The act of thinking about Black art and its meaning in a larger cultural context is equally as important as the final creation. By Stephanie Smith-Strickland Over the last two years we’ve seen films like Black Panther — Ryan Coogler’s triumphant diaspora-spanning
These Black-led films reflect the turbulent times we were and are in, and each of them helps us reflect, rejoice, and escape. The 2010s feel like they were comprised of three decades, all stuffed into one. With its default setting being
I want so much more than seemingly unrelenting reminders of how anti-Black this world is.As a horror aficionado, I am constantly caught between appreciation for the few Black horror stories that we have and the desire for them to explore so much more. Blackness in horror doesn't always have to be about racial injustice and anti-Black violence, and yet it so often is. In a pre-”Get Out” (2017) world, the most premier example of a horror film that used white violence as its foundation and impetus was Bernard Rose's “Candyman” (1992), and I don't doubt that many horror fans see it as fitting and appropriate that Jordan Peele is the one who is currently in talks to remake this horror classic. [caption id="attachment_50045" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Tony Todd in Bernard Rose's "Candyman" (1992)[/caption] Though the film is and always will be iconic, a critical reading of “Candyman” makes clear that this tale of hook-handed vengeance is principally about the haunting of Helen Lyle, who remains ever at the center. It is ultimately about a monstrous Black male figure obsessed with and terrorizing a white woman who becomes the story's hero in the end. Relationships between Black men and white women have long been the focus of various types of horror narratives, with the white women within them able to capitalize on the socially accepted truth of their delicacy, purity, and innocence. Peele smartly recasts white womanhood as villainous in "Get Out", as being wholly capable of and adept at enacting white supremacist violences, but he ultimately does nothing with the opportunity to interrogate our already prominent image of Black men who lust after white women. This gives me pause for the possibility of Peele resurrecting both Candyman and Helen to reassert this overall narrative, even if some details are changed. Nevertheless, “Get Out” and the way it relays its story of zombification and drapetomania remains absolutely refreshing for me, and I believe that it has opened up new possibilities for Blackness in the horror genre. Peele's “Us” will arrive next year. He once noted that “Get Out” would be the first of at least five social horror thrillers from his mind, so “Us” is likely the second of this line of projects. He has also recently signed on to produce HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”, a series adaptation of a novel about the horrors of the Jim Crow era with a Lovecraftian spin. Peele will also bring his talents to the role of showrunner, rebooting “The Twilight Zone”—a show full of mystery and suspense and known for its social commentary. It seems that “Get Out” has made Jordan Peele the go-to guy for social horror thrillers in Hollywood, and I know that he will bring more Black creatives with him. While I have concerns about how Peele will treat “Candyman” and whether or not he will do anything to improve upon it with his interpretation, I have a much larger concern that this remake, coupled the immense success of “Get Out”, might also help to send us down a road where it will become harder and harder to make other types of Black horror stories legible to audiences in a predominantly white industry. [caption id="attachment_50046" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Betty Gabriel in Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (2017)[/caption] “The First Purge” (2018) delves into organized white supremacy, its hold in U.S. politics, and how we sometimes get recruited to participate in our own subjugation. The events of “The Skeleton Key” (2005) are propelled by the demonization of Black religion and the punishing of Black people who invade white spaces. “The People Under the Stairs” (1991) tackles gentrification, capitalism, and the exploitation of poor Black communities. The most recent season of “Black Mirror” ventured into this realm with its “Black Museum” (2018) episode, a satisfying revenge narrative which I interpret as an exploration of many things, including enslavement in the prison industrial complex. The upcoming “Body Cam” is a feature in which a supernatural event occurs after a Black person is murdered by police who attempt to cover it up. We are already afraid of these things in real life. White people watch “Get Out” and “The First Purge” and think that they are fantastical over-exaggerations, but Black audiences understand that they are not so far removed from the truth, and that's what makes them so terrifying for us on a deeper level. Black people really die these kinds of deaths. We really resist in these kinds of ways, even if we aren't always as successful as the films’ heroes. Many of our real-life stories