Are You Okay, Girl?: 10 Movies That Underutilized Black Women

Horror movies are notorious for sidelining Black women. More often than not, we’re the disposable sidekicks instead of leading ladies. This is, of course, when we even get invited to the movie. However, some actors shine so brightly in these roles that we can’t help but wish they had been given more to do. Whether that is being a fun villain or becoming one of the few final Black girls in the genre, it’s hard to not wonder what these movies would look like if those characters hadn’t been pushed to the side. So, I’m here to talk about 10 Black women who should have gotten more to do in their respective movies.  

Bernadette Walsh, Candyman (1992)

Played by Kasi Lemmons

Where You Can Watch: VOD

A grad student discovers that the Candyman myth is not just an urban legend. I don’t have beef with Virginia Madsen, who played the lead, Helen, in this movie. However, it feels weird for this particular film to have a white woman front and center. It’s an issue that would continue for the next two films in the franchise. I always wish Bernadette (played by Lemmons) had been the lead instead of being killed offscreen. I think a Black woman researching this lore would have been less suspicious. It also would have gotten us into cooler conversations that we would not see in this franchise until Nia DaCosta’s Candyman (2021). We also would not have to unpack our beloved Candyman’s obsession with white women in the original trilogy. 

Karla Wilson, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

Played by Brandy

Where You Can Watch: VOD

The hookman with a grudge is back to finish what he started the previous summer. Karla is not only a more interesting character than Julie James, but she has real obstacles to overcome to make it to the end of the movie. We watched the villain throw Karla through and off so many items that we were sure she died on multiple occasions. However, she pops up at the end of the movie to see if her bestie is okay because that is what Black sidekicks do. I wish Karla could have just been the official final girl. I would have loved to see Julie fall and Karla become the face of this franchise. Instead, we got I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which was the ultimate insult to injury.

Hallie, Scream 2 (1997)

Played by Elise Neal

Where You Can Watch: VOD

The Ghostface saga continues as Sidney and her remaining friends try to acclimate to college life. I always had questions about Hallie and why she got the most uninspired death of the movie. It’s a death that especially hurts because she was originally written as one of the killers. I wish she had been in on it because it would have turned the Black sidekick trope on its head. It would have also explained her need to seem so cheery and full of school spirit. Making it all a big ruse to keep people from suspecting her of being next in line to take a stab at Sidney would have been so much better than what she got. Instead, she is just another Black friend who will put their lives in danger for the white lead. Her senseless death still salts my tines all these years later.

Rochelle, The Craft (1996)

Played by Rachel True

Where You Can Watch: MGM+

A teen thinks she has found friends in a new school when she joins a coven. However, the fun and games get serious when they use their powers on their enemies. I do not understand how the filmmakers did not understand that Rochelle was the reason for this movie. Don’t get me wrong, Nancy (Fairuza Balk) going off the rails is a delight. We also love Robin Tunney battling evil (and bad wigs). However, I have yet to meet a fan of this film that was not obsessed with Rochelle. She made many of us feel seen even while being severely underutilized.

I’m also salty that she was sidelined because before True was cast, the character had an eating disorder. However, that was changed to her character getting bullied by a high school racist after casting. Clearly, someone thought Black girls with body image issues required too much imagination for this tale about magic. So, we were failed in multiple ways while this character was on the sidelines doing Nancy’s bidding. I want the version where Rochelle is the new girl who thinks she found her click before having to battle Nancy. It would have been a more powerful movie, and we were robbed.

Lisa Hines, Prom Night (2008)

Played by Dana Davis

Where You Can Watch: VOD

Donna’s prom night is ruined when a killer from her past returns to finish what he started. Again, we get the Black best friend trope that makes me tired. However, Lisa was set to be prom queen, so at least she was popular before she had to die for her bestie. This movie is a mess, but Lisa’s predictable and silly ending is what sends me. She was so pressed to get back downstairs and in harm’s way that she couldn’t tell her boyfriend what was going on? Or take him with her as backup? She needed to run to Donna’s side immediately and throw all caution into the wind for who?

