I classify Back to Dixie‘s genre as a social thriller. It’s a relatively new term that’s mostly used in the film industry to describe movies like Get Out by Jordan Peele. If you search for ‘social thriller genre’ in Wikipedia, it defines social thriller as a film genre using elements of suspense and horror to augment instances of oppression in society. Peele told the Chicago Tribune the he defines social thrillers as thriller/horror movies where the ultimate villain is society. Peele is also quoted as saying about Get Out, “I was trying to figure out what genre this movie was, and horror didn’t quite do it. Psychological thriller didn’t do it, and so I thought, Social thriller. I think I coined the term social thriller, but I definitely didn’t invent it.”
In Get Out, the monster is a society that bred such an overweight sense of superiority in the white elite that they justify stealing young Black men’s lives to extend or improve theirs. Seeing how easily the privileged discarded minds and souls to harvest bodies conjured up strong and raw emotions that were more terrifying because of the movie’s realness. Get Out’s ‘monsters’ seem familiar to us because we recognize an old boss, politician, television personality, or college professor in the characters. The fact that the villain wasn’t an alien or supernatural force, but regular everyday people instead, added a realistic texture to the experience that totally engulfed us. While watching, I found myself imagining that a doctor somewhere may actually be able to perform such an operation. And then you consider that if the science is out there, surely members of society’s elite would want to take advantage of it. That small slither of a possibility makes the movie that much more horrifying. That is the main characteristic of a well-made social thriller.
Before learning about the social thriller genre, I had the challenging task of specifically classifying Back to Dixie. I mean it clearly fits under the thriller umbrella, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a genre of fiction having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation or anxiety.’ However, the thriller genre is very broad and diverse – including political thrillers, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, crime thrillers, legal thrillers and more. You can’t just call a book a thriller and expect its readers to know what to expect when reading it, as you could with some other genres like horror and science fiction. Of the classic thriller subgenres, I thought political thriller sort of fit. However, I felt that readers would expect politics to be the central theme of the book, instead of being used as a vehicle to transition the country’s laws to greatly widen the racial divide. It was the how, but not the what. After watching Get Out and later coming across Peele’s explanation of the social thriller genre, I finally had the term for Back to Dixie.
As in the case in Get Out, the villains in Back to Dixie are powerful people who lose their moral compass somewhere along the way. In Peele’s movie, the elite are motivated to commit these acts by greed for better health – curing blindness, combating illness, or delaying death. In Back to Dixie, the motivation is greed for wealth, power, and to exercise racial superiority. The villains don’t use a lobotomy operation to steal the bodies of Black people. Instead, the elite use their influence to pass laws that accomplish the same goal – first by removing voting rights and other civil rights from the nation’s Black citizens, and then by forcing them to work for no pay and be exploited for financial rewards.
The book introduces a set of events that alters the climate in the country in such a realistic manner that it makes readers question whether such a devastating thing could happen in real life. This, I believe, is the most important attribute of a social thriller – delivering the rationale and logical steps that build a bridge to realistically transition the reader from the real world to the one needed to tell the story. When readers say that they found it so horrifying because they could see the events that led to the passing of the National Workfare Act actually happening, I know that I am correct in classifying Back to Dixie as a social thriller.