Enduring Women: Beyond The Final Girl Trope

A trio of recent horror films illustrate the next significant trend for women in horror.

By Jenika McCrayer · @JenikaMc · June 9, 2023, 5:00 PM EDT

Sisters, are y’all tired? Because I am worn to the bone. I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel exhausted.

Most of my anxieties can be explained by a general Millennial Malaise, but navigating these unprecedented times as a Black woman has at times felt close to impossible. I feel bruised, battered, and beaten by the last few years, and I’ve learned some hard lessons on patience and working myself past the brink of exhaustion. And yet, every day, Black women are expected to get up and do it over and over again.

I entered my thirties in the midst of a global pandemic and decided that along with a housing crisis, a looming recession, and a widening schism in American politics, it was the perfect time to eschew full-time drudgery and dive head first into an industry that’s been “dying” for decades.

I’ve always turned to horror for comfort and to make sense of whatever chaos is my current reality. And lately, horror has told me that the situation for Black women is dire. As Black horror’s subversive twists on oppression become more mainstream and more Black women command the screen, recent genre entries have included our unique struggles with misogynoir.


We’re seeing more Black women make it to the end, but calling them Final Girls doesn’t encompass the hell they face to even make it that far. I’ve latched onto the concept of the “Enduring Woman” since reading Robin R. Means Coleman’s Horror Noire: A History of Black American Horror from the 1890s to Present a few years ago. The seminal book examines the Black Horror experience and how Black filmmakers translate our struggles and fears onto the silver screen. The concept of the Enduring Woman also neatly explains how I’ve felt my entire life. Endurance feels like second nature.

Means Coleman differentiates between white Final Girls and Black Enduring Women because of their exposure to danger. For most white Final Girls, the danger is over once she defeats the villain. She’s able to go back to her insular life in a secluded cul-de-sac and focus on her healing.


But for Black women on and off screen, fear is omnipresent. We face misogynoir in myriad ways, including but not limited to low pay, hostile work environments, ever-shrinking access to reproductive care, gun violence, and constant dehumanization that leaves us unable to express our anger and grief without vitriol.

As a Black woman, I used to live in fear of being called aggressive. There once was a time when I didn’t want to be seen as angry, swallowing microaggressions and shrinking myself to fit in places that were not built for me. But I am angry. I’m angry that I have to carry the grief and heaviness of the last few years alone. I’m angry that Black women are expected to be superheroes but are often abandoned when we’re the ones in need of saving. The rage and pain we swallow are evident in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. The title alone evokes harmful stereotypes about Black people, and its protagonist is keenly aware of how life-threatening they can be.



The mad scientist in this Frankenstein-influenced horror is 17-year-old Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a brilliant teen who becomes increasingly obsessed with death after losing her brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) to gun violence.

Vicaria knows that people thought her brother was a monster, and that “he believed it.” Means Coleman notes that Enduring Women fight on behalf of men, and newcomer Vicaria is no different. Vicaria channels her grief and anger into her work on finding a “cure” to death, and she will stop at nothing to make her family whole again. Like so many of us, Vicaria feels responsible for saving her brother and community from diseases like gun violence, police brutality, and death.


Vicaria represents a growing number of Black Girls in STEM and is not alone in being maligned for her intelligence. Black women are the most educated group in the United States, but are still unwelcome in academia. The hostility we face in predominantly white institutions makes for uneasy fodder in another recent film: Master, an unsettling crash course in PWI culture disguised as a ghost story.


Master is told from the perspective of three Black women at a prestigious school named Ancaster. Regina Hall is a stoic and mild-mannered Gail Bishop, the school’s first and only Black Master. At Ancaster, she joins Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), the only Black freshman, and her close friend and confidant, Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), who is angling for tenure.


The students believe that the school, and Jasmine’s dorm room in particular, is haunted by the ghost of Margaret Millibet, a woman accused of witchcraft and hanged nearby. It’s more plausible that a school that touts being as old as the country is actually haunted by its racist legacy, as evidenced by the ways in which both Gail and Jasmine are ostracized and alienated.

