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1 - Slavery

from Part I - Histories

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2022

Stephen Shapiro
University of Warwick
Mark Storey
University of Warwick


Modern Black horror literature and film depict the complex mechanisms of social death threatening contemporary African Americans. Drawing on slavery to metaphorize social death, texts like Linden Hills and Stigmata, films such as The House Invictus and popular media like Lovecraft Country and “This Is America” also reveal how the lure of the American Dream seduces African Americans into colluding in their own suffering and the suffering of others like them. Yet even as slavery is presented as a point of historical horror, it is also presented as a source of ancestral knowledge, as African American artists rewrite the history of Black slave resistance to urge modern audiences to a much needed and long-overdue revolution.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Fifteen years after the United States became independent, a slave rebellion in Saint Domingue, later known as the first Haitian Revolution, shook Europe and America. While scholars readily observe the impact of the French Revolution on the development of the Gothic, the Era of Revolutions was also profoundly haunted by this slave rebellion, for it challenged political, philosophical, and racial ideologies. This was especially true in America, which was faced with a number of quandaries as a slave-holding democracy championing man’s freedom and equality. Writers would address these tensions in their literature in the years to come while political intellectuals and historians would try to contain the challenges posed by the Haitian Revolution within a Gothic frame. Unsurprisingly, American horror is haunted by the Revolution and the institution that produced it, and grapples with a notable irony: “rebel slaves, excluded from dominant definitions of American identity, were actually its best exemplars of nationhood … ‘The slave, not the master, was the truer American’” (Young, 24).

African American writers were troubled not by the events in the Caribbean but by their absence in the United States. The Haitian Revolution brought into stark relief the hypocrisy of the American experiment. Thus, early slave narratives often turned to Gothic tropes to illustrate the inhumanity of white slaveholders and their failures to uphold their own ideals. Noting that they were never fully free in the United States, these early Black authors remained haunted by slavery, both as a life-threatening institution and as an ideology which underscored the (white) American way of life. Beyond the nineteenth century, slavery continues to haunt African American writers as a signifier of the social death1 that America imposes on Blacks by necessity of the nation’s ideological and structural systems. Like their ancestors, later Black authors are haunted by the incompleteness of the rebellion against slavery. Unlike Haiti, which instituted laws condemning anti-Blackness and racial oppression, slavery in the United States was largely ended in name only, followed as it was by the systemic racism that maintained socioeconomic oppression.2

“What has cast such a shadow upon you?”

By now, most scholars accept Toni Morrison’s contention that only a writer who is an “isolato” could escape slavery’s impact during the nineteenth century.3 If, as Robert Martin and Eric Savoy have argued, the Gothic in America “may be said to be everywhere” as a genre that returns “the story generated by the national ego ‘back to its source on the abominable limits from which, in order to be, the ego has broken away’” (ix, viii), then we must acknowledge the specter of slavery and (the suppression of) slave rebellion as part of this abominable source. This origin makes the American Dream a Faustian nightmare for Americans.

Numerous white American writers produced texts explicitly haunted by slavery. Consider, for instance, Alymer’s “assistant” Aminidab in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” (Reference Seabrook1843). Aminadab is described in stark contrast to Alymer’s hyper-whiteness, for he is blackened by the grime of the furnace and speaks in uncouth and savage speech in contrast to Alymer’s intellectual commentary and is tasked with physical labor.4 Herman Melville explicitly meditates on the question of slavery, racial identity, and white superiority by recasting the Haitian Revolution aboard a ship in Benito Cereno (1856). Though the Black rebels in Melville’s story fail at gaining freedom, they nonetheless succeed in troubling the boundaries of race to such an extent that whiteness, in the form of Cereno, disintegrates and dies away. Edgar Allan Poe proves most clearly illustrative of American horror’s debt to slavery in a variety of his works, including but not limited to “The Gold-Bug,” (1843) “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” (1841) and “Hop-Frog” (1849). Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) rewrites the Haitian Revolution as Pym and his friends land on an island literally marked by the signs connecting it to the US South. Encountering a population on the island that is so utterly Black that even their teeth are black, the sailors are decimated when the natives wage a surprise attack. The event is remarkably similar to Dessaline’s final attack on the white French colonialist, a dissolution and exile that is sealed in Haiti’s first constitution. Pym and August flee the island only to encounter a vision of whiteness that is utterly unfathomable and unsustainable, given that Pym dies at this point in recounting the narrative. Like Melville’s Cereno, the question of slavery and rebellion confronts whiteness with its own instability in Poe’s horror.

