Little Marvin says trauma in ‘Them’ exposes ‘true sickness’ of Jim Crow

The horror anthology executive produced by Lena Waithe is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime debuted Them on April 9 and the horror anthology from Little Marvin has caused quite the stir. 

Read More: Deborah Ayorinde on that traumatizing scene in ‘Them’: ‘I laid it all on the table’

Even before it hit the streaming service, people were already wondering if the series, executive produced by Lena Waithe, was just a rip-off of other projects that center racism in the horror genre. Considering that the title is an obvious reference to Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed film, Us, and that it cast one of the film’s stars, Shahadi Wright Joseph in a similar role, the comparisons are understandable. 

Add that to the innovative way HBO’s Lovecraft Country highlighted the horrors of life in the Jim Crow South while incorporating supernatural threats into a genre that had long excluded Black folks, the premise did indeed seem a little familiar. 

Still, Them’s creator, Little Marvin, didn’t seem too pleased about the comparisons when theGrio caught up with him during the show’s press junket weeks before the series premiered to the public. 

“That part, yes, helped me to know that there is a space for it, helped me to know that there is a massive Black horror audience who is ready for stories, who will show up for stories like this. That part, absolutely,” he said. 

“My inspirations were way, way, way back. I mean, from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The films of that time were hugely influential in my mind. Everything from The Exorcist to The Shining, these were my favorite movies of all time so I really wanted to pay homage to those.”

According to Little Marvin, the similar aspects of Them and the other projects like Get Out, Us, and Lovecraft Country don’t make his series a copycat. He argues, instead, that Black creators and Black projects are held to a different standard than the mainstream, and that white folks have been making repetitive projects across all genres for ages. 

(Amazon Prime)

“I think what I would say about the time that we’re in and the sort of similarities is that I look forward to a day where the sandbox has been so even that we’re all in the sandbox and there’s so many of us and so many of our stories that those comparisons don’t get made anymore. You know, there are a thousand stories that center white folks that come out every day that are interchangeable in my mind,” he continues. 

“No one ever draws those parallels, but you have three Black things in four years and it’s sort of a war. So, again, like in the way that Lena Waithe opened the door, for me, my hope is that with this project, I can kick the door open. If we can have a flood of Black voices in this space, that question will never have to get asked.”

When it comes to the brutality inflicted on Black bodies in Them, and the intense trauma portrayed throughout the project, Little Marvin stands by his creative choices. 

“I think we set out to make a show that was an emotional rollercoaster and it was very much rooted in truth. I’m not interested in cardboard cutouts. I’m interested in all of our complexity and all of our nuance and all of our flaws. And so I wanted to be unafraid of exploring that,” he says. 

“Will everyone go on that journey? Maybe not. But I hope that the journey is rewarding enough that the folks who stick to it are going to feel rewarded by having gone on that journey with us.” 

When asked how he expects white audiences to react to the darker aspects of the project, particularly ones that highlight just how far white people will go to keep Black folks out of their pristine neighborhoods, he makes it clear he didn’t intend for this show to educate them. 

“I certainly don’t set out to, like, educate white folks because there’s just not enough time for that, so it’s not in my thought process. But how they engage with it? Maybe they’ll take away a level of— I don’t know; find some level of understanding about what folks actually dealt with.”

Days after Them debuted on Amazon Prime, we got a chance to talk to Little Marvin again and this time, we tackled parts of the series that so many viewers, including myself, found problematic. 

I was particularly troubled, traumatized even, by episode five, where we see an infant get murdered while his mother (played by Deborah Ayorinde) is brutally raped and powerless to save her son. We spoke at length about this horrifying episode, about whether it was the right time to expose our community to trauma of this magnitude, and why he took this approach. 

“You make a decision to honor that past and then you have to honor it truthfully,” he says. “I think about history as a house. I could have told the same story as a documentary about redlining. I could have found one family and made a biopic. I could have made, you know, a story about Jim Crow. That to me is about just going through the front door of history. And I wasn’t particularly interested in that,” he explains. 

“I wanted to creep around to the back of the house, bust open a basement window, and let myself into the basement level of history where the darkest, most frightening things live. And if I gave you that crime in a way that you’ve seen it before if this was a slave narrative if it was a piece of police brutality, it allows your brain, I think, to put it in a safe space. ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before. I know what that is.’ You’ve never seen this before. And so, in a way, what I think it does is it brings the viewer a bit closer to the treachery and to the true sickness at the heart of the Jim Crow experiment.”

Read More: Anika Noni Rose on ‘Them’: ‘I’m not scared of people’s anger’

Stay tuned for this week’s episode of Acting Up where we’ll hear a lot more from Little Marvin and take a deep dive into the controversial project.  

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