Gail is teetering on the edge of a glass cliff: she is brought on to address the school’s diversity issue, but subsequently finds herself torn between supporting Jasmine or Liv. Liv’s tenure would help to diversify Ancaster, but would further alienate Jasmine, who believes Liv is purposefully failing her. Jasmine is also being terrorized by an unknown figure that plants a noose on her door and leaves a burning cross, but Gail dismisses this as the work of a racist student.


Whether Jasmine’s suffering is due to a malevolent ghost is left ambiguous, but it’s still hard to watch Jasmine experience microaggressions and hostility from her white peers. Director Mariama Diallo drew from her own experience at Yale, and at times I felt transported back to my days at a college not unlike Ancaster. Every time Jasmine was snickered at, mocked, or dismissed felt like death by a thousand cuts, a feeling that colors most of our experiences in white spaces.

While Enduring Women are usually successful in saving others — men in particular — it is notable that Gail is unsuccessful in saving Jasmine from an institution so deeply rooted in racism. Gail ultimately realizes that she was not a Master to usher the school into a new and inclusive era, but a maid chosen to help the school clean up its image and sweep its disturbing history under the rug.


Gail Bishop is an enduring woman despite being only able to save herself. In the end, Gail is confronted by a security guard who asks to see her ID — another microaggression — to which she replies that she doesn’t work there. Gail bravely steps out of the ivory tower’s shadow into the unknown, knowing that sometimes the best way we can save ourselves is to walk away.


If we’re talking literal endurance, we need to talk about Ella Balinska’s grueling marathon in the recent Run Sweetheart Run. Balinska plays Cherie, an ambitious single mother with dreams of going to law school, and a secretary in a male-dominated legal office straight out of Mad Men. Cherie’s boss asks her to accompany a very important client to dinner, and Cherie — like most women in the workforce — is unable to say no for fear of losing her job.


She does end up falling for the charismatic Ethan [Pilou Asbæk] and agrees to accompany him to his place for a drink. But behind closed doors, Ethan reveals his monstrous side, and a bloodied Cherie is shown running from his house and through the streets of Los Angeles. At the end of the night, he reveals his monstrous side.

Ethan tells Cherie that he will let her live if she can make it to sunrise, and she runs through the streets of Los Angeles looking for places to hide. The streets are littered with flyers of missing women as well as information to contact the “First Lady” for assistance. Cherie eventually finds First Lady Dinah (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who explains that Ethan is a fallen angel that decided it’s a Man’s World and has assured men remain the dominant sex throughout history.


So, is Ethan responsible for a world where over 40 percent of Black women experience intimate partner violence, and are disproportionately impacted by the reversal of Roe v. Wade? Typical! He’s been fucking up our lives well before he ruined Cherie’s night. Cherie also discovers that Ethan has been tracking her by the scent of her period blood, and she and the First Lady devise a plan to stop Ethan’s war on women for good. They lure him into a trap and are able to defeat him by sunrise, but not before he takes a few more jabs at the “weak” and “helpless” Cherie.

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Cherie is an Enduring Woman not only for her literal physicality, but to move heaven, fallen angels, and earth in order to make it back to her daughter. I feel especially attached to Cherie, hustling toward better opportunities while navigating sexist offices and chauvinist men. Most Enduring Women are known for saving men and for not receiving much assistance along the way, but it was nice to see Cherie lean on her community and other women for support.


While the movie at times beats you over the head with girl power and menstruation-as-female-empowerment themes, it has some touching moments of Cherie finding inner strength, standing up against misogyny and chauvinism, and creating a sisterhood that will stand and fight with you. I especially appreciated the (much-needed) message that we all need a little help getting to the finish line. And in the post-Me Too era, we will have to rely on our sisters now more than ever.

Enduring Women help me to conceptualize my struggles navigating the world as a Black woman. We make it in places where we don’t belong. We grin and bear it. We’ve endured for longer than we’ve graced the silver screen, even though our time in the spotlight has only just begun.


It’s not always comforting to know that our struggles make for perfect genre fodder, but it helps me to feel less alone. Enduring is easier with your sisters.

I’m excited for the future of Black horror and how the enduring woman trope will develop and shift. But I’m also praying for the day that Black women can rest. Until then, I’ll continue to find comfort in cool, dynamic, resourceful women on screen. I’m running with you. One day we’ll make it to the finish line. If current horror is any indication, we’re running toward something better on the horizon.

The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster is now in theaters.