In this episode of “Carolyn Talks…” she speaks with author and Executive Producer Tananarive Due, and co-writer of the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Ashlee Blackwell.
Based on the book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present, by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is directed by Xavier Burgin, co-written by Ashlee Blackwell, and executive produced by Tananarive Due. The film is a documentary that looks at the depiction of Black people in over a century of horror movies. From the genre’s impetus with films like George A. Romero’s The Night of The Living Dead (1968) and the cultural phenomenon that is Get Out (2016) directed by Jordan Peele.
The film is essential viewing for everyone who loves film, not just the horror genre because it gives the perspective of actors and directors about their experiences, and how film impacts the lives of Black people. Black actors and directors have always had to struggle with finding roles, and support for projects that centered on the voice and experiences of Black people in the film. Even in the 70s when films like Blacula were gaining attention in the Blaxploitation era, they still had to contend with racial and gender stereotyping.
One interesting feature of the documentary is the humor exhibited by the actors and filmmakers, and this is no accident. Humor is also the main feature of many horror films, whether it’s intentional or not. It has been long said that Black people have the ability to use humor as a coping mechanism when faced with stressful and situations. Even though the topic of discussion is very serious, and it is treated as such, humor is a way for people to bond even if they are strangers, or have known each other for years, which is what happens with audiences.
Having grown up in Barbados, one of my favorite things about attending the cinema, was the atmosphere. There we were, a couple of hundred people in one location, laughing and commenting at what was happening on screen. Sure, there would be complaints about some people being either a bit too loud, or obnoxious, but generally, we all had a blast, and that was something I missed after moving to Toronto…until Get Out.
Get Out was the first time I felt like I was in a cinema back home, and it being a film about a Black man, subverting every negative trope and defeating white supremacy made it even more memorable.
Horror Noire is a film that will have a cultural impact for years, not only for African-Americans but the African diaspora as a whole. It is a learning tool for both creators and audiences because it provides the opinions of industry insiders themselves who are affected by these same racial stereotypes. Having actors like Rachel True, Keith David, and Loretta Devine, watching and reacting to films, makes Horror Noire even more special and honest.
Horror Noire is directed by Xavier Burgin, executive produced by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, Tananarive Due, Fangoria Editor-in-Chief Phil Nobile Jr, and Kelly Ryan of Stage 3 Productions, and is produced and co-written by Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows. The film is currently streaming on Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium streaming service for horror, thriller, and the supernatural.
Tananarive Due is an award-winning author and filmmaker whose work is centered around Black identity in media. Observing the impact Get Out (2017) had, she began “The Sunken Place” class at UCLA, which like Horror Noire, examines the history of Black people in horror. Tananarive’s books cover a variety of genres, from Afrofuturism, speculative fiction and horror. You can follow her on Twitter @TananariveDue,
Ashlee Blackwell is a writer whose work about horror and the representation of Black people, particularly Black women, has been featured in multiple print and online publications. Her love of the genre led to her obtaining a BA in American Studies and a Master of Liberal Arts from Temple University. Ashlee runs the popular site GraveyardShiftSisters.com, which provides a community and information hub for fans and creators of horror.