Though director George A. Romero did not set out to make a zombie film about race, the smash-hit of GET OUT in 2016 put the spotlight back on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a touchstone for the horror genre’s rare but pivotal engagement with race. In 2013, the director sat down with the UK’s Electric Sheep Magazine to talk about the film social consciousness and its afterlife as a film about racial tensions in the US, “Certainly the racial aspect was not intentional, it was purely accident, because of the actor. He was the best actor from among our friends who we could get on the phone, and when he agreed to do it we consciously didn’t change the script. When we wrote the script, we never described his colour, and exactly the same things would have happened to him if he was white. So there’s that aspect of it…

Right when we finished the film, we were actually driving the first print of the film to New York, and that night we heard on the car radio that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. So, obviously, it then resonated that much more. When we were working on the film with Duane Jones, he was sensitive to it. We were all saying: ‘Come on, it’s 1968, we don’t have to worry about that’, but he was conscious of the fact that putting a black man in a role that wasn’t written for a black man was unusual. He thought it was bold, and we never recognised any of those issues, except only in conversation with him.

We had conversations in the car that night. We never talked about changing the ending, but in fact Columbia — who were the first ones who were interested in the film when we screened it on that trip, and wanted to distribute it — insisted that we change the ending, and we boldly said: ‘No! Of course not!’ We left New York without any distribution and then it took us a while to find some. We had to hire a producer’s representative to represent the film and he only found [agent] Walter Reade after Dr. King was no longer in the headlines. I guess they weren’t as sensitive to it.”