From Civil Rights to the Post-racial Lie: The Representation of Racial Politics in the American Horror Film Score

Calum White 

Goldsmiths, University of London/University of Edinburgh

Context 48 (2022): 53–67.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2023


Socio-political messages have been discernible in film since the advent of the moving image. With this study, I respond to a gap in academic research by establishing how these messages have been manifested through a film’s score, focusing specifically on racial politics within American horror films. Drawing upon discussions of film scores, both generally and specific to the horror genre, as well as writings on cultural identity in music, I question how, using these theoretical frameworks, music can be seen as representative of a film’s racial politics and subtext. I will focus on three films released over a fifty-year period that each provide commentary on race in the contemporary United States: Night of the Living Dead (dir. George A. Romero, 1968); Candyman (dir. Bernard Rose, 1992); and Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017). The study showcases numerous ways in which film scores can represent subtext through instrumentation, timbre, pre-existing music, silence, and the cultural associations that these elements evoke.

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