little monsters (2019): Let’s start putting black women in love interest roles, please

As an avid lover of zombie films, I’m simply going to nip this in the bud in the nicest way I possibly can. The newest film in Netflix’s lineup isn’t anything all that special. I know–a horror film with Miss Lupita and it’s nothing special? Even I was a bit disappointed.

In “Little Monsters”, we follow actors Lupita Nyong’o and Alexander England as kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline and washed up musician Dave, respectively. On a class field trip to a farm, an outbreak of zombies occurs, and the two, along with Josh Gad as a children’s actor, have to protect the handful of kids from hordes of the undead. It’s a predictable zombie film, in which there’s no real buildup or tension because the living dead sort-of…saunter towards their victims, instead of running. The zombies are as slow as molasses, the kind where, so long as you don’t let their numbers overpower you, are extremely easy to outmaneuver. In my candid, honest opinion, if “Little Monsters” had anyone but Lupita, I probably would’ve skipped it (okay, not really cause I slogged through Zomboat! but…).

But, for all of this film’s faults (and believe me, between the blatant ableism, the misogyny and the overall unlikeability of Dave, our protagonist, there’s quite a few of them), I gotta give the film credit where credit is due. For “Little Monsters” predictability, it did something pretty awesome, that I haven’t seen in literally any other horror movie; making Lupita Nyong’o’s character the love interest.

I know that sounds simple, and, had she been white, nothing worth noting, but I think that’s why it’s so fucking cool.

I don’t think I have to spell this out, but I’m going to anyway; black girls get no love. Black people, as a whole, definitely do not get love. Most of the time, we are not even allowed a modicum of respect or self-autonomy. Playing the roles of the magical negro whose sole purpose is to guide the white character away from evil, or we are the first to die by the swinging knife of the unkillable slasher doesn’t exactly make a fully-realized character. This goes triple for dark-skinned back girls; if we’re not slasher fodder, we’re the comic relief that still gets gutted early on. To become a romantic interest, in horror, is completely out of the question. I actually cannot think of one movie (without a predominately black cast) that has allowed a black woman as the object of affection.

Enter, from stage left: “Little Monsters”.

Zombie Meet-Cute

Like I said before, Dave is an ex-“musician” and recently single man whose mooching off of his sister. At least “Little Monsters” doesn’t try to give excuses for Dave’s often inappropriate behavior; he’s a loser and an asshole, and that’s how the movie treats him.

After taking his nephew on a failed expedition to get his ex-girlfriend back, Dave reluctantly slogs Felix (his nephew) to school, where he first encounters the lovely preschool teacher Miss Audrey Caroline (Lupita).

We are introduced to her in the way Dave sees her; when he (we) first lay eyes on Miss Caroline, soft music is playing in the background. She is interacting with the kids, giving them high-fives and affection. Mind you, this is all in slow-motion. Lupita is sporting a bright pink dress and surrounded by a rosy pink background, smiling, radiating an unbounded joy, and he is smitten with her in the way an asshole like Dave can be smitten.

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It doesn’t seem like much of anything, but, I think for a genre that has been notorious in maiming black folks first, this romantic, pink introduction affords a certain gentleness to black women that, historically, we’ve been deprived of. Seeing a dark-skinned woman dressed in rosy pinks and being the object of someone’s affection from their first meeting, mind you doesn’t happen often to us.

“Little Monsters”, for a very unspecial movie, does a very special thing by simply letting a black woman exist without limitations. Miss Caroline isn’t fitting into any tropes that the media has ensnared black women in, and not once are her quirks framed as “not black enough”.  She is not ridiculed, nor looked at oddly, for strumming Taylor Swift songs on the ukulele to her full class of students because she is black. She wears bright dresses with bright colors, and not once does the argument of whether she is too “dark to wear those kinds of clothes” come up. Miss Audrey Caroline is allowed to simply be.

Dave + Audrey Sitting in a tree…

I’m not making any excuses for him just because he’s hot. Know this–Dave is an asshole. Dave does asshole things throughout the entire movie, of course; but, what would a zom-romantic-com be without someone having a change of heart at the end? He’s a dick, yes but I can appreciate that Dave seems to be genuine about his attraction to Audrey.

Again, ‘genuine’ meaning that he masturbates to a picture of her after their first meeting goes awry, but (and thank God for this) there’s no awkward dialogue from Dave explaining how he’s never been with a black woman before. Dave, if he feels this way, doesn’t have the burning need to express his “jungle fever” desire towards this black woman. And as I’m writing this, I cannot believe that the bar is so low, that a man not mentioning that he wants to fuck her solely because of her race is considered progress. Whoof.

In a later scene Miss Caroline is frazzled by the screaming kids, the growling, scratching zombies outside and how quickly this routine trip to the farm has devolved into a blood orgy of insanity. Dave picks up on it, and takes Caroline’s ukulele, and, with the help of the kids, serenades her with a rendition of “Sweet Caroline”.

I don’t consider myself at all really, to be a romantic woman. I’m a bit disillusioned by love, in all honesty, from past years of failed relationships and my inherent distrust of others. But seeing beautiful, dark-skinned Lupita flushing in embarrassment and happiness as someone sings to her in hopes of winning her heart made me fucking believe in something again. That’s right; a forgettable little movie like “Little Monsters” re-awakened the dried, dying tumor of romance in me.

Because how often are black girls sung sweetly to? In what movies do we get to be swept off our feet with no strings attached? I’ll answer that; never! We are never sung to or romanced or pined after without having to viciously fight for it. We are never the object of affection without having to confront racial trauma for it. In horror, it’s considered a blessing if we survive to the end, let alone share a kiss after a long night of bloodshed.

By the end, the two reconcile whatever differences they had and kiss. The final shot is Audrey and Dave in quarantine, dueting a peppy tune on the ukulele while the kids sing along. It’s disgustingly cute. I love it so much.

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Gotta give the point to Little Monsters this time. Not only did they let Lupita shine as the main character, but they created something refreshing. A black person that can just exist as a person, who, also just happens to be black. And, not only can she be black with no strings attached, she can be loved. She can be a hero.

 

 

 

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