With Women In Horror Month coming to a close, Shannon had the chance to speak with filmmaker, journalist and host of Superhero News, Sabina Graves. During their conversation Sabina talked about what being a woman in horror means to her, challenges she has faced, and how horror best represents who she is.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Sabina, thank you so much for speaking with me today! To start things off, what does being a woman in horror mean to you?
Sabina Graves: It means joining the fight for better representation in genre. Until women and people of color matter as much as the lens through which we have seen most of genre come from and get the same investment, marketing, belief in, as many wins as there are chances to fail – there won’t be true equality.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You write for a lot of big sites with topics ranging from Disney to horror. What is it about the horror genre that you love so much?
SG: Horror has been the genre which has been the closest to seeing myself best represented. The feeling of being seen as other, having a narrative imposed on you that may not be true and how growing up in that makes you feel like a monster. Like Frankenstein’s Monster. There’s a quote by Junot Diaz that I relate it to:
“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
Being a kid from Los Angeles with Mexican immigrant parents, there’s a feeling of displacement that before the internet led to a lot of internalized self-hatred in that you didn’t quite feel like you belonged in the very place where you want to feel as accepted as others who were born on the same soil as you. And yet also a disconnect from a place you don’t know much of that is horribly misrepresented often in the media. And how that carries over to you simply by the color of your skin. I’m a brown girl. I love horror and pop culture. I grew up nerdy in the hood but was too hood for the nerds. It wasn’t until the internet age where I was able to connect to more people like me that I learned that I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Through that I unlearned all the internalized resentment and self-hate and accepted that the person I grew up to be had a valid existence in both worlds that I come from. And so, I knew that I had to fight to have the same rights as anyone else to create and show the faces of those not allowed to have reflections. I think genre flicks like horror, sci-fi and superhero films are the place to do that. They’re the most accessible and where it’s important for kids to see themselves seen in because that’s what they consume.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Not only are you a journalist but you are a filmmaker. What came first and where do you find yourself most naturally comfortable?
SG: Acting! I think that my identity crisis for the first quarter of my life inspired me to be anyone else. So I got into acting, loved hiding in roles and being other people. From there, being a part of the kids who didn’t get leads inspired me to make my own things. I wanted to see my friends and myself in fun adventures. I was also writing a lot of horror in shorts and novels. I’m a very self-taught person. In college I was in a directing for the stage program and had completed it before heading to film school when I accidentally became a journalist. Volunteered to conduct and interview and nailed it. Around that time, I was unable to secure loans for film school so I dove into journalism to learn straight from the source of filmmakers who inspired me. I figured that movie nerds like me would care more about the craft than gossip, so I got in right at the advent of film twitter. I’m not as big as some of my colleagues but that’s okay, I want to make my mark with filmmaking. But it’s been super cool to ask some of my favorite directors questions about making movies and visiting movie sets for websites to learn and absorb as much as I could apply to my filmmaking.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What have been some of the challenges you have faced as a writer and a filmmaker and what have you done to overcome the challenges?
SG: Unlearning writing in the Hollywood formula. A lot of the stuff I wrote early on had male leads and I felt like I couldn’t write female characters. I wrote in the voices I saw and consumed the most of because that’s what I watched–films like Fight Club, Reservoir Dogs, Clockwork Orange and thought I had to follow that to succeed. To this day, I’m still learning and striving to break those conventions that only allow one face to be seen as heroic while also smashing antiquated gender roles. If we could grow up and extend ourselves to relate to cult heroes from those films, we can do that with new cult and genre heroines and heroes of color. And also complex anti-heroes and villains.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What advice would you give women who are interested in pursuing a career in writing and/or filmmaking?
SG: Show your present and the world you want to live in. Be mindful of the system that has us fighting for token roles or opportunities. The idea is for more of us to be seen on screen and behind the camera. That’s the fight against a system and one that will try to create infighting to stop a movement. Find your tribe and make things together, overcome challenges together, learn together but most importantly have fun and increase awesome in the world around you.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What changes would you like to see to help elevate women in the entertainment industry?
SG: Accountability and visibility. If a male director makes a few shorts and a feature then gets handed a blockbuster and fails but still doesn’t get put in film jail then female/people of color directors should be granted the same courtesy. Too often marginalized voices don’t get the same treatment or opportunities but should.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Who are some women that influence you?
SG: Queen Beyoncé, directors: Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Karyn Kusama, the Soska twins, showrunner of Netflix’s One Day at a Time Gloria Calderón Kellet and rapper Snow tha Product.
But no seriously, I’d like to be to horror and genre what Bey is to big genre music.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last but not least, what projects do you have coming up that we should be keeping our eyes on?
SG: Just released a music video for Puerto Rican indie pop-rock artist Reina Mora for her single “Trouble”. It’s not too much of a departure from horror though, as one of the inspirations for that was Hitchcock’s Vertigo but flips it on it’s head and serves commentary on the horrors of the male gaze through her amazing track. Then there’s my family friendly short horror film Tahootie which is also out and centers on a family that discovers the real reason we hold our breath in tunnels. As far as future projects, I’m currently trying to get a couple ideas off the ground. One is a horror feature inspired by a foreign film that I super related to when my husband and I were engaged. We’re working on seeing if we need to get the rights, reaching out to the producers and figuring out that process. The other project is dark comedy web-series about an LA community that’s being pushed out of their neighborhood by a supernatural force and have to band together to do something about it when those in power won’t.