OVER DINNER WITH TWO LOCAL African-African writers, the subject of the astronomical success of The Blair Witch Project came up. One of the writers contributed this insight on the matter: "I heard that blacks didn't find the movie scary." This surprised me: Here's a movie that has reportedly made some viewers vomit from fear, and blacks don't find it scary? "It's in the woods," he explained. "What are they doing there in the first place?" I turned to the other writer and asked if she had watched it, and if so, did she find it scary? "Yeah, I found it scary." Our talk reached a stop, and instead of going further we digressed and began talking about the Atlanta shootings.

A few nights later, I was watching comedy on Black Entertainment Television (the best thing on cable), and one comedian started talking about the horror character Jason. He explained that he didn't find the Friday the 13th movies scary because if he heard something in the wind whispering satanically, he would be out of there in no time. He then asserted that a white person, on the other hand, walks around the woods searching for where the evil sound came from. "Now, you know he's dead. You don't hear something whispering and try to find out where it's coming from, you just pack your shit and get the hell out of there!" The audience laughed, applauded, agreed. This was not the first time I had heard this joke. I think Richard Pryor made a similar point about The Amityville Horror (1979).

Now, what's at the root of this popular insight? What it's saying is that blacks are more reasonable in matters of the supernatural than whites, that there would be no horror film, but only a brief opening, if the story involved a black person: Black man walks in the woods, black man hears noises, black man is out of there, the end. But this doesn't explain why horror films are so popular with African Americans. (I go to a video store that draws mainly black business, and was told by the manager that new action and horror are the most popular rentals.)

Even Hollywood recognizes the large black audience for horror films, to such an extent that recent horror films feature major black actors (and rap songs), so as to attract and please black consumers. The truth of all this, I think, has to do with the fact that blacks haven't had the opportunity to make serious horror films. With the exception of a series of blaxploitation horror films in the '70s (Blacula, Blackenstein, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde), there has been almost nothing. Maybe when black artists start penning the scripts and shooting the films we'll finally see horror flicks capable of making African Americans jump out of their skins.

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