There’s no Latinidad in Scream VI. No Spanglish, thankfully no quinceañeras, no luchadores, no Day of the Dead.
Yes, Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega are back in the famed franchise as our protagonists, or “final girls”, to use the genre’s parlance. But the film is decidedly unconcerned with their Mexicanness, and that is ok.
Instead, Scream VI is focused on its own legacy of delivering frights and laughs. As always, this installment takes a meta approach to horror, winking at its movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie-ness. As a “requel,” it does its best to subvert, play with, and delight in its own conventions, and it mostly succeeds.
Like its predecessors, Scream VI gets its frights from jump scares and close-ups of bodily injuries. The visual of a knife penetrating one young woman’s belly at her navel and slowly reaching toward her ribcage continues to haunt me.
That said, the difference here between this Scream and the ’90s editions does appear to be race. Where Courtney Cox and Naomi Campbell were the raven-haired survivors, now it’s Latinas Barrera and Ortega. Their Sam (Barrera) and Tara (Ortega) are accompanied by Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), making the entire “core four” people of color—certainly not something we’d have seen 25-plus years ago.
For her part, Barrera is proud of the ways the franchise is advancing Latinx representation. “For the longest time, we were only thought of as side characters, the best friend, or the one that gets killed off first,” she told Latino Rebels. “To have two final girls that are Latinas is powerful.”
She’s particularly glad that viewers in Mexico and Latin America will be able to see themselves in ways that “make them feel like they can do anything and they can win.”
Of course, this being a horror film, Sam’s path to that win is incredibly difficult. The film takes place in New York where three of the core four are going to college. Sam, the fourth, is working two jobs, going to therapy —although her therapist sucks— and dealing with online conspiracy theorists that think she alone masterminded the murders of the fifth Scream and somehow got away with it. Estranged from her mom, Sam’s also a de facto orphan, although her white serial-killer dad does sometimes speak to her, maybe when her meds cannot overpower her stress.
All of those obstacles stand in her way before the killing even starts.
Barrera notes a pattern in her character’s isolation, sharing that she seems to be “always playing women that have to overcome things by themselves, to become badass, and do things alone.” That rings true, from her Netflix series Keep Breathing where she played a woman who must figure out how to survive in the woods alone, to the indie horror she produced, Bed Rest, where the problem is that everyone believes her to be just a bored, hysterical pregnant woman. Even in In the Heights, her character is largely alone, tying her dream of becoming a fashion designer to escaping her community.
“I come from a very matriarchal family of women that have had to do a lot by themselves,” Barrera said by way of explanation. “So I think I’m somehow subconsciously being loyal to my lineage of matriarchs.”
Sam’s mother may have forsaken her, but that doesn’t place the character outside of a matriarchal lineage. In fact, the primary relationship in Scream VI is between Sam and Tara, with Sam taking on the mother-protector role.
Barrera can relate. “I am the oldest of four sisters,” she said. “I would do anything for my sisters.”
She’s glad the pair’s relationship has become the heart of the film, as they protect each other emotionally and physically, get the best zingers in, and define themselves in relation to each other. In that way, Scream VI has a lot in common with Barrera’s Vida, where she also played half of a Chicana sister duo. In both cases, the mother is absent and the siblings must find new ways of surviving and building family in her absence.
That Scream VI’s core four is two sets of siblings doubles down on the film’s emphasis on the importance of family. A core tenet of Scream has always been betrayal, the idea that our young heroines can’t trust anyone. But now there appears to be an exception to that rule. Barrera’s and Ortega’s characters know they can count on each other, a.k.a. on their family.
So maybe it is a Latinx film after all.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade