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From Chucky to Nope: Queer Characters Are Getting Their Moment in Horror

by Ian Carlos Crawford

Jordan Peele’s newest horror masterpiece, Nope, is great for many reasons. The edge of your seat intensity, the twists, the hotness that is Brandon Perea’s sweet himbo Angel, and, most importantly, Keke Palmer’s incredibly charming portrayal of Emerald­­ Haywood.

There’s a scene early on where she references a “girlfriend” — and even a scene later on where she tells a woman in a local electronics store that’s he looks “really pretty.” And yet, as I get older, I notice my gaydar is getting worse and worse. I really assumed she was using “girlfriend” to mean a friend — I figured I just always want everything to be gay, so this was a reach to assume Emerald was gay. But, much to my surprise, she was a queer character!

I was acting like one of those older straight people, saying, “No, they’re just good friends.” We even reviewed the movie for my horror podcast, My Bloody Judy, where I refer to her as straight — and I got a lot of DMs letting me know I was labeling her incorrectly. And boy have I never ben happier to be corrected!

There has always been a huge queer fanbase with horror movies. But for the most part, the queer community would often get overlooked in horror movies — unless we were portrayed as the creepy villain (I’m looking at you, High Tension). We had Final Girls who were constantly being gaslit or underestimated that we could relate to. We’d get movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, where even though the entire movies couldn’t possibly feel any gayer, with homoerotic scene after scene, our main character was still said to be straight. We also had movies like Scream, that felt so incredibly queer filled with badass women, yet never featured a queer character. Recently, out Scream writer Kevin Williamson even said in an interview, “You’re watching this girl survive the night and survive the trauma she’s enduring. Subconsciously, I think the Scream movies are coded in gay survival.”

And, recently, the Scream franchise finally showcased their first fully out queer character (we don’t count the “wait I’m gay” last minute reveal in Scream 4 from Erik Knudsen’s Robbie, that could be just seen as a joke right before he is murdered). We got the wonderful Jasmin Savoy Brown’s Mindy Meeks-Martin in Scream(2022). She was a dynamic stoner film buff, who got to makeout with a girl before being attacked by Ghostface and even survived to appear in the next installment!

Queer characters are having a sort of renaissance in horror — and it’s taken long enough! And it’s been great seeing these queer characters played by POC. Horror movies are becoming more and more diverse, while franchises like Star Wars and Marvel give us gay characters that are no name side characters or completely devoid of sexuality or easily erased from the movie when showing it overseas. We are getting queer characters who meet brutal ends (Halloween Kills), queer characters who help save the day (Freaky), and queer characters who get to be the main character (Chucky).

The fact that the new Chucky show was able to balance gruesome kills from the titular role of murderous doll Chucky and a cute Love Simon-esque romance for our main character Jake (Zackary Arthur) is a pretty impressive feat. It doesn’t hurt that the creator is an out gay man, Don Mancini. The franchise features gay icon Jennifer Tilly playing a body swapped version of herself (kinda) and in this show she was brought back in a main villain role and she clearly had so much fun. They even made her character Tiffany queer! So we have both queer heroes and villains in this series. I still have Tilly’s delivery of the line,“Aren’t you a little young to have seen Bound” randomly pop into my head. The show is a fun, camp horror series that is also a good show!

And then there’s the other recent horror show Yellowjackets, where Jasmin Savoy Brown played another iconic queer character, Taissa, who gets a romance (albeit one that’s probably doomed). Last summer we got the Netflix Fear Street horror trilogy, which legit revolved around a lesbian romance! It’s just nice to have out characters existing and not having to have every queer story be a coming out one.

Coming Out stories themselves are for sure important, but it’s also important to have different queer stories. A queer teen girl who finds love after surviving a plane crash in some possibly haunted woods! A queer teen boy able to find romance while being hunted by a murderous doll! A queer woman coming back home to her family’s horse ranch to get proof of a UFO! These characters are important!

Not only is fun as a queer horror fan seeing all these characters pop up lately, it also normalizes queer folks. Huge horror franchises like Halloween and Scream finally including out-gay characters is a big deal. The new Scream was the most diverse so far in the entire franchise — with not just queer characters but with characters of color too. And while some of these queer characters might get murdered, they aren’t just there for jokes — they aren’t there to just be someone’s gay BFF. These characters get storylines and get to be as tough and smart as the straight characters in horror.

Final Girls are tough — they survive! Just like queer folks. Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott and Jamie Less Curtis’ Laurie Strode are two of the most iconic Final Girls, who also have a huge queer fanbase. But imagine if they’d been queer! We deserve this current outpouring of queer characters in horror. My dream is one of them will go on to become a Final Girl on the same level as Strode or Prescott.

And while we still have a ways to go, I think Emerald being an out black lesbian in a big budget, incredibly popular horror move is such a step in the right direction. Emerald is presented as charming and clever — and, spoiler, she survives the movie and is pivotal to the climax of Nope. She’s exactly the kind of queer character that’s been missing from horror — and I am so ready for more.

About the Author:

Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and has an MFA in non-fiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, Junkee, and other random corners of the internet. He currently hosts a queer Buffy and Marvel focused pop culture podcast called Slayerfest 98 and co-hosts a horror podcast called My Bloody Judy. Follow him on Twitter @ianxcarlos!

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