This documentary is the reason why I wanted to get Shudder.
I remember seeing the countless ads and trailers for it on youtube and of course my interest was sparked. As someone who is a) a horror fan, b) a black woman and c) a film and history fan, this documentary spoke to me, educated me on some things I was not aware. This isn’t going to be long, I won’t go over EVERYTHING because it goes into depth and I’d rather not spoil this.
Horror Noire (A History of Black Horror), based off the novel (written by Robin R. Means Coleman) by the same name, is an insight and look into the various points of views of black people portrayed in horror films.
In this day and age, especially to a younger crowd would possibly be surprised at how far black horror and black people in horror have come from. I forgot how it was quoted but it was said “(black) horror is black history” and it could not be more correct. The documentary features other prominent black actors who are featured in countless horror films, the directors (or writers, producers) involved, those who are a part of the black horror community online and upcoming filmmakers. If this is a documentary about black people, black actors, black culture, this needs to be from our point of view and it comes across solid and strongly.
The documentary progresses from the beginnings of how black people, especially black men are showcased as “the fear”, we’re not shown to be sympathized with, we are shown as the aggressive predators i.e., Birth of a Nation where it’s quite obvious it’s a white actor in black face, chasing a white woman and the eventual lynching process. It’s “based on fact, true events” and it’s tragic. I’ve only seen Birth of a Nation once and that was in high school and the same feeling I had about that film is the same as it is now: ridiculous.
The film has integrated cuts of what is going on in the American landscape at the time, the political and social climate and that’s what I enjoy the most about Horror Noire: it’s showcasing that our everyday life is going to be on screen, negatively or positively. In a positive manner, the film also brings up first black director or producer or writer and creating these black films as a way of either protest or telling “truth”.
It evolves from the 20s through the 30s and 40s to when we aren’t on a screen anymore in the 1950s-1960s because it is now the “creature feature”, “outer space” “alien” “scientific” world where we just weren’t allowed in. However, “we” are the creatures in the background to be defeated.
The documentary goes further to spend time with blaxploitation in the 70s, the token black character in the 80s as either “first to die, token black friend, sassy and loud, or the driving force to forward the white protagonist” to the 90s when black films in general are becoming more mainstream, more serious with Menace II Society, Boyz in the Hood and one of my favorite anthology films, Tales from the Hood, is mentioned lengthy and I enjoyed it.
Black women are final girls, shown as more than being hypersexualized, characters as the hero or heroines, we’re fully developed characters that people can identify with or empathize with, these are all a part of the black experience in horror and possibly in film in general. We’re shown as people, real, relatable people.
I’ve always been a believer that horror films are basically a time capsule of what is happening in the time period that it is made in. And for black culture and black people, this reigns true.
Horror Noire is available through Shudder.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is available through Amazon.
*images from films featured: Ganja & Hess (1973), Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995), Candyman (1992), The People Under the Stairs (1991), Get Out (2017), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Blacula (1972).