Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Black Women In Horror History: 1930's & 40's

The post that started this series came as a surprise. Moved by its sustaining popularity, I saw a brief overview of the genesis of Black women in horror film history as nothing but an exercise in dishing a convergence you rarely see in February: Black History and Women in Horror Month. 

When I first began conversing with founder of Women in Horror Month Hannah Neurotica, she expressed some of the backlash to the movement that wanted staunchly to dismiss her efforts, seeing it as a bigoted move to conflict with a month largely capitalized upon as an acknowledgement of African American contributions to American history (you can find more of this here). With my natural inclination to think first and comment later, I sat with that ridiculous argument for awhile. It suggested the idea that Black people have no history in horror. Sadly, this appears to be the politics of invisibility of the Black presence within the genre, but this sentiment is far from definitive.

The dynamic and complex array of Black representations and creators in the horror genre is not broadly known or even recognized. It's easy to fall into a pit and argue that ANY celebration that curbs into Black History Month is an insidious derailment of the "real," tried and true meaning of the month. It's hyperbole, but I suppose if there's no question into considering if there is a Black history in horror, it's an easy trap to fall into.

However, there lies a legacy: one where Black writers and directors worked with supernatural themes and cast Black actors in title roles as well as Black actresses being hired by Hollywood studios to appear in horror films, all before 1960.

Continuing from our very first installment, horror film roles for Black actresses into the 1930s and 40s continued to make use of maids and (evil, conniving) voodoo practitioners. Despite these discriminatory and racist limitations, almost all of these actresses approached their narrow opportunities in Hollywood with a self-awareness and dignity that would at least help them gain the respect (relatively) of some of their white peers and a lasting career in other sectors of the entertainment industry.

Below are the few that have been able to make an imprint in horror during their time. Although information and images are scarce, traces of their legacy are documented so that we're able to create our own interpretations, bring them out of obscurity, and simply, acknowledge that they exist.


Georgette Harvey as Old Mandy in Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934)

The Original 'Porgy' | Bio | 1884-1952



 Nina Mae McKinney as Isabelle Walton in The Devil's Daughter (1939)

"The Black Garbo" | Bio | 1913-1967


 Etta McDaniel as Sarah in Son Of Dracula (1943)

Hattie McDaniel's sister | Bio | 1890-1946


Theresa Harris as Alma in I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

"The Beautiful Maid" | Bio | 1911-1985





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