The Complicated Representation Of Black Immortal Bodies

Black Immortal bodies She Never Died

As a Black woman, the idea of Black invincible bodies is both thrilling and terrifying. In my day-to-day life, I’m always asserting my humanity while also putting up a brave front. As people on social media rally for me to be my “authentic self,” I usually don’t have that luxury. I am not safe and I’m constantly discerning when I need to fly under the radar of people’s assumptions. 

I’m not special. Black women and Black people have been doing this since our capture. It’s been centuries of enduring, transforming, rebuilding, reclaiming, losing, escaping, and doing it all over again. It feels like an eternity and so, Black Immortal beings personify this complicated emotional space for better or for worse.

Let’s start with the first Black Immortal embraced in the mainstream: Blade. The film stands the test of time due to its practical effects, strong storylines, and the wonderful performance of Wesley Snipes. We got our whole lives watching him cut through evil vampires, save people, and save the world with the enviable confidence that invincibility brought him. Blade is a hybrid, half human and half vampire, “all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses” to quote the film, and this puts him in the unique position to deliver us from evil. His mission to avenge his mother and rid the world of evil trumps any desire he might have to dominate us. His immortality belongs to us, and though he is the star and the most powerful person in the story, he is still of service. 

Black Immortal bodies Wesley Snipes

You’ll find this in most Black superhero storylines but it has a finer point when you add immortality. Other immortal beings can wrestle with existence and purpose for centuries. But, Black Immortals are thrust into a greater mission from the start and rarely have the opportunity to question or challenge that. They’re too busy fixing the nation and saving the world, and with their immortality will be able to do so forever. They will, in essence, serve indefinitely. 


This changes shape once we get to the reboot of Interview With A Vampire. Anne Rice (rest in power), who invented the sexy-moody-boyfriend-vampire archetype that we’ve been watching for twenty years, receives a reimagining with a Black Louis in this serialized version of her novel. Chosen by the lovingly manipulative European Lestat who gives him immortality, Black Louis has to navigate 20th-century America with unparalleled power while dealing with racism. Even as an immortal he still has to smile and placate because not even Louis can show up as his “authentic self”. He too must fly under the radar of people’s assumptions. 

This is not the case, however, for Victor Dashkov of The Vampire Academy played by J. August Richards (Charles Gun from Angel. Yay!). Victor does not struggle with any of these things and is living his best life as a vampire royal. Though his main concern is leading the kingdom towards a brighter future before they backslide into a traditionalism that borders on fascism, this is only because of his ambition and not because of any particular calling. Victor exists in a world where vampires rule over humans in their kingdoms, there’s a strict caste system, and if you don’t wanna roll with them you can live in human communities but will receive no protection from the beasties that roam the planet. It’s a classist segregated society where race means nothing and titles are everything. 

What happened to Earth That Was, you ask? Who knows, but watch these beautiful rich immortal beings fight and make out on velvet backdrops. It’s fun, and I stan for J. August Richards as he dons fur coats, makes love to his husband (also Black), raises his vampire daughters (Indian and White. I don’t know how that works and don’t care), and navigates Game of Thrones style politics to rule this vampire kingdom somewhere in Europea-topia. Only in a world where there was no trans-atlantic slave trade can a Black Male Immortal body be about his own desires. But there is one thing that Victor and Louis have in common….

Black women who fight for freedom against all odds. 

#sigh (insert emoji or meme of a tired Black woman here)

Even in the Europea-topia of The Vampire Academy protagonist Rose Hathaway (a Black woman) must fight for justice for all the humans who serve the vampire elite. Is she super powered? Only a little and it’s not so much an active power as one that she was accidentally infected with and it’s kind of killing her. So what is she? Well, she’s super strong (of course), super resilient (again, sigh), from a line of impressive warriors (naturally), and a natural born yet underappreciated leader. 

Claudia (little sister of Black Louis, also now Black) begins her journey as an insatiable, curious, and joyful vampire that had immortality thrust on her and takes it in stride. Her struggle to get out from under the possessive Lestat is how she moves from an adventurous girl who just wants to have fun and kill people sometimes, to the smartest and most dangerous person on the show. She drags Louis to his freedom and has to lie about how she’s doing it. Though only in its first season at this point in the story, Claudia has saved Louis from his abusive maker/boyfriend and himself, all while navigating misogynoir. 

I am of the opinion that all vampire stories are a bit sexist unless told by Octavia Butler or Jewel Gomez (side note: if you want to know more about Black women writing vampire romance I recommend Slay: Vampire Noir Anthology published by Mocha Memoirs press, and BlackWomenInHorror. Org run by Sumiko Saulson) because immortality is typically a gift and a burden that is carried by a man. A man hunts, a man conquers, a man covets legacy because only a man can have it, therefore men are typically vampires with women being a kind of outsider within the outsiders. However, immortality does not only belong to vampires and when we consider other creatures a throughline becomes apparent.

Lacey of She Never Died, is not a vampire. In fact, besides knowing that she has to eat people to survive we don’t really know what she is. I have my suspicions that she’s an Angel or something celestial forced to walk the Earth in exile but the film never really explains this, giving you space to enjoy her unlimited power and a gives-no-fucks attitude. Lacey does not want to save the world and is not sorry about this but people won’t leave her alone. They are so curious about her, what she can do, what she is capable of, and most of all her resilience

The same is true for Melanie of The Girl With All The Gifts. Though she is a zombie and can be killed, in the world she inhabits the zombies have won and she is formidable; almost invincible. Her body holds the key for human survival and she is expected to sacrifice herself for our greater good. In the films where Black Female Immortal bodies are at the center their antagonists are often obsessed with seeing just how much they can take and deciding just how much they should give up.

In the end, Melanie refuses to do so and it is the first time I’ve seen a Black female character consider her role in the future and take action to shape it in her image. Be it for science, profit, or salvation, Black Immortal Women must be used to serve a greater good whether they like it or not. Their desire to realize any personal ambition or passion is always at odds with the worlds they occupy and drives them towards monsterhood. Supporting characters in both films remark on their fear of these women and it is often accompanied by morbid admiration and half hearted support. It is clear that Black women who want things and have the time and the power to pursue them are dangerous. Period. 

The only exception is the recent film The Old Guard, a story in which immortality, and the responsibility of making the world a better place, is a shared burden by a core group. Nile is given the option to choose what she wants to do with her immortality. It is the first time we see a Black Autonomous Immortal body and watch her navigate what it means to be everlasting. The poetry of their immortality is that one day it will stop; the gift will simply be taken away with no warning. It is simultaneously infinite and finite and since they do not need to feed on human bodies, it is an immortality that causes no harm unless the person decides to be harmful. 

I love that we have arrived here and want us to think/dream about Black Immortality that doesn’t belong to a fight against oppression or a descent into monsterhood. I want us to explore a Black Immortal body that is free to exist without explanation or justification. It’s a test that I’m not even sure I can pass but if I can, I believe it will somehow affect how I feel about my own body. Because if I can imagine a thriving Black Immortality then maybe I can imagine a thriving Black Mortality. 

Wouldn’t that be somethin’?



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