Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tension & Trauma With Horror Filmmaker Tamara S. Hall


I never really considered myself an activist. When I said this to a friend years ago in her living room, she looked up, incredulous to my belief. I was passionate about a specific observation that became a stewing issue. I had modest resources; intersectional insight, fan identity, and a laptop merged into a "unique and nuanced" educational resource for the purpose "of bringing awareness to important social and cultural issues not normally explored."

This is what actress/writer/director Tamara S. Hall describes as "activism through art". Her indirect influence on the perception of what I do and have done is a part of Hall's selfless effervescence as an emerging on and off screen visionary. The Philly-to-NYC, William Esper graduate's vitality thrives on making sure we all win. Especially for Black women in the "not normally explored" realm of the horror genre.

Back in March, Hall, along with Moon Ferguson (creator of Juju: The Web Series) hosted A Night with Women in Horror & Thriller, a celebratory screening and networking event to showcase women creating horror narraritives for the screen. "The most insightful takeaways for me at the event was there is simply not enough representation of neither women nor people of color in the horror and thriller genres," she asserts. "The thirst for multilayered, creative, and unfamiliar stories is there for people of all demographics." That's where Hall's inaugural director's seat film, A Night At The Table threads into the budding Black horror renaissance.



A Night At The Table elevates the mundane as a dinner session for one family spirals into tensions between mother and children and perhaps something much more threatening. At its heart, it has a pressing concern about the generational trauma of Black mothers. "When we talk about 'pain and loss,' generally speaking, that’s something black mothers are all too familiar with due to our community’s displacement and disenfranchisement in society," Hall explains. "Every human being encounters pain and loss at some point, but I think that people forget just how much of a disparity this is against Black mothers. Black mothers have historically had their babies stripped out of their hands and sold away during slavery. They have had their sons murdered and wrongfully convicted during the years of segregation and Jim Crow.

And now, with the black community still grappling with the effects of such trauma and disenfranchisement, Black mothers are disproportionately faced with the possibility that their son or daughter might not come home due to inner city violence, racially-influenced violence, and/or injustice. These are added risks and traumas that non-Black women have not had to deal with.

Hall on set

When we are discussing forgiving and moving forward, too often Black mothers have been forced to be both the caretaker and provider for their families thus in order to cope and sustain sanity, they have traditionally turned to God to help with the processing of such traumas by way of forgiveness and moving forward."

What happens with all of that emotional strife? There's a very human breaking point that horror fully allows a filmmaker to embrace. Hall contends, "I wanted people to feel the horror, the suspense, the chill that a Black mother has to live through when dealing with such a loss. I also wanted, in the same breath, for people to be able to vicariously process this loss via ways that did not quite make sense but appeared normal to the outside world. Because, as Black women, we always have to show up. We don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves before someone from the outside world comes judging or needing us. You simply cannot get this experience with a drama. I felt this was an interesting yet horrific experience for people to have for ten minutes while bringing awareness to this concern."

Hall also stars in the film as Sherell, echoing her inspirations like the "quiet, observational" Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Jack Torrance's sadism in The Shining (1980). With her triple duty of writer and director added on, her lead's (Dierdra McDowell as Sherry) homework was to study Annie (Toni Collette) in Hereditary (2018). With assignments like these, it's no surprise that Hall is in awe of the ground that Jordan Peele, Jonathan Demme, Ari Aster, and Spike Lee have paved. "Jordan Peele influenced me thematically while Jonathan Demme and Spike Lee influenced me directorially with their pioneering of brilliant shot choices. Ari Aster inspired me from a cinematography perspective. I felt that his team did an amazing job with allowing us to live in darkness with the characters [in Hereditary] and it helped to rid my fear of allowing my characters to do the same.


Annie (Toni Collette) in Hereditary (2018) is a comparison clue of Hall's A Night at the Table

All of these choices contributed to the cold, yet deceivingly-warm tone I wanted my story to have. While the body of the film is warm and very, 'Hereditary-like.'"

With these frames of reference for Hall's work, she looks to horror as an entertaining escape as well. "I am a huge fan of the Insidious film series. That’s one of the very few horror films that has scared me in recent years. As far as classics, I love psychological thrillers and always find myself going back to movies like Single White Female, Psycho, The Sixth Sense, and slashers like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Child's Play. I am currently binging Bates Motel, The Haunting of Hill House, and American Horror Story."

I am further encouraged by Hall from her persistence in the genre and her takeaway's as vocal participant. My current intent is focused on the ways in which women of color will create an evolved aesthetic for how horror is defined and applied. Hall tells me; "black women color films in this genre through such a creative and unique lens. Not only are we able to speak from our experience, but due to our historical oppression and need to conform in society for survival, we know how to take on voices and themes and make them relate to the world like no one else can."

Her next story? "It's a short thriller that I want to write involving two kids who are tasked with making phone calls that adults can’t fathom making. It comes from a real-life horror story and I think that it will be really interesting!"



Tamara is the founder, A Flower in Fire Productions
Birthed out of a frustrating lack of a variety of roles for women of color. The name is inspired by her artistic persistence in the face of adversity and Growing A Flower in Fire, the title of her compilation of poems.

@ItsMaraShanice on Twitter

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