‘The Blackening’: When Things Get Spooky, We Ride Together

The Blackening Asked Us What is Your Blackness in Relation to?

One of my favorite things to do is go to Black ass movies, with a Black ass audience in the theater. Everyone with separate lives and experiences that all relate to “Blackness” in its various forms. Growing up, I had an interesting relationship with Blackness. I experienced a huge amount of colorism growing up, and it became hard to appreciate my complexion until I reached college. My Blackness was always associated with something negative, something that needed to be diminished in order to be accepted as beautiful. I would appreciate the communal culture, but I rarely saw myself in a position of appreciation throughout various forms of media.

When folks question what it means to be Black, there’s a “jokey, but serious” merit-based system that decides your “level” of Blackness. It’s honored by the actions in relation to culture, language, reaction to danger, and many more things that put us in contrast to what the world assumes us to be. In the same place where our merit-based system exists, whiteness has consistently tried to dissect it for their understanding. So when I think about dark skin women depicted in media, we’re usually upheld to a certain view of Blackness upheld by colorism/white supremacy. We’re seen as aggressors (Pam, Martin), needed to be sacrificed in order for people to learn valuable lessons (Candy, Pose), or even the scapegoat (Annalise Keating, How to Get Away with Murder). So when I saw that Lisa’s friends loved her, looked out for her, and even when they felt like she was making bad mistakes they did not leave her to die. It was relieving. 

What is the Epitome of Blackness?

Dark skin women were written as helpless or overly aggressive; depicted to be void of redemption. When Black people are in horror films, we pray for them. Though we know their fate was already written, we close our eyes and hope. When I saw Lisa in The Blackening making stereotypical “horror movie” mistakes, I found myself shouting for her preservation. “Dark skin baby girl, turn back!” “My sister in melanated blessings, please! No! I beg!” I wanted her to feel the comfort of forgiveness. The kind of grace only offered to white people when they make a detrimental mistake.

The most beautiful parts in The Blackening were the moments of grace. It never made sense to me when Black folks were the first to die in horror movies, because we’ve been conditioned to be the most aware. Conditioned to be the most prepared to fight against anything prepared to kill us. The Blackening knows the secret: we root for everybody Black. But it also begs the question what our “Blackness” is being compared to? What are the ranges and limitations society puts on our identity to define us and make us tangible?

In the story, Lisa recently rekindled with her ex, Nnamdi (another dark skin character who was also staying in the cabin with them). All of the homies thought that he was toxic for her, considering that he cheated, and it’s insinuated that this is not the first time their relationship was called into question. Dark skin women are often depicted as independent people who don’t need to be cared for and cherished because they have all the tools necessary to sustain themselves. Instead, Lisa was given the “friendship side eye.” Lisa was still offered love, support and was not left behind when their lives were in danger. Lisa was considered to be an integral part of the team who understood the mission, and she did everything in her power to secure her, and her friends’ survival.

Rooting for Everybody Black

When we allow dark skin women to have faults but still protect them and treat their falls with grace, we’re able to appreciate them in their “well roundedness.” We can see their rage as human and their faults as an integral part of a story, instead of something that needs to be discarded. My favorite parts in The Blackening were the moments when Lisa did not adhere to stereotypical forms of Blackness, because dark skin women are expected to perform this even more due to their complexion. Our “dark skinned-ness” now paired with microaggressions when we can’t name the things white people understand about our basic culture. The Blackening understood that when Black folks talk about Blackness and our relationship to it, it ain’t white folks business.

We understand that white supremacy always affected the way society interprets Blackness. Without proper cultural analysis, plenty of our sayings and reactions get appropriated and utilized out of context. The Blackening showcased the horrors of looking at Blackness through the “merit-based” white supremacist lens while trying to maintain each other. How white supremacy affects Black folks differently depending on complexion, sexuality and stereotypes is embedded in each of the character decisions throughout the film. It’s showcased in who we see leaving the house to look for a way out, versus who stays. We see it in whose life is at risk and who gets special attention when they’re hurt. Our intersectional struggles have their own cultural context; historical maintenance is a communal effort not a burden. The Blackening dissects the diaspora not by ignoring colorism, homophobia and sexism, but by allowing these intersectional realities to influence how they survive.

White Supremacy, The True Enemy

Antoinette Robertson as Lisa in The Blackening. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

I’m not much of a scary movie girl, but when the danger switch comes on, I’m rooting for everybody Black. Regardless of if they adhere to the scary movie stereotypes, I am praying for their survival and low therapy bills when they escape. I appreciated The Blackening and its representation of Blackness in various forms, from the cringey to the frightening. Black characters, especially dark skin characters, are often depicted with a sort of aggression that’s supposed to allude that they could survive anything. Black people are used as a sacrifice to set the tone. “This strong person did not survive, and they had the most gruesome death so we know what is possible.” Black folks know that when you’re trying to survive, whether it is a workplace, academia or even a cabin in the woods, community is the only thing that keeps us afloat. Our best method of survival revolves around preservation. The biggest risk is when we don’t realize that we’re upholding white supremacy, and it affects how we preserve one another. When someone upholds it to the point where it affects the perception of our existence, I won’t lie, I don’t even know what to do at that point.

The Blackening created Black characters that are allowed to be messy and still make them rootable. The villain remains what we always knew to be true, those who uphold white supremacy as a marker for Blackness. Being Black as fuck is subjective and upholding merit-based Blackness can create dangerous systems that push each other away. What do we rate our Blackness in relation to? The truth is that we’ve seen these characters, or we’ve seen ourselves in them. I enjoyed seeing a bunch of Black folks across the diaspora with separate experiences but understanding the underlying layers of what’s being presented for them.

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  • Khadjiah Johnson is a Caribbean-American writer and humor advocate who uses poetry and comedy as a leverage to empathize and uplift. Her work has taken her to Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theater, BET, Off-Broadway and many more! She hopes to use her talents to sway her way into the writers room for a Late Night Comedy Show.

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