This trend appears in sociopolitical discourses and writings with unflinching regularity in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Historians and journalists used the genre in detailing momentous interracial events such as abolitionist debates and Nat Turner’s rebellion. Realist nonfiction writers turned to the Gothic in their sociopolitical monographs debating racial progress and equality. This is particularly true in W. B. Seabrook’s Magic Island (1929), the text largely responsible for popularizing the figure of the zombie in American culture. In the chapter “… Dead Men Working in Cane Fields,” Seabrook explores the zombified labor that mans the US-owned HASCO sugar company. The chapter meditates on the haunting specter of slavery in US colonialist maneuvers while also implicitly reflecting on the racialized labor practices in Jim Crow America during the same era. Seabrook thus ponders how the contemporary US occupation and racial practices destabilize the nation’s democratic ideals in ways similar to the destabilization offered by Haiti’s very birth and critiques of slaveholding democracy.

Zombies were not the only way slavery would continue to trouble American popular culture; it also manifested in realist films that wielded Gothic tropes. This is especially evident in D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, which might be described as a horror film considering its various depictions of beastly Blacks brutalizing white Americans. In the film’s opening, the American South appears as a pastoral region where enslaved Blacks happily work or, at worst, suffer minor scratches as a result of their own buffoonery. After Black emancipation, the South becomes blighted by disorder and chaos. Roaming bands of armed Black soldiers brutishly push genteel white families off sidewalks and lasciviously assault white women. In the North, Black servants breach their socioeconomic position to manipulate and usurp white authority. The film marks mixed-race Blacks in this region as wolves thinly veiled in human flesh. Lydia, the maid to an important politician, literally slavers at her master, ripping hungrily at her clothes and body as she plots while Lynch fiendishly threatens white men with unsolicited violence in the midst of his climb to political power. The scene in Congress epitomizes the horror of Black liberation, as the space of law becomes dominated by unruly Black “politicians” who clip their toenails at their desks, drink alcohol openly, and burst into fights among each other. The few surviving white politicians are pushed to the back of the room while white onlookers are crowded to a small corner in the balcony. The only legal proceeding this barbaric crowd of Blacks manages to complete is to legalize interracial marriage. This is a profound point of horror in the scene as the Black men in the room look with greedy eyes at the trembling, terrorized white women in the gallery.

As in Poe, the abolition of slavery and confrontation with Black authority proves the death of whiteness. This is most apparent in the fate of Flora’s fate: pursued by a wanton Black man, she throws herself from a cliff. Likewise, the inspiration and resolution to the problem also testifies to slavery’s abolition as the death of whiteness. The hero Ben convinces friends to dress in white sheets and hoods, pretending to be ghosts to “scare” Blacks into submission.5 Only by reclaiming dominance and forcing Blacks back into an oppressed position can whiteness continue its corporeal, sociopolitical existence.6 In Birth of a Nation white existence depends on Black social death. As fictitious and exaggerated as Griffith’s recount of “history” proves, he nonetheless speaks to a sociopolitical reality in America. It is this reality that is the horror of African American fictions.

