Viewers Decry Amazon’s ‘Them’ for Extreme Racial Violence: ‘Torture Porn,’ ‘Hate Crime Fantasies’

Melody Hurd and Deborah Ayorinde in the Amazon Prime series Them (2021)
Sony Pictures Television

Amazon Prime’s new horror series, Them, has met a storm of criticism for depicting extreme racialized violence — including the murder of a black baby — sparking accusations of “torture porn.”

Created by black producers Little Marvin and Lena Waithe, Them tells the fictional story of a black family moving into the all-white area of Compton, Los Angeles, in the 1950s. The family is met with extreme racism from the whites in the neighborhood. But the episode in question took that racism to the worst degree possible, the Daily Mail reported.

In the offensive scene, a white woman grabs a black baby boy, puts the child into a pillowcase, and throws it around carelessly before violently dropping him hard to the floor, killing him. All the while, the white woman gleefully yells, “cat in a bag.”

Meanwhile, the murdered baby’s mother is raped by a white man as her other child watches through the cracks in a closet door.

The scene was met with harsh criticism from both left and right. Some called it “torture porn,” while others insisted that it was “propaganda” to thrill “white terrorists.” Still others felt that such a ghastly scene appealed to “hate crime fantasies.”

“I’ve been a horror super fan for over 30 years,” the Mail said one person wrote. “Lena Waithe’s Them is the cheapest kind of horror.”

“It’s propaganda for white terrorists and torture porn fetishists. There is a huge difference between fear and disgust. The show is disgusting,” another said of the series.

The series released to Amazon last Friday is written and produced by Little Marvin and co-produced by Emmy award-winning producer, actress, and screenwriter Lena Waithe.

The pair purposefully meant the series to be an expose on how black Americans met institutional racism in the 1950s during a period that historians call “The Great Migration.” It was a period when millions of black Americans moved from the Jim Crow South to points north, east, and west after World War Two opened up millions of new jobs in the U.S.

Among other racist acts, the series highlights the banking system’s “red-lining” scandal when black applicants were given higher interest rates than whites to buy homes or were prevented from obtaining a mortgage at all based on the neighborhood where they wanted to live.

The series not only pits the black family against virulently racist neighbors, it also brings in a horror angle by depicting evil supernatural forces aligning against the family.

Little Marvin, admitted that the violence is extreme but insisted it was necessary for “authenticity” and to illustrate how racist America was in the 1950s.

“Yes, there is a concern, but at the end of the day, I as an artist have to sit with myself and grapple with the authenticity of the show,” he said according to the L.A. Times. “If I can sleep at night knowing this entire enterprise has an authenticity and integrity to it, then I’m good.”

Little Marvin also hinted that he feels America is returning to that hateful era.

“We’re incredibly fractured and split down the middle,” he exclaimed. “There are people who want to take the country back to a time they consider great, and there are folks who are fighting for progress. That’s a scary place to be in 2021.”

Still, Little Marvin admitted that he did not base the baby-killing scene on any historical incident.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at: facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.

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