I always wonder what this would look like if the film had not been so intent on using this Black sidekick trope so badly. I’m also curious what could have been if Dana Davis were cast in the leading role. Watching her and Idris Elba’s Detective Winn shut down a murderous stalker would have given this uninspired remake at least one bright spot.

Maggie Bess, Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Played by Rah Digga

Where You Can Watch: VOD

A collector leaves his fortune and his haunted house to a family down on their luck. This is a fun movie. I am rooting for it to get the series that has been teased forever. However, Maggie (Rah Digga) is another character who deserves more screen time. My first concern is how much is Maggie making as a nanny. If the family is so poor can they afford to pay her a living wage? My other concern is this family puts this woman in danger before getting wrapped up in their own drama. However, she has to save them all anyway, knowing she will never be compensated for this overtime. That is the final girl energy trapped in a sidekick character arc.

Tony Shalhoub has always seemed like a nice fellow, so I am happy he got a role in a horror film. However, I feel like there had to be a story in here that would allow him and Rah Digga to both have full character arcs. That way she could have avoided showing up to play the help.

Reese Wilson, Urban Legend (1998)

Played by Loretta Devine

Where You Can Watch: Sling TV

College students start falling victim to urban legends in this 90s slasher. I remember being happy to see Loretta Devine in a horror movie. She is usually typecast as a motherly figure, so I was rooting for her even though I know how disposable Black security officers are in film. The Lady Devine has some fun with the role, and she does survive, but I wish she had gotten more screen time. I am also side-eyeing both survivors who left her bleeding out after she suffered a knife wound trying to save them. However, when she appeared in the second movie, I foolishly hoped it would become her story. After all, murders are happening at her new place of employment. The thread was there, yet she got left on the sidelines for the second time in one franchise. 

Selena, 28 Days Later (2003)

Played by Naomie Harris

Where You Can Watch: Sling TV

A virus sweeps through the UK, leaving a small group of survivors seeking sanctuary. Selena is the only person that seems to want to live for the majority of the movie. While Jim (Cillian Murphy) struggles to adapt, Selena is about business. I cannot help but wonder what this could have been had Naomie Harris been the lead. Especially if we kept Selena the way she is. She mastered the art of caring without losing sight of survival. She does not have time for sentimentality and will not hesitate to put a bullet in anyone infected. Selena is the type of person I want to see driving more zombie media. This movie is so damn good, but can you imagine it being told from her perspective? 

Evelyn, Annabelle (2014)

Played by Alfre Woodard

Where You Can Watch: Netflix

A couple finds themselves up against a supernatural force that seems attached to a vintage doll. This movie wasted Alfre Woodard’s time and tried my patience. It was bad enough that she was a supporting character and the only POC. In a movie where she was the strongest actor, no less. However, for them to put her on the mystical Black woman to sacrificial negro conveyor belt hurts my soul. After all of the eye-rolling this movie induced, we then had to watch her grab this doll and leap to her death for a family she literally just met. The writer landed on that choice when practically anything else would have been a better option.

As the sole Black person in the movie, it would have been great for Evelyn to be the focal point. She seems to have a backstory: the film even tries to tenuously tie it to her ridiculous decision to sacrifice herself. What if we had just brought that forward? Or what if instead of sacrificing another Black woman, we had let Mia jump to save her own family? Then Evelyn could at least live to tell the tale.

Yvonne, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Played by Kelly Jo Minter

Where You Can Watch: VOD

A pregnant girl and her unborn baby are Freddy’s next target. Kelly Jo Minter’s Yvonne was the first Black woman to survive Elm Street. She was also the one doing the heavy lifting to end his reign of terror this time around. However, Alice (played by Lisa Wilcox) gets the final girl treatment. This pisses me off because this franchise is not precious about killing off previous survivors. It would have been so damn cool to have Yvonne begin to believe in Freddy because he took out her BFF. We also could have avoided some of the lore (that was never going to age well) and not steered so hard into Lisa’s refusal to consider not having this baby. It gets unnecessarily crunchy and would not have happened had they crowned Yvonne the soul final girl.

Do you also lose hours wondering what these movies would have looked like if the Black actors had been given more to do? Then we should chat about it at @misssharai.



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