‘Them’ is a horror-drama by first-time writer and creator Little Marvin. The stylish period series follows a Black family in the 1950s that moves into an all-white neighborhood in California. Things turn sinister right away for the Emorys as they are faced with bigoted neighbors who seem to stop at nothing to make them feel unwelcome whilst also dealing with sinister spirits in their new home. The paranormal events in the story are eerie, but it’s the racial malevolence on display that is absolutely chilling and harks back to the times when it was the brutal reality. So is ‘Them’ based on a true story? Or is it all fiction? Let’s find out.
Is Them Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Them’ is not based on a true story. The series is a work of fiction created and written by Little Marvin and explores racial segregation through the lens of the horror genre. Billed as “an exploration of terror in America,” Marvin’s maiden series is based slap in the middle of the Great Migration, a period between 1916 and 1970 when over 6 million African Americans moved from the American South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West, causing historic changes to the cultural and sociopolitical landscape of the country.
The long-term ramifications of the Great Migration were further intensified because most African Americans moved from rural areas in the South to some of the largest and most culturally influential cities of the time, like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington DC. The transition, however, was not a peaceful one and was marked by racial friction at every turn. The tactics used against African Americans to dissuade them from integrating into regular society are the focus of Marvin’s ambitious series. The paranormal aspects add to the sense of constant dread and fear that many Black families undoubtedly felt during this time.
More specifically, as explained by its creator, the show looks at the American dream of homeownership and the “nightmare” underlying that dream in the context of black homeownership. It is set in the post World War 2 suburban boom in which an increasing number of families moved from rural areas and cities to newly emerging suburbs. Homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods, however, feared that the value of their homes would plummet if a black family moved in next door, resulting in terror tactics of the kind we see the Emorys dealing with on ‘Them.’
The show briefly even features a covenant that existed at the time as an agreement between homeowners of white neighborhoods to not sell or lease their house to anyone who was not caucasian. Further emphasis on the show’s social and cultural backdrop comes from the town the Emory family moves into, which happens to be Compton — a city considered iconically “black” in popular culture but was predominantly white in the 1950s. When Marvin learned of this fact, he decided to base the show there.
In an interview, he mentioned East Compton, which at that time was especially protective about keeping its localities “white.” Marvin said that the period and setting of the series would change every season, but the focus will always remain on those people and communities that have been historically marginalized. For the opening season of ‘Them,’ he chose the black narrative against the backdrop of residential segregation and brought up not just cinematic specters but also the specter of an uncomfortable reality that endures to this day.
Read More: Where Is Them Filmed?