Skip to main content

Horror Blackademics: "A Black Women's Horror Discourse" Theory

Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction
by Kinitra D. Brooks, Alexis McGee, and Stephanie Schoellman

This reading is primarily a framework for an approach to speculative fiction written by Black women that deals particularly with the concepts of time, ghosts, hauntings and the way in which they all disrupt then expand our perceptions of the horror genre by blending the natural and supernatural from a Black women's historical realities and subjectivity.

Key Terms

sankofarration - coined by John Jennings; combines Sankofa, a Ghanaian word meaning to go back and seek wisdom for the future ahead, and narration. "The act of claiming the future as well as the past." Insisting that time is cyclical. Sankofarration is used here to suggest that there is a discourse on horror that is "buried and unacknowledged in the folklore and literature of the African diaspora."

speculative sankofarration - literature written by Black women where ghosts or hauntings are themes utilized to expose trauma and are a from of resistance:

A Black women's horror discourse grounded in sankofarration effectively liberates Black horror from necessitating its need to derive mainly from the trauma of enslavement [does not exclude but rejects the idea as the main source of Black horror], allowing the concept of horror to move towards a more creative and artistic construction and, in the process, providing us with 'an ordered reconstruction of history' that is not linear in nature.

An evolution in "art-horror" where the heart of Black experiences mingle with a Black Feminist framework.

ghostly embodiment - where ghosts and hauntings announce something that is lost, making itself visible in order to help the haunted address "oppressions and/or repressions" of inequitable societal systems as well as, perhaps, conflicts with personal/familial identity.

"The act of haunting provides a methodology of resistance and transformation for Black women in horror."

Ghosts disrupt our conventions of linear time because they are the (cultural) past that is lost or unknown to memory, back as a haunt, offering to the haunted (this cultural history).

Black Women's Horror Discourse

Negates the separation of "natural horror" (environmental disasters, crime, wars, etc.) and "art-horror" (The Shining, Rosemary's Baby). Beloved by Toni Morrison entangles the natural horror of the chattel slavery system in the United States with a art-horror approach to addressing the supernatural manifestation that drives the book and film. "Speculative sankofarration integrates both natural horror and art-horror in Black women's writing in a manner of privileging the spectrum of these elements at work, ultimately syncretizing the aesthetics of a racially, gendered horror discourse."

Horror is a genre that can be utilized as a mechanism for healing by complicating "the representations of trauma" and a refusal to acknowledge there is an easy solution to issues that have its hooks in generations of people.

Exposes the cultural anxieties of Black women with the utilization of the haunting method and its relationship to the history of Black women's experiences with racial and sexist oppression.

Avoids one-dimensionality and linearity.

Widens perceptions of Black women's literature.

Creates methods of resistance.

Primary texts-

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (1980)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez (1991)

Newer works-

Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry (1998)

A novel that centers three and four generations of Black women, a character is possessed by another character present but past (a ghost), experiencing "moments from their previous lives" through charmed object (a quilt, for example, while sleeping covered by it, transforms her back to the past).

A maternal line, these generations of Black women, beginning with the story of Ayo, who has the power of a obange spirit that has the ability to haunt and possess "the oldest daughter of every other generation."

Additional Considerations

Zora Neale Hurston's Every Tongue Got to Confess, a series of stories "highlights Black interest in horror as a long-established reality in its communal literature" which author Linda Addison argues, is the origin "of the very first appearance of horror published by a Black woman." If "horror discourse is an established tradition in the Black community," there is no reflection of this case in the number of critical and literary commentary that exists.

Discussion Question

Which horror films could be described as speculative sankofarration?

Popular posts from this blog

28 Black Women Horror Filmmakers

1. Zandashé Brown, Blood Runs Down (2018) 2. Raeshelle Cooke, Last Words (2015) 3. Tamara S. Hall, A Night At The Table (2019) 4. R. Shanea Williams, Paralysis (2015) 5. Monica Moore-Suriyage, Black In Red Out (2016)

The Horror Noire Education Guide

Myself and executive producers Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman and Tananarive Due present a digital, living document we hope will guide further inquiry into what was covered in Horror Noire and beyond. This is just the beginning of what will be developed as we create a fluid discourse on Black horror from here on.

How MIDSOMMAR Utilizes and Subverts Horror Movie Tropes of People of Color

By Mary Kay McBrayer ( @mkmcbrayer ) For a film that could have been easily white-washed, Ari Aster’s Midsommar does have an inclusive cast. Before our characters are even taken to Sweden where most of the film's dread fueled action takes place, we meet them in their college town. Dani (Florence Pugh) stresses about her sister’s scary email while her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor) drinks at a bar with his buddies, only one of whom is black named Josh ( The Good Place 's William Jackson Harper). I have watched enough horror movies to know—and I’ve been brown enough long enough to know—that this setting does not bode well for a person of color. The token minority, say it with me, tends to die first. Because of this ratio, I expected a few other established tropes of the horror genre in Josh’s character, too, and I have to admit, I was delighted and surprised that nothing played out the way I expected.