FOR A FULL SCOPE OF THIS ARTICLE, READ JULIEANN’S PIECE BELOW FIRST.
It’s hard not to adore Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Kira. As the kindest, most level-headed, and empathetic character within the ensemble of The Invitation— I would even go as far as to say she’s one of the best final girls in a non-slasher film of the last decade. She wins our trust and applause, despite our little background knowledge of her and her limitations as a side character. She also happens to be Black.
As a cis, female, white horror fan, I’ve never had to worry much about seeing myself portrayed on screen. Horror is brimming with characters that look like me. So when Kira comes along— and is written broadly and in a relatable manner, that even someone who looks like me can connect to her— that’s great… right? Even if she’s still not a lead character like her white counterparts, as long as there’s inclusivity and diversity, that’s still progress…no? We care not what the color of her skin is, but, instead, the content of her character, as MLK Jr. said, …right? Should we just shut up and be happy and satisfied that a character who happens to be Black is awesome, even if her Blackness is not even mentioned at all? Is that fair enough to Black horror fans who don’t get to see themselves portrayed nearly as accurately and often enough in movies as someone who looks like me does?
I could never pretend to provide the answers, but I think it’s more complicated than that.
As I mentioned in the accompanying piece (and above), Kira’s race is never a factor for her character. Perhaps because Invitation screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi are cis, white men, and chose not to dabble in experiences and perspectives that were not of their own. Or maybe Kira wasn’t even written to be a Black woman— they just happen to cast Emayatzy Corinealdi because she nailed the audition. Who knows. It may not even be an issue for some folks. However, it’s worth considering that having a mere seat at the table doesn’t equate actually having your own table— just as merely including characters of Color doesn’t equate to actually acknowledging and furthermore celebrating a character’s Blackness within the context of a film.
A year after The Invitation’s release, horror got a smack of affirmative action in its face when Get Out premiered. Made by a Black filmmaker, written for a Black lead, as well as written from and about the specific Black experience, Get Out interestingly handles much of the same themes and grievances as Invitation does— social politeness, grief, and manipulating/exploiting others for selfish gains— except with the Black character in the driver seat. Like Kira, Get Out’s Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is also the hero that makes it out alive based on similar strengths and mindfulness. However, unlike Kira, Chris is provided a full backstory. He has a career, slightly more agency… and (gasp) even a last name.
Similar to Kira, Get Out’s Chris is also involved in an interracial relationship with a white partner, and both are placed in uncomfortable scenarios with their white partners’ families and/or friends. Both are polite and respectful to their partners’ loved ones, and their shared politeness inclines them to stick around for far longer than they ever should. However, Chris is (albeit awkwardly) asked about his Blackness in a series of cringe-worthy dinner inquiries. Kira’s race is (intentionally?) avoided and never brought up, as her partner’s friends go out of their way to overcompensate just how much they admire her looks and sense of style. Sure, compliments are great— but so is checking your privilege and making an effort to (respectfully) ask someone about their experiences that likely differ from yours.
Kira’s partner’s friends probably have the best intentions, but it also feels very… white guilt-ish. Compared to Chris’s dinner party experience, Kira’s feels surface-level at times, like when certain white people think they’re being liberal by claiming to “not see skin color! Just personality!” That’s cute, how about acknowledging their skin color, and listening and learning from the experiences of those who don’t look like you, instead?
By the time each film reaches its culmination, both Kira and Chris are burdened with the messes that their partners and their loved ones have left to them— both are forced to kill in order to defend themselves; both are tasked with/pressured into literally carrying horrible antagonists in their arms to safety, even when said antagonists don’t deserve it.
However, while Kira does just as much heroic heavy lifting as Chris does, Chris’ Blackness feels more amplified and integral to his victory over his oppressors and eventual survival: he *picks cotton* from a chair and stuffs it into his ears to drown out hypnosis; he hurls a deer’s antlers into the white, family patriarch as a reference to the old racial slur “Black Buck”; he’s fearful of being arrested (and possibly murdered) by police when a cop car pulls up because of implied systemic police brutality against Black people, but it’s only his friend. Director Peele intentionally inserts references to Blackness to remind you that you are rooting for a *Black* final character.
As I mentioned in the accompanying piece, Kira’s empowerment and path to survival is brave, but so inextricably tied to her loyalty of her male, white partner. Once again, nothing about Kira’s specific Blackness is factored into her victory and survival; she just proceeds to do what’s best for helping herself and her man survive the night.
I digress— as my white, ally opinion is null. However, as much as I loved rooting for Black hero Chris, I would’ve loved to have rooted for Black heroine Kira; instead, I was just rooting for a heroine that happened to be Black.