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The blackening star Grace Byers didn’t just tackle the tired trope of black characters dying prematurely in horror movies. Her no-nonsense character of hers, Allison, also challenged the notion that Blackness can be measured.
The Tim Story-directed horror comedy revolves around a group of college friends who gather to have fun at a remote cabin, but things quickly go awry when they become the target of a masked killer and his menacing board game, The Blackening . Ultimately, Byers’ character hints that the group has split, and this approach is yet another horror trope that rarely works well for everyone. Recognizing this pattern, college friends immediately criticize Allison’s judgment, attributing it to the white side of her biracial identity. (The group of friends finally heeded Allison’s advice.)
Byers, born in Pennsylvania and raised in the Cayman Islands, is also biracial, so she understands exactly what her character is going through when her identity is constantly being questioned.
“I love Allison’s response in that moment where she says, ‘It’s not my white side talking. This is me speaking as a whole black person, who just happens to be biracial,’” says Byers The Hollywood Reporter. “So I think this reflects the full spectrum of the black diaspora. There are many different types of black and trying to define or quantify it will always leave someone in a futile position.“
Below, during a recent conversation with DAYByers also explains why he chose not to lean towards the predominantly comedic tone of The blackening during the fusion process.
AS The blackening tackles the age-old trope that black characters are the first to die in horror movies. Has this pattern created a barrier between you and being a fan of the genre?
I’m an empath, and so that was the barrier between me and gender. (He laughs.) I have a hesitation in watching some horror movies because I take everything in genre. But I will say that if there were more blacks in the genre, I might have challenged it a little more. (He laughs.)
Whether it’s a horror movie or something else, remember the first time you recognized how different black characters are treated on screen?
Absolutely. As a kid, there were many television shows and movies that I loved, but they didn’t have much or any black representation. And I remember thinking, “This is not the world I live in and it doesn’t look like the totality of people I see. Why don’t I see more people of color in general? And so I definitely saw him from a very young age.
You have previously worked with co-writer, Tracy Oliver, on your TV series, Harlembut how did your casting go?
I auditioned for (director) Tim Story on Zoom. We were still in the midst of the pandemic, and it was a lot of fun, even though it was clearly a horror comedy. So there was a lot of comedy, but I wanted my portrayal of Allison to stay very grounded. I didn’t want to play comedy; I wanted to bring her the truth. And so I thought to myself, “Either they’re going to want the entrenched recovery, or it’s not going to be what they wanted and I’m not going to get it. Alright then. But that was the version I decided to go with, and Tim said it was exactly what he was looking for, so I was really happy with that.
Degrees of Blackness is a big topic of conversation in the film, and the group gives your character a run for his money for being biracial. For example, when Allison suggests that everyone should separate, they blamed that decision on the white side of her. Sure, everything is heightened in this film, but as a biracial woman, can you relate to Allison’s feeling that she constantly has to prove herself?
Absolutely. In my conversations with many, many people of color, I’ve found that everyone has had their blackness approached, questioned, and placed into some kind of definition by which they felt invisible, in some sense. If you talk to a black person, really, you’ll hear them say, “Yeah, there was a time when someone questioned my blackness too. They said I wasn’t black enough because of X or Y or Z. And I love Allison’s response in that moment where she says, “It’s not my white side talking. This is me speaking as a full black person, who just happens to be biracial. So I think this reflects the full spectrum of the black diaspora. There are many different types of black and trying to define or quantify it will always leave someone in a futile position.
You grew up in the Cayman Islands and then moved back to the United States for a higher education. Was there less attention paid to your identity in the Cayman Islands than in your first experiences in America?
Colorism and the conversation about darkness is all over the world. It’s a global discussion, I think, and even though there are cultural differences as far away as America and the Caribbean and Africa and different parts of the world, you still see bias everywhere. You see discrimination everywhere. Socioeconomic states reflect that everywhere, and while certain experiences are slightly different, there is a unification of Black people around the world when it comes to that.
You must have a Black Panther-type moment in the woods, as Allison has a funny fight scene with the killer. Was being on the offensive a nice change of pace after running from evil throughout the film?
It was a lot of fun and we all had stunt doubles to help us through those processes. So I was really excited to be able to work with my stunt double, but I was like, “Can I please do the stunt choreography?” And so they let me. Now, my stunt double looked a lot like me, so I don’t know what parts I was and what parts she was, but listen, I feel very well represented by her. (He laughs.) We did a great job out there and had a lot of fun doing it.
You’ve done a lot of TV in the last decade and that process is very fast. You have eight days to create 44 minutes of television, give or take. So to go from that pace to a feature-length pace, could you feel a notable difference?
For this film, since there was a lot of adrenaline, it also felt a bit fast. Most of the movie we’re all running for our lives, and so it felt fast. So I will say that I didn’t feel a huge difference. We shot this project in five and a half weeks, six weeks, so it was pretty similar to how it is in the television world.
When you first read the script, how well did you deal with Blackening’s questions?
I did pretty well. We were all joking and saying, “Do we know the answers to this?” And most of us actually knew most of the answers, which was pretty impressive. (He laughs.)
Then, the First AD (Ian J. Putnam) read Blackening’s voice off shot. Did he also do your voice whenever the characters communicated telepathically?
I don’t remember if it was a CEO or Tim, but I think it was Tim who read our entries. Next we did the ADR.
I asked Antoinette Robertson this question too, but a decade from now, when you and your castmates gather in a remote cabin to celebrate this film’s anniversary, which day on set will you all likely remember first?
(He laughs.) Maybe our first day on set. It was really wonderful to get together with everyone for the first time and we didn’t really know each other. I think Dewayne (Perkins) and X (Mayo) knew each other ahead of time, but the rest of us didn’t really know each other, so we bonded so quickly and effortlessly. It was really wonderful to see that natural camaraderie emerge from day one, and I hope it feels and looks organic on screen, because it sure was. So that was a gift, and it’s a very rare gift.
The blackening it is now playing in theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.