Why the Downfall of the ‘Scream’ Franchise Feels So Personal

Scream - Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega exit

Scream was the franchise that got me into horror movies. From the moment I saw Drew Barrymore fighting for her life in the iconic opening scene of the original 1996 movie, I knew I was in for something special, that I’d seen something that would forever shift my taste in movies. Since then, as I’ve seen the subsequent five installments one by one (including Scream VI, which was the first Scream movie I saw in theaters), it’s been amazing to not only see the familiar storylines and characters develop with each movie, but also to welcome new faces into the fold and see more diversity and characters of color in a historically majority-white genre.

I’ll never forget what it meant to me to see Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera being the stars of Scream V as two Latina sisters who reunited, sought the truth, fought violence, and won. And even more so in the most recent Scream VI where they fully take on the main character mantle and give much-needed representation to girls of color who have fought for decades for the right just to be included in horror films. For once, we were the ones surviving, wielding the knives, and putting an end to the violence. Which is what makes Barrera’s recent firing from Scream VII, Ortega’s conspicuous exit one day after Barrera’s, and thus the ultimate downfall of the franchise, so personal.

Because with Barrera and Ortega no longer involved with the movie, it’s clear to me that companies like Spyglass, and Hollywood in general, do not value women and even less women of color.

Sofía Aguilar

It’s no secret that Scream is a hugely successful franchise. But like many horror series before it, some of its installments are better than others and they’ve made recent public mistakes that rightfully earned them backlash. In 2022, the production company Spyglass refused to adequately pay Neve Campbell (who plays Sidney in Scream 1-5) the salary she felt she deserved for carrying the franchise for 26 years, effectively cutting her out of Scream VI. Fast forward to this month, and they made headlines when they fired Barrera because she publicly supported Palestine on social media, demanded an end to their genocide, and called out Western media bias for favoring Israel, somehow chalking up her outspokenness to anti-semitism. A day later, Ortega ended her contract and cut ties with the franchise altogether. It supposedly had more to do with her other scheduling conflicts but given the circumstances, it seems like nothing short of solidarity, and that was reassuring to see at the very least. But unless major action steps are taken, all of this devaluing of women signals the end of Scream as we know it and the continuation of a dangerous trend in Hollywood.

Because with Barrera and Ortega no longer involved with the movie, it’s clear to me that companies like Spyglass, and Hollywood in general, do not value women and even less women of color. I think about the financial failure of Scream IV in 2011, how Barrera and Ortega single-handedly revitalized the franchise as the lead characters of the reboot, how they brought much-needed diversity, how they made it the most successful installment since the original, how much money they have earned Spyglass since 2022, and yet how disposable they became once they spoke up for what, quite frankly, most decent people believe in. It should be common sense to be against genocide and to demand an end to illegal settler occupation, and yet elite celebrities, let alone everyday people, are not safe from speaking out against it.

Since her firing last week, Barrera has been named on Hollywood’s blacklist, being replaced in projects like the upcoming film God’s Country. At the same time, Susan Sarandon was dropped by her agency for speaking at a pro-Palestine rally, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Across creative industries, especially journalism, we’re seeing censorship at every level, with people being shadowbanned online and others losing their jobs, sponsorships, and other forms of income. We’re seeing a frightening effort to silence creatives who support Palestine’s freedom and are fighting for an end to Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, Zionist celebrities–notably white and rich–like Amy Schumer, Noah Schnapp, Gal Gadot, and Jamie Lee Curtis can go on with unaffected careers and platforms despite spreading propaganda, filming themselves with “Zionism is Sexy” stickers, organizing propaganda film showings, and even suggesting that Palestinians deserve the violence that is happening to them.

Melissa Barrera’ statement after being fired from Scream

There’s definitely something to be said about the fact that we should be listening to Palestinians on the ground and knowledgeable activists rather than American celebrities, many of whom are learning about this issue for the first time. But when some of the power of people can be judged by the size of their platforms, it’s important to acknowledge that if the ones with lots of followers aren’t protected, neither are we.

Ultimately, this is bigger than the end of a franchise. This is a threat to our consciousness and morality and to the very meaning of art and free expression. If everyone who is against oppression is sidelined and silenced, who will tell the stories we need to hear? What stories will there be left to tell? What weight will the promise of ‘creative freedom’ really carry? If nothing else, Barrera and Ortega’s Scream exit should be a wake-up call to what we’re fighting for, what is worth sacrificing, and the lengths we must go to be heard.

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