The faithful servant. The African tribesman. The Voodoo priestess. The buffoon. The Magical Negro. And, of course, the hapless guy who dies first. For much of the history of horror, black American characters have been confined to a limited number of tropes.
But that’s changing.
Based on the book of the same name, HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR is an entertaining and incisive exploration of black characters in horror, from The Birth of a Nation to the Oscar-winning Get Out. Our guides include University of Michigan professor Robin R. Means Coleman, who wrote the book Horror Noire, UCLA professor Tananarive Due, and writer Ashlee Blackwell, who runs a website for black women who love horror. They are joined by a who’s who of black horror writers, directors, and actors, including William Crain (Blacula), Tony Todd (Candyman), Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood), Rachel True (The Craft), Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned), and Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead).
Starting with The Birth of a Nation, HORROR NOIRE traces the history of African Americans in horror, from roles as passive victims, to terrifying monsters, to full-fledged protagonists. Filled with clips, sometimes juxtaposed with powerful images from civil rights marches to Rodney King, to Black Lives Matter protests, the film shows how popular horror films of each era reflect changing social norms.
The faithful servants of the 1940s disappear during the science-based atomic horror of the 1950s. The Blaxploitation era brings greater visibility, but new problems with representation. Then come the Reagan years — during which horror reflects the wider trend of black Americans demonized as gangsters and welfare queens, followed by a renaissance in the 1990s and 2000s that saw the emergence of black filmmakers and hip-hop stars appearing in horror.
HORROR NOIRE lingers on particularly significant films, including Night of the Living Dead, Blacula, and Candyman. “It was probably the first time I saw somebody black in a movie, and they weren’t a criminal, they weren’t a gangster – they were the hero,” says actor Rachel True of the role played by Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead. Blacula opens with a condemnation of the slave trade. And in the words of Tony Todd, who plays black supernatural killer Candyman, the character is “not a boogeyman. He’s an artist… who happened to fall in love with a woman who was not his race, and he was lynched for it.”
With the rise of a new generation of filmmakers, horror is finally embracing black characters, and telling stories aimed directly at black audiences.
“Always entertaining;an opportunity to acknowledge and advance the narrative about the contributions of Black talent in front and behind the camera. The fact that the documentary ends on a hopeful note about the increased prominence of Black actors in (nuanced, complicated) leading roles, as well as easier access for a new generation of directors—both male and female—is encouraging. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Horror Noire is essential viewing for horror audiences; not only does it boast high production values and informative interviews, audiences will undoubtedly discover a brand new curated list of essential horror films to seek out and devour.” —Bloody Disgusting
“Both history lesson and conversation piece, Horror Noire is essential viewing for the genre fan.” —The Hollywood Reporter
“A must-see for horror fans, film-lovers in general, and for anyone concerned with issues of social justice and representation. It is informative without being dry, and critical and challenging yet grounded in love of the genre and optimism towards what the future holds.” —Forbes
“The best kind of film documentary—one that both entertains and informs. This is a must-see for all horror fans.” —SlashFilm
“Smart, funny and packed with interesting people clearly delighted to be talking about their work and the movies they love.” —Now TorontoToronto International Film Festival
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