Staring Down the Barrel of 400-Plus Years

A pregnant slave woman haunts the 2020 HBO series Lovecraft Country. As I have noted elsewhere,7 African American horror traces its origins back to enslaved narrators’ appropriation of Gothic tropes in the early and mid-nineteenth century. For instance, in The Bondwoman’s Narrative (2002) Hannah Crafts uses the eighteenth-century Gothic’s preoccupation with darkness to portray the horrifying realities tormenting enslaved women. Slave narratives’ use of the Gothic did not merely argue for Black emancipation and rename the master “monster,” thereby demonizing the institution and its warping affects on white humanity (Young, 44). Rather, these narratives resist dehumanization, objectification, and social death in using horror. Slave narratives gestured toward Black interiority, complex subjectivity, and ultimately humanity, without offering up this interiority for inspection and dissection.8 In critiquing Henry Louis Gates’ willingness to read Crafts’ narrative as a direct, unmediated recount of her life, Ballinger et al. importantly note that Gates “failed to recognize that the manuscript he had himself acquired and edited is perhaps the most intertextually complicated text in all of African American fiction” (209). The critique reminds us of an important but little recognized fact of slave narratives: they are profoundly intertextual, an attempt not to represent the unadulterated self but to construct a self that is stronger than that created for them. In doing so, they act as a point of resistance to the complex and insidious mechanisms of social death because the figure reduced to a monstrous fiction by racist culture seizes narrative control and tells a story themself.

Slave narratives provide an important model for twentieth- and twenty-first-century African American horror concerned with continued racist assaults in and by the United States. These texts return to the scene of slavery to reveal how the contemporary mechanisms and functions of social death reveal the lie of history as a social construct and discipline that “construes the past as dead and remote from the present” (Dubey, 789). In contrast, Black horror’s determination to reveal slavery’s “haunting(s) ‘pulls the past into view and refuses the lie of its completion’ to show that what seems to have become a matter of history still remains alive in the present” (789). Novels like Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) disrupt simple readings of history as linear and forward-moving, and reveal uneasy truths about the “progressive” present’s debt to historic and contemporary racial oppression. The horror of Butler’s novel stems from its revelation of the fact that the horrors of slavery were necessary for the present because without it, the United States and African Americans would not exist. Hence Dana has to help Rufus rape her ancestor even as she later kills him, ending his reign of terror and will to condemn others to social death. The events, however, signal a difficult task for African Americans, who must acknowledge such violence as constitutive of a past they must remember in order to recognize it in the present, resisting its mechanisms to (it is hoped) create a different future.

Thus, we return to Hanna, the slave haunting Lovecraft Country, ancestor to the hero Atticus Freeman. The series repeatedly depicts Hanna’s escape from her master in Atticus’, and eventually his lover Letitia’s, visions. In these scenes, a very-pregnant Hanna stands at an open doorway to the burning mansion, turned as if looking back before fleeing the house of horrors. She carries with her a magical text called “The Book of Names,” a tome offering ultimate power to any who can read it. The scene encapsulates the concerns and themes recurrent in African American horror and is similar to Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Phyllis Aliesha Perry’s Stigmata (1998), among other Black horror texts, in which time travel back to slavery “make(s) possible an unmediated relation to the past as something that has not quite passed into the realm of history” (Dubey, 787). Such

temporal doublings … are obviously intended to reveal the persistence of the past in the present and to ensure that their readers as well as characters feel the discomfort of straddling two time zones, of keeping one foot squarely in the present while traveling to the past. Paranormal devices of time travel are … calculated to make their readers as well as characters feel ill at ease in the present.


In Lovecraft Country, Hanna’s history and pregnancy recount the (sexualized) racial violence Blacks endured from America’s very beginning. Like slaves who were present at the founding of a powerful country governed by white men, she too is present at the start of a powerful white group, “The Sons of Adam.” Her escape while pregnant suggests a hope of escape into a different future for her descendants while also acknowledging that her enslavement and abuse will continue to haunt them. Indeed, Atticus sees her when he is positioned as a sacrifice in the midst of a ritual to give the clan’s white leader immortality, thereby testifying to whiteness’ continued reliance on Black death to enrich and ensure white life. The series marks this sacrifice as recurrent, for in the episode “Rewind 1921” the show centers on another group of ancestors fighting white violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This time they do not escape, and pregnant Letitia watches as they burn. The episode repeats the primal scene with significant variations, reminding us of the countless Black lives sacrificed to white violent hunger while also promising that African American existence will go on even in the face of such onslaught.

