I’ve always had a fascination with vampires. The idea of living forever, having supernatural strength and speed, has always been appealing to me. I also thought it was sort of cool that vampires survive by draining the blood from others. Macabre, I know, but I like what I like.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the faults that most vampires seem to have. The murder, the secrecy, the privilege, and exclusion.
Most vampires depicted in mainstream media are white, male, and cis. Black vampires are hard to come by and when there is one, they’re usually the villain, or they’re killed off.
Our concept of vampires is almost exclusively influenced by European culture. So it stands to reason that black vampires are so terrible because they don’t fit into the white European mold. Even some of our favorite (read: only) black vampires can’t outrun marginalization.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m bringing up such an old movie. The answer is that Blacula was the first black vampire we had. And for a long time, he was the only one.
Blacula had all the hallmarks of a typical blaxploitation movie. It was drenched in racism, homophobia, and sexism. And even though Blacula starts as a hero, he quickly becomes demonized, by his own people, even though he’s actually a victim himself.
Even though the character can be looked at sympathetically, he’s not allowed the space to redeem himself.
The movie came out in 1972 and starred William H. Marshall.
A Vampire in Brooklyn
Max arrives in Brooklyn in search of help, he’ll die soon unless he can find a mate. Instead of humanizing him, he was portrayed as the villain from the start. Mirroring how all too often black people in need of help are treated as dangerous and undeserving. Overall, Max is a boring, one-dimensional character. He’s bad in every way possible, with no redeeming qualities. He kills indiscriminately and manipulates Rita to get what he wants.
The movie was released in 1995, starring Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett. She goes on to play a vampire in American Horror Story Season 5: Hotel.
The Blade Trilogy
Who doesn’t remember the half vampire half human, vampire hunter? You have to admit, the guy was badass. And his mission of ridding the world of vampires is very admirable. It’s not until you look closer and peel away all the layers that you realize, Blade is such a messed up character.
To put it bluntly, Blade, a black man, is a self-hating vampire. Weird how the only vampire who hates vampires is the black guy, no? He rejects his roots and kills his own kind, purely out of spite. Taken at face value this all seems fair. The vampires are evil, so why not kill them, right? Well, the subliminal message here is a black man who hates himself and where he comes from, trying to destroy all traces of his origins. Worse still, his mother, who is now a vampire, straight up abandons him in favor of a relationship with a vampire. Now we have an unfit mother and a man who spurns his own existence.
The first Blade movie came out in 1998 and starred Wesley Snipes.
Queen of the Damned
This is one of the worst offenders on the list. The titular character only gets about 20 minutes of screentime, most of it going to a white man who coveted her beauty and power. Once he meets her in person, however, he rejects her for behavior that he emulated himself. The movie ends with him betraying her in favor of another. In this movie, we see a black woman as hypersexual and inherently bad. She is valued only for her looks and power, ultimately being discarded when she’s deemed too difficult.
Released in 2002 and starred Aaliyah.
Tara is one of the main characters on the show, although she isn’t the star. Fair enough. She doesn’t become a vampire until the 5th season and she’s killed off at the beginning of the seventh. Tara is a mess for the majority of the series. She’s also obsessed with her best friend and often finds herself in danger because of her. It seems like Tara just can’t catch a break. Then, when she becomes a vampire, she transforms into one of the show’s heroes. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed very much time to shine.
Season 1 was released in 2008, the series ran for 7 seasons. Tara was played by Rutina Wesley.
Laurent isn’t the only black vampire present in this film series, but he is the first and he has the most lines.
We see several BIPOC vampires in the final film, but they only have a hand full of lines between them, and those go to the ones with fairer skin. The darkest among them are literally savages, dressed in revealing loincloth-like clothes.
Laurent, a dark-skinned man with long dreads, is portrayed as not only a villain but a coward and liar as well. He quickly betrays his friend to the pure and good Cullens so he can avoid a fight with them. But in a later movie, he’s shown to attack Bella now that she’s alone and defenseless, and there’s no danger to him. He’s killed immediately. All this even though he’s fallen in love and vowed to change his ways, none of this is ever shown to the audience though, only his bad qualities.
The first movie was released in 2008. Laurent was played by Edi Gathegi.
The Vampire Diaries
Beau, Jesse, Harper
Vampires don’t last long in this series, especially if they’re black. One vampire in particular, Jesse, even becomes a love interest of the very annoying leading lady just before he’s turned. She kills him to protect her ex-lover, eye roll.
Vampires Beau and Harper were around only to serve other (read: white) vampires. He was often the muscle, even though as vampires, they were all ridiculously strong. Beau had zero lines, as he didn’t have a tongue. Since he was a witch though, and so were all of his “friends”, it just doesn’t make sense that this tall, dark, black man had to remain silent. He was also the first of his group to be killed off. Harper also only existed as muscle, he was a subservient character. He had few lines and little screen time, and even though he was essentially good, he was killed off fairly fast.
The deplorable way the black characters are used in this series, Bonnie in particular, could be a series on it’s own, but that’s for another post. Many have already covered the subject.
Season 1 was released in 2009. Harper was played by Sterling Sulieman. Jesse was played by Kendrick Sampson. Beau was played by Jaiden Kaine.
These examples of sucky black vampires shouldn’t discourage you from watching or enjoying these shows. (A Vampire in Brooklyn is my favorite vampire movie.) If you ignore the racism and exploitation, a skill most black and brown viewers have had to develop, then you can hate-watch to your heart’s content.
But if these options make your blood boil, there’s still hope. Most of these shows and movies are based on books and luckily, there are some featuring powerful black vampires out there, like Fledgling by Octavia Butler, or The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez. Maybe one day they’ll get a chance to shine on screen too. Representation, diversity, and exclusivity aren’t just buzzwords. There’s been a major shift within the last decade, BIPOCs won’t be ignored any longer.