What It Means to Be Black in the SCREAM Universe - Nerdist
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What It Means to Be Black in the SCREAM Universe

The Scream franchise’s impact on horror is undeniable. Scream (1996) ushered in a new era of the genre, inspiring a slate of teen ensemble films full of meta-commentary and gore. Sidney Prescott is now in the “Iconic Final Girl” pantheon alongside Laurie Strode and Nancy Thompson. And Ghostface’s ever-popular mask, ominous silhouette, and catchphrases span multiple generations of fans. There are a lot of things about the Scream films that get two knives up from horror fans (myself included); however, there’s an aspect of this franchise that, until recently, continued to be problematic. The history of Black characters in the Scream films is full of untapped potential, cringy stereotypes, and overall lackluster character development. But, there’s also a spark of a promising future. Let’s take a trip down horror memory lane to see what it means to be Black in the Scream universe.

Backgrounders Only… and That’s Okay (Scream 1996) 

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Wait, what?! Were there actually Black people in the first Scream film?! Yes, indeed. The reason you don’t remember any of them is because they barely pass muster as people. Almost every Black person you see is a background character. There’s a photographer taking pictures of the school when Sid and Tatum are walking inside and discussing the previous night’s murders. A Black kid hands Sid’s teacher a note that prompts her to call Sidney to the office. And a couple of kids in Sid’s class and in the hallways are Black.

But, the only Black person who speaks in this film is a reporter. She holds up the Ghostface mask and says it is what the killer is wearing while pondering when these murders will come to an end. And you know what? It’s actually not a terrible thing that Black folks aren’t a factor in this movie. Sid’s entire friend circle either died or was shot (hello, Randy). And at least no Black people died just for dying’s sake or sacrificed themselves for a white person. So… kind of a win for us but a loss for representation in general?  

Maureen, Phil, Hallie, and Joel (Scream 2

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It seems that someone got the message about how, up until the ’90s, a lot of mainstream horror would exclude Black folks from the story. How do we know this? Well, the opening scene for Scream 2 features two new characters Maureen and Phil, a couple at the movies to see Stab. Maureen brings up this point as a reason why she doesn’t care for the genre in general. Sadly, Maureen and Phil quickly fall as casualties to Ghostface, making them the first two kills of the movie. Imagine that. The first two significant Black people in the franchise die within minutes.

Unlike Casey Becker, who at least had a tangential relationship with Sidney as a classmate and Stu’s ex-girlfriend, neither of them are connected to her at all. We discover later that they were targeted because of their names, which fell into the pattern of victims from the original killings. And that is a plot thread that literally goes nowhere. Hate to see it. It feels like Phil and Maureen only existed to feed into the “Black folks die first/early” trope.

Now, when it comes to Hallie, there’s so much untapped potential here that it is sickening. In the film, she’s Sidney’s roommate and a psych major who wants to pledge a multicultural sorority. She’s also weirdly dismissive of Sidney’s trauma despite her interest in psychology. We see Hallie quite often and Elise Neal adds a lot of flair to her character. Who doesn’t love her “Did you get that on film?!” line after Sid punched Gail (again)?

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However, Hallie still doesn’t feel like a fully developed character, and her relationship with Sid is surface-level at best. Sure, they don’t have to be best friends just because they are roommates but something about their connection feels off. Sadly, Hallie also dies in this film… and it is indirectly Sidney’s fault. (Sidenote: the scene of them escaping that car is one of the best and most intense scenes in the franchise.) Instead of listening to her very wise roommate’s advice to “get the f*ck outta here” after barely surviving a Ghostface attack, Sid wants to go back and unmask the killer. Of course, he’s not there and ends up jumping out and killing Hallie in front of Sid.

The saddest part about this is that Hallie could have had a much more significant role in the film. An earlier “dummy script” actually had Hallie as one of the killers alongside Sid’s boyfriend Derek, whom she was having a secret relationship with, Mickey, and Mrs. Loomis. While having yet another one of Sid’s boyfriends wouldn’t have worked no matter what, it would have been interesting to explore Hallie as a killer. Dewey and Randy have a conversation about her potentially being “Candyman’s daughter,” with Dewey rightfully pointing out that serial killers are usually white men.