The vignette “Good Golly” in Tales from the Hood 2 (dir. Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott, 2018) shows a similar concern. Floyd, the curator of a museum of anti-Black propaganda, critically relays the history of Black objectification to Black Zoe and her white, Golly-loving friend Aubrey:

Floyd: Slave Masters used to brand their property with a hot iron. But as we became free men and women, America needed a new way to mark its property, a new way to control the Negro, keep him in his place. So instead of hot coals and metal, they used pen, paint and ink. NO branding iron necessary.… Lazy, shiftless, gluttonous, lying, oversexed, ugly, violent, stupid. In this way the American Nigger slash Negro became the first true corporate brand.

Audrey: Yah, this country used to be just … really messed up.

Zoe: No doubt.

Floyd: Better now, is it?

Audrey [gesturing to Zoe]: Well I mean, we’re friends since grade school, sooo …

Zoe: Yahh [giggling while reaching over to affirm Audrey].

Zoe’s silence is significant, given the conversation’s focus on racial dynamics in contemporary America in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. Furthermore, shortly after this exchange Audrey inquires about purchasing a Golliwog doll within Zoe’s earshot, and Zoe remains silent. Zoe fails to acknowledge the dynamics of social death in American history and in her existence. Her willingness to passively collude in its perpetuation in her current life, especially in her friendship with Aubrey and her brother Philip – who playfully lashes Zoe with a slave whip in the midst of foreplay – condemns her to actual death. A willing contributor to her undead existence, she is erased from existence altogether.

Numerous African American horror texts and media worry over the ways to best navigate the history of slavery and modern social death. Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood (1902), for example, considers the familial and gender quandaries resulting from slavery, particularly critiquing the colorism and masculinist dynamics that condemn Black women to reliving slavery’s sexual manipulations and assaults. Jean Toomer and Gloria Naylor likewise meditate on the horrors of attempting to forget the history of slavery and evade social death through ascription to a dehumanizing capitalist system that particularly devalues Blackness. In Cane (1923), Toomer first explores the devastating impact of slavery on the US South before traveling northward to reveal the alienating stakes of trying to forget the horrors left behind. Lost, degraded people who seem mere ghosts on the ruinous landscape populate the first section, which is punctuated by a tale of a lynching called “Blood-Burning Moon.” The second segment of the novel is dominated by people so distant from each other in their emotionless, soulless state that they fail to notice when their neighbor is drowning under the economic burden of the “American Dream.” The final section proves a dizzying return to the South and a meditation on the difficulty of negotiating its history alongside its familial and cultural value. Similarly, in Linden Hills (1986) Naylor begins with the story of an enslaved man who manages to purchase his freedom. Like Hopkins, Naylor reveals the horror of reproducing slavery on the Black woman’s body as the first Luther Nedeed earns the money to purchase property by selling his wife. The whole of the novel is a meditation on the costs of selling one’s soul in order to achieve economic success in the hopes of disassociating the self from the history of slavery.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Uche Aguh’s The House Invictus (2018) pick up this interrogation in their depictions of the complex and nuanced ways African Americans are seduced into condemning themselves and others to social death. Peele’s film repeatedly returns audiences to the scene of slavery in the wealthy white treatment of his Black protagonist, Chris. Rose only dates Chris in order to sell him to wealthy bidders in a scene reminiscent of slavery’s auction blocks. The bidders’ examinations of him, particularly their questions about his sexual abilities, explicitly recall the questions and examinations slave masters subjected Blacks to, while the scenes of hypnosis – as Chris, trapped in the “sunken place,” views the external world as if through a television screen – worries over the ways Black psychology is actively manipulated through media. The film’s repeated refrain “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” calls attention to the ways Black bodies are prized in a modern US society that nonetheless deems Black thought as detritus. As such, the film is a thorough illustration of what bell hooks called “Eating the Other”:9 as hooks notes, US culture does not consume the entirety of the Other in its appropriation of Black culture, for such appropriation always occurs on a superficial level, disdaining the sociohistorical and cultural meaning behind the artifact/practice. The thought, emotion, and, ultimately, meaning behind the consumed thing is tossed aside, expelled as so much “shit” in the consumptive process.10

