Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is an important perspective on a favorite genre
Last night I got to see a special screening of Shudder's upcoming documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror on the big screen, thanks in part to Philly's Exhumed Films. It's one of the most entertaining and informative docs I've seen; a synthesis that makes this an invaluable text. The film making is excellent, utilizing a format I rarely see where most interview subjects talk to each other rather than the audience. These conversations range from Jordan Peele discussing Get Out and its lack of white saviors to Keith David (The Thing) and Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) reminiscing about which films they survived to the end of. Using this methodology, we are brought into their stories through not just their thoughts, but their emotional response to black horror, which one subject notes "is black history." We are provided additional historical context and commentary from the author of the book upon which this movie is based, Robin R. Means Coleman, purveyor of GraveyardShiftSisters.com, Ashlee Blackwell, and author and UCLA professor, Tananarive Due, all of whom produced the documentary and help make sense of the history of Black Americans on screen, both more generally and specifically in horror. I could have listened to these women talk for hours; their insights were extremely illuminating, and they each had such succinct, direct ways of explaining what various kinds of representation for Black Americans meant over the last 100 years.
The doc also serves as a primer in Black Horror, and I came away with a fresh list of movies to see, some of which I'd never heard of before (Ganga & Hess is something I'm going to seek out ASAP), and one of which I'd get to see for the first time immediately following this. I'm referring to Candyman, a movie that's the subject of some conflicted feelings in the documentary and was screened right after the documentary on 35mm. Because of this viewing experience, I got to see Candyman with a lot of context that allowed me to parse some issues with representation in it as I was watching it, rather than having to ignorantly ponder them afterwards. And truly, I don't know what I may or may not have noticed about the representation in the movie without the context of the documentary. I'm sure that speaks as much to my whiteness as the power of this doc, but it really did serve my curiosity well.
I phrase it that way because this was a special screening of Horror Noire - presented by Shudder and Exhumed Films with producers Phil Nobile Jr. (Fangoria), Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows, and Kelly Ryan (all of whom are local Philly people, by the way) on hand to talk about the film. Before the screening, Phil said something really inspiring regarding curiosity and why it's important to remain curious, specifically about other people's experience of the world. He also mentioned that this interest in seeing media made for people that aren't him is what has kept his interest in film alive for so long, and that's definitely something I'm finding as I get older. Stretching my tastes and my interests to the cinema of other cultures and eras has had the cumulative effect of improving my life and interactions with the world. It was a nice reminder that growth comes from curiosity (and also that Phil is a great host - we had him on our podcast recently and I'd really like to have him back in the near future).
The Q&A that followed the screening provided a lot of interesting details about the production of the movie. Blackwell and Nobile apparently pitched this to everyone, including Netflix, and were turned down across the board. It wasn't until Get Out came out and was so successful that Shudder jumped in to help get this made. The ironic parallel to the documentary here is that this has often been the experience of the black audience member - even as their representation on screen grows, the quality of that representation often remains stilted until there's a proven success that contains the real representation they're looking for.
But a rising tide lifts all boats, and thankfully this truly remarkable film will be available for all to see on Shudder tomorrow (and you can easily grab a free trial).