. And there weren’t any cell phones to quickly confirm the right answer nor the impending weather on this island. Karla also didn’t know that her friend was a part of a murder cover-up, so she went on this ill-fated trip with her boyfriend Tyrell, Julie, and their creepy random friend Will.
The killer wasted no time picking off the staff, including many Black staffers, but Karla had a great time…until things got weird. She supported Julie even though there was zero evidence of murder and chose her girl over having sex, which generally leads to certain death in horror films. One point for Karla! And when she found a body in a dryer, her main focus was getting the hell off the island. She was understandably angry with Julie but didn’t allow it to cause her to run off or instantly make a dumb decision.
Karla stayed with a group even though that plan didn’t help Tyrell. Things began to look like she would fall victim to the Black people dying trope. Karla was chased more than anyone else and made it through some close calls including falling through ceilings, greenhouse glass, and doors. However, she proved good at dodging a hook, leaping over a terrace, and running with an injured ankle.
She managed to avoid the anti-climatic final showdown and randomly appears the next morning when help arrives for Julie and Ray. How did she escape Ben that final time? Why didn’t Julie try to look for her after killing Ben and Will? Who knows. Karla wasn’t profoundly brave nor an innovative hero but she survived a killer trip as the solo Black girl. And she presumably moved far away from Julie and Ray to make sure she would stay alive going forward. Smart move.
Black final girls are rare or virtually nonexistent in horror films depending on how a person defines this term. In fact, even many of the Black women who survived their respective movies don’t fit the “classic” definition of a final girl, a phrase coined by Carol J. Clover in 1992. Clover’s examination of the last girl standing was largely based on slasher films where the main female protagonist has a showdown with the killer and either dispatches him, is rescued, or escapes like Scream‘s Sidney Prescott and Halloween‘s Laurie Strode.
So, if you use that definition, it’s pretty much impossible to think of a Black girl equivalent to those women. Karla is a supporting character in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and isn’t even present during the final fight, so she’s technically not the final girl. Survivors like Alexa in Alien vs. Predator, Demon Knight’s Jeryline, and 28 Days Later‘s Selena fit into a looser definition as Black women who live through the horror.
There’s also Escape Room‘s Zoey who lived and “killed” The Gamemaster, but that film is a psychological thriller. This means Karla Wilson might be the closest that mainstream horror got to a Black final girl in slasher flick during this time. (Years later, we got Mindy in Scream (2022).) I Still Know What You Did Last Summer definitely broke the mold in that respect… even if they went with the classic “boyfriend is the bad guy” trope.
Here’s a toast to Karla Wilson: the girl who got duped into a fake vacation with her killer BFF, fell though wood and glass, watched her boyfriend get impaled, and thankfully came out of hiding before the Coast Guard helicopter abandoned her for good. You made it through impossible odds and thankfully this franchise didn’t bring you back just to finish you off for no good reason.
Originally published November 13, 2019.
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