The House Invictus proves an equally complex exploration of slavery’s manifestations in modern Black existence. The plot spins around the initiation of a group of Black men into what seems to be a Black Greek Society. The men squabble among themselves, needlessly provoking each other to violence until one beats another to death as his associates look on. However, this is just one of the numerous Black and US institutions the film indicts for its racial practices. Thus in the midst of this seeming chaos, the film suddenly breaks, shifting away from the house and relocating itself in a hyper-white room with a television at the center. The camera zooms in to show the action in the house on the screen, before we are finally shown the Black butler watching. Blacks, as participants and as audiences, are indicted for both actively and passively reproducing the violence below. Notably, the very first scene of the film reveals its concern over intraracial contributions to social death. As three Black men kneel before the seeming Black butler, their eyes flash briefly blue as they utter their oath of allegiance. We later see beneath the mask of this butler once we learn the history of the location – it was a former plantation that the master burned, vowing to never liberate his slaves or any Blacks from the dynamics of slavery. This master haunts the US landscape, ensnaring unwary Blacks that wander onto his soil. Yet, as his planation is never given a location and as its mechanisms of torture are constitutive of other social groups and practices, the film argues that this master haunts the whole of the country, rather than just one unnamed wood.

The film literally reproduces the dynamics of slavery on the participants to present the grotesque, regressive nature of such active and passive participation in what proves to be (social) death. At one point, the young men are lined up naked against the wall as a Black servant in white gloves examines each, lifting the lips of one to examine his teeth, brushing his hands across the arms and chest of another, standing back to examine the genitals of yet a third. Later, a particularly rebellious participant is strapped to a post in a barn where he is brutally raped as his rapist, another Black man, recounts the ways this has been done to them all. Likewise, the film rejects socially sanctioned but nonetheless destructive methods for dealing with such assaults, for one of the primary assailants is an alcoholic while another is nearly fanatic in his religious conviction. The destructive behaviors of these two only intensifies after they (re-)experience their lynching deaths. Only the third, who finally pauses to read history – conveyed on a newspaper – manages to escape. The others are damned to repeat the cycle in what seems like an eternal, undead existence in hell. Such escapism, the film argues, only further traps you within social death.

This Is America (and Ain’t It a Nightmare)

The 2017 series American Gods rejects traditional readings of the origins of America to place the enslavement of Blacks at the center of the nation’s start. The second episode of season one begins aboard a slave ship in 1697. In a scene titled “Coming to America” Anansi appears to the praying prisoners to pronounce the future of the men and their descendants in a revealing speech:

You all don’t know you Black yet. You think you just people.… The moment these Dutch motherfuckers set foot here they decided they white and you get to be Black, and that’s the nice name they call you. Let me paint a picture of what’s waiting for you on the shore. You arrive in America, land of opportunity, milk and honey, and guess what? You all get to be slaves.… The only good news is the tobacco your grandkids are gonna farm for free is gonna give a shitload of these white motherfuckers cancer. And I ain’t even started yet.… A hundred years after you get free you still getting fucked outta jobs and shot at by police.… You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit and heart disease.… there isn’t one goddamn reason you shouldn’t go up there right now and … set fire to this ship.

When a listening captive responds that if they burn the ship, they will die too, Anansi responds, “You already dead.” This, the series implies, is the true start of America, second only to the initial arrival and rapid fleeing of the Vikings. America, the series time and again remarks, depends on the bloodshed of minorities.

Childish Gambino echoes this reading of the American Nightmare in his 2018 song “This Is America.” In contrast to the seeming frivolity performed throughout the video, the conclusion explicitly reveals the true meaning of the performance. Gambino runs through a dark tunnel, terror clearly legible on his face as the lyrics sing:

You just a Black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a big dog yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No proper life to a dog
For a big dog.

