|Behind the scenes on Bree Newsome's (right) film, Wake|
We've seen remarkable standouts throughout the decades muddled with stock, ancillary depictions of kooky mystics to be ignored then feared then briefly revered/killed for the white protagonists arc or the 'we need a Black friend' filler player. Horror's trip into the 21st century has in a sense, been demonstrative of the struggle to find some balance. A perfect gumbo of old tropes, active main characters to root for as well as Black writers, directors, and producers searching for ways in which to tell their stories through a supernatural lens. It's a bit of a relief to report that Black women have had their hands in all of these pots. While what is seen as tasteful or displeasurable is the authority of each consumer, these depictions and practices are molding a whole that gives this landscape texture.
The hip hop horror sub-genre in the early 2000's was fertile ground for cheaply produced, direct-to-DVD fare that proved profitable by targeting a demographic that came of age in hip hop's infancy. However, the business model tended to lean towards quantity over quality, sometimes to its detriment. These films were akin to a 'Tyler Perry's Vampires' concept that had a tendency to lack any sophisticated nuance and a technical style that probably keeps many of these films in the vein of obscurity.
Most of these films focus on Black male leads that fall flat with their storytelling while some, presumably about women fail miserably with a rather shallow male gaze (2004's Vampz). However, this market did make room for Black horror films about Black women. Street Tales of Terror (2004) "presents a trilogy of women-centered cautionary morality tales" grappling with vengeance, abortion, and rape. In Zombiez (2005), it's Josephine (Jenicia Gracia) that takes on her antagonists, the hungry undead as well as misogynist co-workers in full force as the film's sole heroine.
|Bernice (Mykel Gray) becomes vengeful after her assault|
goes unpunished in Street Tales of Terror (2004)
Lesser in significance of what was supposed to be singer Aaliyah's breakthrough role in genre film, Queen Of The Damned (2002) was additionally her title; a role clearly reduced even before her untimely passing. What just plain sucks about this promise was the fact that what fans saw in the young star was the dedication to excellence. Aaliyah loved the horror genre and that combination would've made her an explosively marketable name in it.
|Aaliyah in Queen Of The Damned (2002)|
|R. Shanea Williams (left) on the set of her horror short, Paralysis (2016)|
Where we go from here is a sharp look at these exciting projects with a deep joy and care. I am thrilled to be a part of doing my share in showcasing how far these women have come from being bound to strict, narrow Hollywood studio expectations of Black womanhood in horror to being an authority on horror's contemporary defining tenets, exploring discomforts and anxieties from the perspective of women of color. This is our history. And I'm glad we've have our hands in shaping it.