For many casual viewers of horror films, their first entry into the horror noire genre was likely Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed directorial debut “Get Out,” a psychological horror film that also serves as a social commentary.
In last week’s episode, URL Media partner Our Body Politic host Farai Chideya spoke with a trio of Black women creators of horror in last week’s episode, breaking down what horror noire reveals about American society.
“I think what’s interesting right now is that a lot of the Black horror you see tends to center the experiences of racism, which is absolutely valid,” Louisiana-based writer and director Zandashé Brown told Chideya. “And, you know, it’s definitely a part of our experience as Black people. But what I’m really interested in and what I want my work to do is to explore our interiority as Black people.”
To understand the genre of Black horror, Brown says people have to understand Black vulnerability, a sentiment echoed by award-winning author Tananarive Due whose new book “The Reformatory,” is inspired by the 1937 death of her great-uncle Robert Stephens at the True Life Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.
“I decided to set it in the 1950, give him a different story, and very importantly, add ghosts, because I felt like I wanted this to be horror and do a little bit of sleight of hand in the sense that yes, ghosts are scary, but not as scary, honestly, as frankly, just history being in 1950 as a Black person, just as the author was very scary,” Due told Chideya. “So it’s a blending of supernatural horror and historical horror.”
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Tonia Ransom, author and creator of the award-winning horror fiction podcast “Nightlight,” also spoke to how Black horror can help the Black community come together to process their shared trauma — even if the community has what she calls a “difficult relationship” with the genre.
“There’s this really, I think, difficult relationship with Black people and horror because, [ … ], one side you’ve got, [ … ], all of this processing that Black people need to do, [ … ], with all the things that we experience and horror can help us process those things,” Ransom told Chideya. “But then, [ … ], the flip side to that is that the community also kind of looks down on it as, [ … ], this isn’t a very Christian thing to do. So a lot of Black horror lovers don’t get to love it openly because they get judged for doing so.”
One person who proudly proclaims their love of the genre is URL Media partner Scalawag’s Editor-in-Chief Sherronda J. Brown, who recently spoke with In These Times about the liberatory promise of horror.
“I often talk about horror as a mirror, as a reflection of society’s deepest anxieties,” they said. “Horror analysis is an extremely useful tool in that it is an avenue to critical engagement with the things that horror often contends with — from the familiar experiences of isolation, grief, trauma and loss to the capitalist exploitation, colonial and imperialist brutalities, gendered violence and racial containment evident in our reality.”
Horror is also a genre that is largely experienced collectively — whether it’s telling scary stories around a campfire or having friends over for a scary movie marathon, this communal aspect is integral to the genre.
And while I’ve never been one to enjoy horror — the scariest movie I willingly watch is Disney’s Don’t Look Under the Bed — I can see why so many people flock to the genre. And, if you can, I hope you’ll check out the work of those we highlighted here today. — Alicia Ramirez
Uplift. Respect. Love.