The concluding scene summarizes Black positionality in the United States, for, despite willingness to dance and jig, as a Black man he is nonetheless an income-generating object at best, and at worst a “dog” to amuse its owner, to be contained, and, eventually, to be run down.11

The song warns against Black willingness to uncritically embrace American culture and its positioning of people of color, noting that such positioning and unchallenged acceptance is apocalyptic for African Americans, reducing them to consumable objects in a ruinous country. The critique notably predicts Lovecraft Country, particularly the final episode, “Full Circle,” in which Hanna rails against Titus for raping her to conceive a child he intends to sacrifice. Hanna’s outburst alludes to how America denies Blacks inherent value, refusing to acknowledge Black existence and potential beyond its service to whiteness. Gambino’s video likewise rails against such reduction and, like The House Invictus, criticizes Black complicity in the process. The track sings “we just want to party / party just for you / we just the money / money just for you” as Gambino jigs and jives in the foreground wearing pants reminiscent of Confederate soldiers’ uniforms and making cartoonish facial expressions in a performance suggestive of Jim Crow minstrel shows. Indeed, Lori Brooks notes that some of Gambino’s postures are pulled directly from an 1833 poster advertising T. D. Rice’s minstrel performances (Brooks).12 Later, in a scene focused on a singing choir, Gambino comically steals in from the hidden door behind them before catching a rifle and gunning them down. The lyrics and scenes suggest that Black performance and service to whiteness in this culture not only are profoundly destructive to Black spiritual community but earn the perpetrator no rewards, as all of the desired money is invariably for someone else.

That the video might be classed as Gothic horror is evident in the setting, background events, and discordant music. Filmed entirely in a defunct warehouse, Gambino dances around the space as chaos repeatedly erupts in the background, including fires, riots, and the appearance of a hooded rider on a pale horse. This last figure gestures both to the nightmarish assaults of the KKK and to the apocalypse alluded to in biblical Revelation. Black complicity in modern US culture therefore is not just an acceptance of social death; it also ushers in a return of a hellish, explicitly violent history threatening the end of Black populations. The jarring juxtaposition between the opening African folk song and the chords that follow after Gambino shoots the folksinger further call our attention to the disharmonies that dominate African American existence. Not only does the opening violence abruptly end the calming song; it also iterates Black ancestral disconnection as part of the sacrifice America demands. In its place, US Blacks accept janky hip-hop chords and pretensions of joy that nonetheless fail to protect them from being h(a)unted. The warehouse setting significantly suggests that such violence, chaos, and behavior is actively produced by US industry.

However, though the video ends with a dystopian scene, like many African American horror texts it does not insist that Blacks are doomed to social death. In fact, the abrupt opening shift also acts to startle and alert viewers.13 The video begins by marking itself as a wake-up call, a task recurrent throughout the lyrics. For example, as Gambino dances with a group of South African schoolchildren against a burning background, other teens film it on their mobile phones. The lyrics for the scene are notable: “This a celly / That’s a tool.” The lines recall Black use of mobile phones to record anti-Black police violence, therefore reminding viewers that they are already equipped with the means to disrupt and rebel against the chaos that surrounds them. Shortly after, the song explicitly marks the will to resist the social death America offers in exchange for seeming wealth. The next stanza notes:

Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
(America, I just checked my following list and)
You go tell somebody
(You mothafuckas owe me)
Grandma told me.

The stanza is an explicit statement of Black rage and a return to the ancestral via communication with the grandmother. The first lines signify the previous stanzas of the song, interjecting outrage into the lyrics that earlier only repeated the need to tell someone about the desire for wealth.

