Is Amazon’s ‘Them’ Too Violent for Us to Watch?
When racialized horror gets too deep, some viewers tune in while others tune out
Amazon’s Them (officially Them: Covenant) is out, and let’s just say Twitter has largely not been here for it. Over the weekend, the series trended heavily. Executive producer Lena Waithe was dragged relentlessly as many erroneously pegged her as the series’ creator and writer. (Let’s be real: Some of the venom directed Waithe’s way is residual from her 2019 film, Queen & Slim.) But Them’s creator and main writer is newcomer Little Marvin. Very few biographical details are available on Marvin, but he is an alumnus of corporate America.
To fuel the horror in Them, Little Marvin turned to California, specifically the once lily-white city of Compton, which most people today associate with rapper Eazy-E, the group N.W.A., producer Dr. Dre, and rapper The Game. Also keep in mind that viewers watched the 10-episode anthology series in the wake of a wave of racial horror and supernatural-based shows. In the past two years, HBO alone centered Watchmen around the Tulsa Massacre, and the Peele-produced Lovecraft Country was set during Jim Crow. For both, the imaginary monsters or villains proved to be not nearly as scary as their real White supremacist counterparts. The monsters in Them, by contrast, appear more as ghostly supernatural and perhaps even paranormal.
To understand the backlash against the series, you have to know what it’s really about. Them revolves around a North Carolina family’s move to Compton in the 1950s. The premise seems promising: The family is representative of tens of thousands who moved to the greater Los Angeles area at that time. Prior to World War II, Compton was a whopping 95% White. Real people similar to Them’s fictional World War II vet Henry Emory (Ashley Thomas), his wife, and two daughters helped change that. How Henry chooses to change it, however, is questionable. When the family moves to Compton, he is well aware that the paperwork for their house still bears covenant language barring “Negroes” from buying any home in the area. Yet he does not tell his wife, Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde), who, as revealed in episode five, endured a horrendous racial assault and has lost a child. Because they’re in California and not the South, Henry…