It’s Friday night and the only place I want to be is the special screening of HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HISTORY at the American Cinematheque. HORROR NOIRE is a documentary produced by AMC’s Shudder, based on the book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to the Present, written by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman.
The documentary celebrates Black Horror Cinema and it examines how the genre has underserved and exploited black artists, in front and behind the camera. Dr. Coleman, who is interviewed as well, says “We’ve always loved horror, it’s just that horror hasn’t always loved us.”
The genre has largely been shaped by white voices; we see the world through a white film lens. Ashlee Blackwell, co-writer/co-producer of the documentary, created the site Graveyard Shift Sisters because she didn’t see black women represented in horror. But even when black women are represented, like Rachel True, one of the four witches in the classic 90’s film The Craft — they are often sidelined and overlooked.
THE RACHEL TRUE THING
Horror Twitter blew up last week when True revealed that she is not invited to conventions like the other witches — who are white. It’s not hard to speculate why she’s overlooked, because, in her own words “Sounds about white.” Twitter was rocked by this, how could this be? Rachel True was a role model for underrepresented black women, who rarely saw someone who looked like themselves in a horror film.
So imagine how excited horror twitter became when we all found out that Rachel True was going to be on the panel at the Horror Noire screening in LA, in addition to some of the most significant filmmakers and actors of the genre.
THE HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR
The event’s vibing with energy; fans are milling about the gorgeous Egyptian theater. I snag a seat in the first row, I can’t see the screen as well as I’d like, but so what, I’m super close to the panel. Don’t forget, Candyman and Childs from The Thing are going to be on the panel. CANDYMAN AND CHILDS.
As the house opens, the theater plays trailers from Black horror films and the audience cheers each selection. There’s nothing I love more than horror trailers from the 70’s and 80’s. They play Blacula, Tales from the Hood, Eve’s Bayou…trailers are visual poetry.
The documentary begins with a striking observation: Black History is filled with horror. Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman explains the history of The Birth Of A Nation, a film about the Ku Klux Klan lynching an African American male, starring a white actor in blackface. We learn that it was screened at the White House for Woodrow Wilson in 1915; which is, of course, still relevant in 2019, with Trump still in office. Some historians think the film inspired the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which again, made me think of the current administration.
The documentary moves through the years and covers George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and what it meant to black artists and filmmakers, for the lead actor and hero of the film, to be African American. They discuss Blacula and the audience gives a big hand to meaningful clips from Crain’s classic film. Blacula was a blaxploitation horror film released in 1972, starring William Marshall in the lead role of an African prince turned into a vampire by Count Dracula, directed by William Crain.
When they finally get to Jordan Peele, the crowd goes wild with applause. He has inspired a generation of artists. Peele talks about his script for Get Out, particularly how he didn’t want to write a White Savior into it, the trope where a good white person saves a black person. He says, “I didn’t want any good white people in my film. There are no good white people in Get Out.” The audience cheers.
THE PANEL ON BLACK HORROR HISTORY MAKES HISTORY
The panel is moderated by Lisa Bolekaja, staff writer at Bitch Flicks. The panel is packed with all-stars: Ashlee Blackwell (Co-writer/Producer), Xavier Burgin (Director), William Crain (Blacula), Keith David (The Thing), Tananarive Due (Executive Producer), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), Tony Todd (Candyman), and Rachel True (The Craft).
For one thing, Childs is sitting on a panel with Candyman and my head is exploding. I can’t believe it, Keith David! The Thing! On the same panel as Candyman! Keith David is a brilliant actor, who has had a long career in Hollywood, in There’s Something About Mary, Platoon, Crash, Clockers, Barber Shop, Requiem For A Dream, They Live, and The Thing. He’s a legend. And he’s sitting near Candyman, a horror icon.There’s a fun moment when the moderator and a couple of others start saying Candyman’s name over and over, and the audience plays around a bit as if the film is real. We all remember Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, when they pulled that same stunt at the book reading, and Candyman waited…until the writer went home to kill him. DON’T SAY CANDYMAN.
The director of the film, Xavier Burgin says that before working with Shudder, he was afraid they would bring on a white director to helm the film. But Shudder told him, no, we want this to be a black produced project: We want a black director.
The panel discusses the most important thing to filmmaking and they all agree: It all comes down to the writing. William Crain says “It’s the writing.”
Then Keith David starts to talk about filmmaking. He drops some funny truth bombs like not everyone with an iPhone is a filmmaker. He explains how The Thing was his big break since he was working as a speech teacher after he graduated from Julliard, and how it was different because he had so few lines. And yet, he did so much in the film with his presence, the tension between Keith David and Kurt Russell is the foundation of the film, particularly at the end. And then…David drops another bomb: he says he wasn’t the monster at the end of The Thing.
WHAT? THE? WHAT?
THE CHILDS’ THING: WHO WAS THE THING AT THE END?
David explains — he wasn’t The Thing at the end of the film, as many film geeks have decided after hardcore analysis. David says, no, he wasn’t. No. He laughs at the idea that Childs doesn’t have cold breath coming out of his mouth at the end, as proof that he is the Thing. David says that it isn’t proof of anything since he was there when they were filming, and based on where he was sitting, it wasn’t possible to see his breath because of the angle and wind factor.
But…wait. If Childs wasn’t the Thing at the end. Then who was? John Carpenter says in an interview that one of them was the Thing, that’s a definitive choice. It’s either Childs or MacReady. There’s no way it’s MacReady! But then again, if Keith David says he wasn’t the Thing, that means he wasn’t, right? Also, David said he didn’t play it that way. So does the actor’s choice matter?
It does, based on what the director asked him to do, or what information was revealed to him. But then again, an actor’s choice could be powerful enough to change the interpretation of the film. John Carpenter didn’t tell Russell or David if they were the Thing at the end, or if he did, Russell’s not telling. But then again, The Thing did have several endings, so who knows what happened. One ending had MacReady rescued and testing his blood to find out he’s not the monster.
The ending of The Thing is a sci-fi horror gordian knot for super-fans. Anyway, my brain is fried and the show’s over; everyone heads to the front to talk to the panel. I see a few friends in the house but I’m feeling melancholy in a pleasant, chill sort of way, so I head to the lobby to check the merch.
SHUDDER HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE
The Shudder booth is giving away Shudder socks, I have a pair of Stranger Things socks, but I feel like I need Shudder socks too. But I won’t be getting them tonight because I have to sign up for a new Shudder account and I already have two Shudder accounts that work as different apps. I’m not shameless enough to lie about it to the lady running the table. She understands my hesitancy (somehow) and gives me a Shudder pin: It’s a bleeding eye.
Shudder knocked it out of the park with HORROR NOIRE: THE HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR, their first original feature, which premieres on February 7th, 2019. In celebration, as a companion piece, Shudder has added a film collection selected from Black Horror Cinema such as Bones, Tales from the Hood, and the vampire film, Ganja and Hess.