play out like horror films because they are horrific. We are already haunted by ghosts of historical anti-Blackness. When I watch horror, I’m trying to escape all this shit—trying to allow my anxiety and fear to be about something else for a while, something unlike my reality, and I still want to see my Blackness represented. Give me a Black ghost story that's not about the lynching, raping, and oppression of my people. Let me just imagine a world without white people taking up so much space, especially space in which white supremacist violences continually get rearticulated to produce stories for our entertainment. Before white colonialism and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, what did we fear? The earth, the stars, the wilderness, the gods, our own mortality. I think of these things and dream about what pre-colonial Black horror films might look like—exploring African mythology, legends, and folklore about trickster gods, ancient relics, and fantastical figures. There are tales of African vampires, which terrify people even to this day, and the lore can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptian blood-sucking cat goddess, Sekhmet. The adze vampire takes the form of a firefly, only becoming human when it is captured, and its victims become witches possessed by its spirit. The Impundulu is a human-sized vampire bird that is also rumored to be a witch’s familiar. It can summon lightning storms and its eggs have medicinal powers. Many more legends like these exist. I want to see and experience them, but they never seem to make it to the screen. I want to see Black traditions, cultures, and religions incorporated into horror in ways that do not demonize them, and I want Black characters who can be more than just tokens because they are among an entire cast of Black performers. Imagine Black-coded creature features with both ancient beasts and neo-monsters. Black punks going up against the undead, the occult, and the macabre. Shamans and demon-slayers fighting otherworldly evil alongside Black celestials and prehistoric beings. Imagine Afrofuturist horror. Black innocents in dark fantasies and sci-fi techno-horror. Invasions, outbreaks, and cosmic abductions. Found footage and catastrophic post-apocalyptic survival narratives.
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Stop believing what other people have to say about Black women, and start believing what Black women have to say about ourselves.This week, rumors about actor and heartthrob Michael B. Jordan's alleged new girlfriend — Latina Instagram model, Ashlyn Castro — began to take root. Almost immediately after, news of a boycott against "Black Panther" appeared, supposedly led by Black women (but we didn't get that memo). Not a boycott of Michael B. Jordan or any of his other upcoming projects. Just "Black Panther", which is currently everybody's favorite Black power emblem. In this narrative, Black women quickly became traitors to our race, thoughtless and trivial. Our imagined lack of support for "Black Panther" translated very easily into a lack of support for Black men altogether, and this was used as a justification for the misogynoir that ensued. First of all, the sheer ease and momentum with which this wildfire rumor spread is proof enough for me that some people simply cannot wait to talk shit about Black women. All they need is a reason to air their already long or deeply-held misogynoir, whether or not that reason is based in any truth. The "Black women are boycotting "Black Panther" because Michael B. Jordan is dating a non-Black woman" hoax of 2018 was a pathetic attempt to make Black women appear bitter and paint us as irrational and irresponsible, unfit to make decisions about the media we consume — an old song that also plays during conversations about Black women's love for "Scandal" and disdain for "Birth of a Nation". The beginnings of it rest on misogynoir as much as the public’s willingness to believe in it does. Created by a known troll account on Instagram, ground zero of the fake "Black Panther" boycott effortlessly built its narrative around a familiar stereotype: Black women become irrationally angry when Black men date people of other races, especially white and white-presenting women (I'm sorry this discussion is so cisnormative and heteronormative). This is a belief that continues to grow more and more, with less and less context in each evolution. Even Jordan Peele's "Get Out" dipped its toe in this flavor of misogynoir when Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) insisted to his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), that the most likely reason for Georgina’s (Betty Gabriel) apparent coldness towards him was because she did not like the fact that he was in a relationship with a white woman. He had no evidence to support this claim when Rose questioned it, except to flatly say, “It's a thing.”
Jordan Peele's "Get Out" does not shy away from showing what it's about: race. That's the kind of conspicuousness we desperately need right now. "I get nervous when I'm around too many white people." "Why us? Why black people?" These are just