“We have always loved horror but horror hasn’t always loved us.”
As of today, I haven’t read the revolutionary book Horror Noire (2011) by Robin Means Coleman. However, I did have the pleasure of attending a screening in Toronto (Ontario) of the documentary based on the book with Ashlee Blackwell (graveyardshiftsisters.com) and Tananarive Due (author, educator) in attendance. As a white Canadian, I am not privy to all of the experiences of people of colour, but in the horror genre I thought I had at least a moderate amount of knowledge on the subject. Horror Noire showed me the error of my ways; it blew my mind to realize how much I didn’t actually know. I am happy that this documentary was made as I think it’s crucial for horror fans to know more about black history especially as to how it relates to their favorite genre.
Horror Noire brings many incredible films and actors to the forefront and reveals -- and reminds us -- of the tragic history of black people in America. It highlights the evolution of black history in horror, prompting us to acknowledge our shortcomings as a society. We see many familiar faces like Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), Keith David (The Thing), Tony Todd (Candyman), and Loretta Devine (Urban Legend), with an incredibly insightful and poignant discussion by Rachel True with regards to her portrayal of the often undervalued, and underrepresented, teen witch Rochelle of The Craft (1997).
Horror Noire starts with the origins of the film industry up to the modern-day; from blackface and servants to the iconic portrayal of Ben (Dwayne Jones) in Night of the Living Dead (1968). In the 1970s we saw the rise of blaxploitation and Blacula (1971) with its important sequel Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) with Pam Grier, a black female actor, taking the lead. Unfortunately in the 1980s the idea of “tokenism” occurs and black characters are back to being relegated into supporting roles or tropes like the “sacrificial negro” or the “magical negro”. Horror Noire doesn’t shy away from addressing the problematic politics of America and how horror films have always been a reflection of our society. And though it’s heartbreaking, it’s necessary, and I respect that it would be included in the documentary.
I learned about films that never hit my radar before or weren’t hugely impactful for me growing up like Tales from the Hood (1995) or The People Under the Stairs (1991) because they weren’t my stories (or I was too young to fully comprehend the messaging). The allegorical horror of the 1990s was an important turning point for black horror but I missed it, or I didn’t care about it, and to that I admit it as a terrible fault. Rachel True talked to the relatable racism of The Craft with Rochelle experiencing high school discrimination and I understood that as a teenager and really appreciated that storytelling. Her appearance/opinion is one of my favourite parts of Horror Noire.
Although Horror Noire may seem like a pessimistic documentary, there is a lot of hope and positivity in the end. It has truly been an incredible journey for black people in horror and it’s a journey that every single person should be made aware of and I beg you to make it a top priority for Black History Month. And if you have watched it then watch it again. It’s streaming on Shudder RIGHT NOW!
“Black history is Black horror.”