‘Them’ creator Little Marvin on making the ‘most disturbing pie sequence’ since ‘Stand by Me’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Little Marvin got the idea for “Them,” Amazon’s horror anthology series, about four years ago while watching news cycles of events that, sadly, have not improved much since then.

“I felt like every day I was waking up and seeing the same thing, which is I open my social media feeds and I’m seeing videos of Black folks being terrorized in some way, either being threatened by the police, generally surveilled, watched, harassed. And it got me thinking a lot about that gaze and my own experiences with that gaze, but also a history of that gaze stretching all the way back to the dawn of this country,” he tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Showrunners panel (watch above). “I’ve been thinking a lot where we are and where we want to go, the American Dream and who historically speaking have gotten their keys to it and who have not and why. And there’s nothing more emblematic of that dream in my eyes than the dream of homeownership, which has been anything than a dream for Black folks in this country. It’s been a nightmare. Telling a homeownership story and shooting that through the lens of terror was the jumping-off point.”

Set in 1953 during the Second Great Migration, the first season of “Them” follows the Emorys, a Black family that moves from North Carolina to Los Angeles, where their racist all-white neighbors prove to be more sinister than any supernatural demons they encounter in their home. The Emorys relocate, specifically, to Compton, which is now synonymous with Black culture, but as Marvin learned during his research, that was not always the case.

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“I know about the Jim Crow South, but I didn’t know a lot about what it was like for Black folks moving West and particularly to Los Angeles, which I think prides itself being sort of a bastion of liberal progressiveness. Not only is it not today, it wasn’t then,” he explains. “Compton was a lightbulb for me because it holds an iconically Black place in the public’s imagination. … But when I realized 60, 70 years ago, not only was that not true, but that it was lily-white and that East Compton was incredibly white and those folks were virulently protective of their whiteness. … And I realized in a way that Compton was sort of a microcosm for post-war race and real estate across the country.”

While Marvin could’ve told the story of the Emorys as a straightforward drama, he added the horror element because he’s a “nerd” and a fan of “domestic thrillers and horror [films] of the ’60s and ’70s.” But he didn’t rely entirely on monsters and distorted figures and jump scares to create tension. One of the most intense scenes in the series occurs in the second episode when Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) makes her husband Henry (Ashley Thomas) eat a slice of pie at the dinner table.

“I love that scene and I got some resistance toward that scene because it was sort of like, ‘Well, that feels sort of bombastic or what have you,’ but to me there was so much roiling around under the surface,” Marvin says. “There were so many buried emotions for all of them. Henry, in that moment, we know he’s dealing with his own PTSD and trauma, and with the death of this dog comes all of these things bubbling to the surface. Lucky, who’s been biting her tongue since that morning when he’s with the officer and he’s airing the family’s dirty laundry and she’s just like swallowed it. There was this moment where I just felt around this pie and around this dinner table, all of those unspoken, unsaid things were just coming right to the surface at the same time. We set out to make the most disturbing pie sequence since ‘Stand by Me.'”

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