• Interviews

Little Marvin on the Anthology Series “Them”

Supernatural and real-life terror are two of the tense horror themes explored in Prime Video’s twisted and tense drama Them. The first season of the limited anthology is set in 1953 and follows the story of a Black family as they move from North Carolina to an all-White suburb of Los Angeles. This period in American history is known as the Great Migration, which is when many Black communities were drawn to California by the promise of jobs and a chance to leave the Jim Crow South behind. In Them, the family at the heart of the story faces malevolent forces and bloody visions in their new East Compton home, along with a barrage of foul acts of racism from their bigoted White neighbors.

“Terror has been on my mind for a long time,” admits Them creator, executive producer, writer and showrunner Little Marvin. “I started writing this show about three years ago, during a summer where I felt like I would never stop waking up to cell phone videos of Black folks being terrorized by the police – or to the threat of the police in public spaces, or in stores. It started to make me think about all the times I’ve felt terror in my life and about the larger terror of navigating this country with Black skin. That’s where it began.”

Genre fans have been quick to compare Them to a number of acclaimed contemporary horror projects, such as the Golden Globe-nominated HBO drama Lovecraft Country and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. However, the showrunner lists a number of historic horror classics when asked for his inspiration behind the series. Speaking at Prime Video’s WonderCon panel for Them, Little Marvin explains: “I’m a humongous fan of 1960s and 1970s horror in particular. I would say anything from Rosemary’s Baby to Don’t Look Now, Repulsion and Carrie. There were so many inspirations. From the beginning, we had this goal to create a show about the ‘50s that felt like it was shot in the ‘70s, so we were paying homage directly to all of that from Hitchcock onwards.”

Production on the drama began in July 2019, with filming locations in Atlanta and Los Angeles. It was a shooting process that would become “super cathartic” for Little Marvin. Acknowledging the lack of significant Black characters in historical horror projects, the showrunner says: “In all of those movie examples I just used, we are never at the center of those frames. We’re the maid. We’re the housekeeper. We’re the driver. We’re the shoeshine boy. And so, filming was very emotional for me. I would sit at the monitor and I would watch this Black family – this dark-skinned, beautiful and dazzling family – occupying the center of these classic frames and I would start crying. I would put on my sunglasses, trying to look cool. But truthfully, I was just sobbing at the computer.”

The showrunner chuckles at the memory of hiding his tears behind his shades, but he makes a serious and potent point: “As a kid, you don’t even know you’re being erased subtly. By not seeing yourself at the center of the things you love, you’re being erased. For me, this was a real amazing moment to come back, grab those frames and put folks who looked like us at the center of them.”

The WonderCon panel for Them was moderated by award-winning author Tananarive Due, who is a Black Horror and Afrofuturism professor at UCLA. Alongside Little Marvin, special makeup effects designer Howard Berger was joined by cast members Deborah Ayorinde, Melody Hurd, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Alison Pill and Ashley Thomas to discuss the series, which also touched on the haunting score of the piece.


In horror projects, music is often used as a driving force to enhance the frights and scare an audience. When it comes to the spine-chilling score of Them, prepare to be petrified. “For me, music is everything,” explains Little Marvin. “It’s everything in life. It’s also everything in cinema and specifically in horror cinema. It’s very hard to divorce music from a great horror. Try to imagine Jaws without that theme. Try to imagine Psycho without that shriek of strings. It’s like it doesn’t exist without the two together.”

The showrunner played a number of classic horror soundtracks during the creative process for the project. “I always blast music when I’m writing,” he admits. “I was listening to a lot of old school, like the classic Krzysztof Komeda soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby or Pino Donaggio’s score to Don’t Look Now and Carrie – and everything Bernard Herrmann. But the only modern composer I was listening to was Mark Korven, whose soundtrack to [the 2015 supernatural horror movie] The Witch is one of my favorite soundtracks, bar none. It’s visceral. It’s raw. It’s terrifying. I’m blasting that as I’m writing, but then you fast forward a year and a half later – and there’s Mark Korven’s name on the list. I was like, ‘What?’”

“Mark is a lovely Canadian gentleman,” Little Marvin continues, with a broad smile on his face. “He’s very sweet and very lovely to collaborate with, but he’s also got a crazy mind. We wanted to pay homage to those classic soundtracks I mentioned, but also shred it through his imagination and his ability to make it very modern. I think he found a sound that I love. That was the process.”

Despite the 1950s setting of the show, the themes of Them are incredibly timely and the story is scarily prescient. When asked what Little Marvin would like viewers to take away from watching the 10-episode arc of the first season, the showrunner says: “If folks can look at this show and ask themselves, ‘Why does it seem like all the White folks live here and all the Black and Brown folks live here? Is that by chance or is that by design?’ Spoiler, it’s by design. ‘Why does it feel like all the great food is here and all the bad food is here? Why does it feel like my house is getting appraised for far less than it should?’ These are fears and anxieties and insecurities that are based on decades and decades and centuries of disenfranchisement.”


“If you’re able to come away from the show with a greater understanding that the word ‘segregation’ is not some name from the distant past but is, in fact, part and parcel of the way we live today, there’s no greater hope than that for creating the show.”