The song thus includes another important aspect of Black horror that forces us to confront (modern) slavery: the will to resist. Indeed, Lovecraft Country spins entirely around this will. The burning house and Hanna’s theft of “The Book of Names” also comment on the history of Black existence as signifiers of the will to resist and the determination to guard against white despotism. If any of the white magicians were able to lay their hands on the tome, they would be invincible. Here too the series reminds us that such would-be assailants are not always wealthy white men in castles, for the most violent and antagonistic of the magicians belong to the white police force.14 Significantly, the series questions the method of resistance, visually representing Audre Lorde’s contention that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change” (112). In several visions, Atticus stands in Titus’ place, screaming as flames consume his body. These visions occur at times when Atticus is determined to decipher and use Titus’ magic himself. 15

Though Atticus and family are successful at the end, claiming magic for African Americans while exiling whites from the power, it nonetheless comes at great costs. The series concludes with a shot of young Diana after she has killed Christina. In the background Atticus’s Cthulhu-creature stands on a cliff, reproducing Diana’s position in the foreground. The juxtaposition suggests that while Diana is now powerful, she may have also lost her humanity alongside losing her childhood. The hope that the series offers at its conclusion is therefore a grim one. The series depicts a country that is Lovecraft-like in its xenophobic will to destroy people of color and equally Lovecraftian in its nightmarish landscape. Consequently, the show offers a corrective to Lovecraft’s horrors, for it is not the existence of the Other that makes the nation horrific, but the white need to oppress minorities. Lovecraft and his white (vision of) America, the series says, is the real monster.

This, then, is the hope of and warning in these texts, for in the act of writing their stories, the artists already resist a country and economy that would reduce them to happy-seeming objects of service and consumption. Through such artistic performance, African American Gothicists awaken us to the horrors of failing to resist. They urge us toward a much-needed revolution, one that will achieve the promise and ideals articulated in America’s founding and that have remained a point of painful hypocrisy for numerous minority populations within the country ever since. Yet Black horror such as Linden Hills and The House Invictus also warn us against reproducing the vicious dynamics of slavery among each other in our will to individually defy social death. It is not enough, these narratives warn, to gain your freedom if you are just going to be the next master. That’s not what true freedom looks like.


  • Agugh, Uche, director. The House Invictus. 55Media, 2018.

  • Cundieff, Rusty, director. “Good Golly.” In Tales from the Hood 2. 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, 2018.

  • Gambino, Childish “This Is America.” Vevo, 2018.

  • Green, Misha, director. Lovecraft Country. Monkey Paw Productions, 2020.

  • Griffith, D. W., director. Birth of a Nation. Epoch Producing Corp., 1915.

  • Peele, Jordan, director. Get Out. Blumhouse Productions, 2017.

  • Slade, David, director. “The Secret of Spoons.” American Gods, season 1, episode 2, Freemantle, 2017.


Works Cited

Ballinger, Gill, Lustig, Tim, and Townshend, Dale. “Missing Intertexts: Hannah Craft’s ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ and African American Literary History.” Journal of American Studies 39, no. 2 (2005): 207–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, Lori. “The Hidden Meanings behind Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Video.” Inside Edition, Accessed May 16, 2021.Google Scholar
Dubey, Madhu. “Speculative Fictions of Slavery.” American Literature 82, no. 4 (2005): 779805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopkins, Pauline. Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self. Washington Square Press, 2010.Google ScholarPubMed
Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In Sister Outsider. Crossing Press, 2012. 110–13.Google Scholar
Martin, Robert K., and Savoy, Eric. “Introduction.” In American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. University of Iowa Press, 1998. viixii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Naylor, Gloria. Linden Hills. Penguin Books. 1986.Google Scholar
Poe, Edgar. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Penguin Classics. 1999.Google Scholar
Seabrook, William, The Magic Island, with Introduction by George Romero. Dover Publications, 2016.Google Scholar
Toomer, Jean. Cane. Norton and Company. 2011.Google Scholar
Young, Elizabeth. Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor. New York University Press. 2008.Google Scholar

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  • Slavery
  • Edited by Stephen Shapiro, University of Warwick, Mark Storey, University of Warwick
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Horror
  • Online publication: 21 July 2022
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  • Slavery
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  • Slavery
  • Edited by Stephen Shapiro, University of Warwick, Mark Storey, University of Warwick
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Horror
  • Online publication: 21 July 2022
  • Chapter DOI:
Available formats