Lena Waithe Jumps Into Social Commentary Horror Game With 'Them'

Lena Waithe Rpo

The Amazon anthology series looks to both the past and our present to expose the terror of hatred.

How effective is the jump scare? Well, it’s immediate. The trick of misdirection and a screeching violin string will equal a fright, send a few goosebumps rippling down your arms, and get you chuckling for several silly moments afterward. The jump scare can be a clever jolt from a filmmaker to prepare you for the truly emotionally wretched horrors that await, or it can be the sum total of a hack who has nothing left in their bag of tricks.

The more horror you consume, and the older you get, living in a world surrounded by genuine human atrocity reported nightly on the news, the less power cheap gags hold in your popular culture. Horror can no longer simply be scary. We already exist amongst true nightmares, and artists are using the genre to wake up us poor lambs before the slaughter.

Lena Waithe is a creative eager to use her art as activism. Probably best known for acting in and co-writing Master of None for Netflix, Waithe also produced Dear White People, which spawned the current television series, co-starred in Ready Player One, and created Showtime’s The Chi. She’s having the moment, and she is taking this opportunity to push her voice into as many ears that will have her.

According to Deadline, Amazon has just ordered two seasons of the new horror anthology show Them from Waithe and screenwriter Little Marvin. The vibe seems akin to American Horror Story with each storyline existing over one season before hopping into a whole new arc in the next. No casting has been announced at this time, nor is it known whether the Season 1 cast will reappear in Season 2.

The first season is titled Them: Covenant. Set in 1953, the plot revolves around an African-American couple who move their family from North Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles. The white picket fences and palm trees hide “malevolent forces” that are both natural and supernatural in origin. The couple will have to fight for their new life in sunny California.

Waithe is extremely excited by Little Marvin’s script, and is anxious to get it out into the world, stating:

“He’s written something that’s provocative and terrifying. The first season will speak to how frightening it was to be black in 1953. It will also remind us that being black in 2018 is just as horrifying. This anthology series will examine the cultural divides among all of us and explore us vs. Them in a way we’ve never seen before.”

Little Marvin knows this is the moment to rage behind the camera, and that genre has the best opportunity to alter societal perception:
“I’ve always felt that dark, surreal times deserve dark, surreal mirrors to show us ourselves. And at this point in time one of the best ways to examine fractures in our world through the visceral and raw lens of horror. I’m beyond thrilled that our series has found its home with the fine folks at Amazon.”

We’re living in a cinematic renaissance regarding horror stories. Films like Get Out, The Babadook, It Follows, and Hereditary have more on their minds than “Boo.”  Even a weaker entry like Unfriended: Dark Web is trying to say something because the audience is listening for the first time in a long time. We deserve The Purge.

Our neighborhoods are already populated by the malevolent. These frights are here to shake us from our stupor. Our job is to push stories like Them into hyperbole and away from reality.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.