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Melissa Barrera Explains How Her Scream Character Defies Toxic Horror Mental Health Tropes - Exclusive

The following article contains mild plot details from "Scream" (2022)

"Scream" has long since acknowledged some of horror's most toxic tropes, but the franchise has typically played along until now. The 1996 film cemented itself in the genre as the most meta-horror to ever meta, so it makes sense that while calling out some of horror's shadier characteristics, the films would poke fun at themselves by continuing the pattern in a self-aware way. 

However, in 2022, it's time to start questioning some of these problematic tropes and actually address them in a positive way — which is precisely what "Scream" (2022) does. Melissa Barrera's character Sam has quite a lot on her plate. When Ghostface isn't hunting her down, she's dealing with a number of mental health struggles. Instead of demonizing her, making her go on a killing spree, or having her display violent behavior, Sam wades through the darkness that envelops her. It's easy to villainize mental health in films, but those choices often contribute to the baseless stigmas that typically follow mental health conditions. 

Rather than adding to the already long list of misrepresented mental health diagnoses, Sam overcomes her own internalized stigma and learns to accept and love herself. The heroine — whose name pays tribute to "Halloween" director John Carpenter — is the badass neurodivergent leading woman that horror films have desperately needed since the genre's inception. During an exclusive interview with Looper, Melissa Barrera spoke candidly about Sam's mental health struggles, defying toxic horror tropes, and why she's a character that fans need today. 

Breaking free from the taboo

On why it was important for Sam to ditch the toxic horror stereotypes that frequently follow mental illness, Barrera noted that 2022 is the perfect time to include a storyline like this. She said, "I think we're thankfully living in a time where mental illness is not taboo anymore — when we're talking about it more openly and realizing that we're all on the same boat in those emotional struggles that plague most of us, especially in the two years of [the] pandemic that we've been through so much collectively."

Barerra praised the writers for approaching mental health so wonderfully. She added, "From the first moment I read the script, I thought that it was so beautiful that they brought that into a very complicated character that has lived through a lot of trauma and carries a lot of weight on her shoulders of her past and her ... I just don't want to say anything that will be a spoiler."

A reminder that you're not alone

It's certainly not easy for Sam to cope with her hallucinations and negative self-image, but she doesn't give up. "She's carrying a lot of pain with her, and I think it's beautiful to see someone that's struggling with a mental illness but doesn't let it cripple her," Barrera explained. "[She] is not afraid to ask for help, which I think are two things that are super important to see being done — and in a way that doesn't feel preachy and in a way that doesn't feel they're trying to educate you."

Barrera noted how effortlessly the writers handled the storyline, adding, "It's just the way that the story is told. I think that's the best way for people to relate to characters in TV and film and feel like they're not alone, which, especially when it comes to mental health, it's important to feel you're not alone." 

"Scream" (2022) is now playing exclusively in theaters.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.