So, making Hallie the killer would have been a wild plot twist. I am 100% here for more Black women killers, tbh. Perhaps her interest in psychology is what led her to want to get close to Sidney so she could study a survivor’s mind. Or, in the vein of American Horror Story: 1984, she was partnering with a killer to understand them but took things a little too far. Truly a missed opportunity. 

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The final Black person in this film is one of my favorites in the franchise: Joel Martin. Despite having a successful book that spawned a movie, Gale can’t find a cameraman and hires Joel. The entire time, Joel is questioning if he should be there because, well, there’s a killer on the loose. Gale is frustratingly abrasive to him and he eventually does what Hallie and Sid should have done after the accident: got the f*ck out of town.

Duane Martin’s role is small but he’s a comedic delight every time he is onscreen. He certainly gets more development than Kenny the cameraman and survives by simply getting away from Ghostface’s targets. Hilariously, he returns at the end, wanting to work with Gale again now that she isn’t being chased by a killer. Love him. However, when you think about all the Black people in Scream 2, the message this film gives is sad. It suggests that the only way a Black person can be safe is to leave or not exist. We do see more overall diversity in the background thanks to a new location, but what good does that do if you kill all the Black folks?

Tyson Fox (Scream 3

Scream 3 is the most chaotic sequel in the franchise. It’s like two movies in one. The first is a horror comedy Scooby-Doo murder mystery with Gail, Dewey, and a gang of annoying actors who die. The second is a horror drama with Sidney as she discovers the truth behind it all, including the abuse her mother endured years ago. And, as its sole killer, Roman is basically a supernatural being because how the HELL did he do all that alone?!

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Anyway, if fans thought any Black character in this film would fare better than the ones in Scream 2, they were wrong. There is Tyson Fox, a Black actor playing the role of Ricky in Stab 3. His comedic relief is frequently funny but as the film progresses it becomes more like a “joking Black guy” caricature. In fact, right before he dies, he says, “you muthaf*cka” for no good reason. Sigh. And, to make things worse, he’s the only significant Black character in this film. There are some background randoms, including a couple of police officers who come to aid Sid after she’s attacked on set, but that is it. And honestly, there was no reason for Tyson to be there except to have a funny Black guy in the mix. Booooo. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. 

Deputy Perkins (Scream 4)

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Warning: The above video contains graphic content.

Ten years later and nothing changed when it came to Black characters. Anthony Anderson’s deputy character Perkins is basically Tyson Fox as a police officer. He’s less like a real person and more of an odd character who also makes jokes until he dies. And, he is the only significant Black person in this film as well, sort of mirroring the original Scream movie that suggests Woodsboro is a very white town. 

Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (Scream 2022) 

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Well, well, well. It only took 25 years for the franchise to finally introduce a solid Black character who plays a vital role in the narrative and also survives it all. That person is Mindy Meeks-Martin, the child of Martha Meeks (and maybe Joel Martin?!) and a horror aficionado like her uncle Randy. Mindy gives us information and makes us laugh while also keeping a pragmatic outlook on their situation. She can be quite dark at times but we get flashes of her heart. And, her queerness is not made to be something taboo or shocking, but simply a part of who she is. Mindy nearly gets taken down in the third act but thankfully, she lives to fight another day!

There’s still much to explore with Mindy that this film couldn’t do. To be fair, Scream 2022 was introducing an entire new cast to carry the torch forward while also bringing Gale, Dewey, and Sid back into the mix. But Scream VI will put her towards the forefront, hopefully fleshing out her character more. The same goes for her twin brother Chad Meeks-Martin. He isn’t quite as prominent as Mindy and his character certainly fits into the common “high school jock” trope. And he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, going outside in the dark to look for Liv. But hey, maybe we will get more from him in the next round. His character is almost always a goner in these situations, so we’ll see what happens. 

a split photo of maureen evans and phil stevens in scream 2 and mindy meeks-martin in scream 5
Dimension Films/Paramount Pictures

So far, we haven’t seen much of Scream VI outside of a trailer. But we do know the Meeks siblings will be main characters alongside the Carpenter sisters. It’s a promising new era of the franchise, the first time that a majority of the legacy/leading characters are not white. Of course, it’s highly likely that one Meeks (or both) will die versus Sam or Tara losing their lives. And, it remains to be seen if other significant Black characters will be in the mix. Let’s remain hopeful and see where this enduring story goes next.

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