This past week I was at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on behalf of Latin Horror, covering the red carpet premiere of Shudder’s new documentary, Horror Noire. This engaging and eye-opening documentary is quickly gaining fanfare and rightfully so. The film takes it name and is adapted from an academic book by scholar and producer of the film, Dr. Robin Means Coleman. Horror Noire is clever, comprehensive, funny and completely entertaining as it thoroughly explores an often overlooked black history of the horror genre. The film takes a critical eye on the history of genre films and how they exploited and utilized black filmmakers and black actors. As producer & academic, Tananarive Due states in the beginning of the film, “Black history is black horror.”
The documentary is filled with in depth illuminating interviews and anecdotes from major icons including; Jordan Peele (Get Out), Keith David (The Thing), Tony Todd (Candyman), Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood), William Crain (Blackula), Rachel True (The Craft), Paula Jai Parker (Tales from the Hood), Kelly Jo Mintor (The People Under the Stairs) & Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead). It is a film that not iunly film buffs will appreciate, but anyone even slioghlty concerned about social justice. I had the privledge to speak with the director, producers and talent from the film.
Black History is Black Horror.
Tananarive Due- Horror Noire Producer, UCLA Professor, author of My Soul to Keep
Jennifer Ortega: This is such a timely project and I think it’s such an important piece right now definitely with what’s going on in the world. What do you hope that people take away from the film?
Tananarive Due: This is such a great moment in horror, period. Frankly, you know there are so many people who would hold their nose at the idea of a horror story and not understand how powerful horror can be. And when you add the racial element, the way that Jordan Peele showed us that you can make racism a monster and make people understand the state of society better. Or maybe don’t commit so many micro-aggressions when you are having conversations with people. So it’s that, but really I think the most important thing about horror is that it’s about survival. And not every character will survive and sometimes none of the characters survive. But for us as black people, where survival is just so much a part of our DNA, when we have been surrounded so often by hostility and even today getting shot sometimes unarmed by police officers, just because you look like the monsters that they think they’ve seen on TV. It’s really important to understand that horror has power to heal trauma and it has power to show us what our fears look like, but in a safer way so that we can use it to exhale and expel, move on and survive another day.
JO: I love that the film goes back to the beginnings of cinema. There’s so much I learned. Even like the creature features, you get into it like how they were making the monsters basically a representation of anyone who is not white and I think that it’s important for people to understand where some of the problems we see now originated from.
TD: You know I have to admit that was eye-opening to me you know, like King Kong and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
JO: Yes, I didn’t even think about that before, that the Creature from the Black Lagoon was strikingly similar to these racist caricatures of the time.
TD: Right, so it’s like the monster is a stand in for a minority. And science fiction does that a lot where aliens will be like others, but you have no black people in the movie, you know that kind of thing. So you are supposed to feel like you are addressing the question of alienation and addressing the question of discrimination without actually doing anything. It’s our metaphor. So yes all of that and it goes pretty deep. I think this is the exact right time for a documentary like this where people can open their eyes and be more critical of the entertainment in their lives. And especially for young creators not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
JO: I am so glad to be here and to talk to you. I’m curious is there any horror directors that you love or that you are a fan of?
TD: Well many. I hate to be cliché about it, but Jordan Peele’s Get Out. He has just done so much to raise the awareness. This documentary wouldn’t exist without that film. There are a lot of people I think getting contracts right now who would not be getting contracts otherwise because of that film including scholars like Dr. Coleman. And we are coming right behind her and writing books about black vampires and people are actually giving it more attention and understanding that it’s more important. So I have to really give a shout out to Jordan Peele, but beyond that I am just a horror-head like everyone else. I love Kasi Lemmons and Eve’s Bayou. I love Jonathan Demme’s Beloved. It’s a difficult film, but way ahead of it’s time. Wes Craven, I am sorry he’s gone and George Romero I was a big fan of, but I’m sorry he’s gone. So we have lost a lot of the big icons.
JO: George Romero is mentioned a lot in the documentary. I adore him.
TD: Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) is here and that was Romero and it’s a classic horror film. But The Night of Living Dead is so very important and I wish I had a chance to tell George Romero how meaningful that was.
Keith David- Actor (The Thing, They Live)
JO: Hello, it’s so lovely to meet you. The Thing! I mean, it’s truly an honor to meet you because that is, when you talk about horror, that’s like, come on you can’t get better than that. But this was such a great piece and I think it’s so important. What do you hope that audiences learn or take away from the film?
KD: There is an institutional embedding of the notion of what black people, black and brown people can do and cannot do. And I hope this is just one of those examples of there is nothing that we don’t do, we do everything, we participate in everything. All you have to do is ask me. Don’t just assume. And given the opportunity we can thrive and excel in everything. So I mean I hope that people walk away with, you know it’s like wow, I have been depriving myself of a lot of wonderful entertainment and a lot of important education by denying these people opportunities. So I mean that’s what we should walk away from with this.
JO: I myself went to film school and studied film history extensively and still there is so much that I have learned from the film and I love that it goes way back to the beginning of filmmaking. And it really just, you see it from a whole new perspective and I’m just such a fan of it. I think it’s such an important film for this time that we are in right now.
KD: It’s extremely important for this time because while we are under this current administration and the people are trying to revert to a countercultural…you know I mean it’s important to be inclusive, and for us to be involved in the beginning of that movement of inclusion because we have always been inclusive. I am like Nelson Mandela in the fact that I don’t have time to hate you. I don’t want to spend my time disliking you and hating you. I don’t have to like you to work with you. Give me the opportunity or allow me, but don’t block me, that’s all, just don’t block me.
JO: Yes, I love that because you know there isn’t enough time in life to be engulfed in negative energy.
KD: I’ve always felt like I am not like you and I don’t want to be like you, but allow me to do me.
JO: I have to ask you because I don’t think there’s anyone more qualified to answer, but what do you think makes a successful horror movie?
KD: I mean for me, whatever the premise, I am going to believe what you tell me to believe just don’t violate that. You know I am going to go with you where your imagination takes me, but just don’t do things that make me go – now there is a hitch in the giddy-up, you know what I mean?
Rusty Cundieff- Director (Tales From The Hood)
JO: So lovely to meet you! You were so great in the film! It was very eye opening to me. And things that I didn’t necessarily put together really came together. What are you hoping that people take away from Horror Noire?
RC: Hopefully what they will take away from it is the understanding that not just black, but all cultures have stories to tell that span all genres. And no one should be excluded from any particular way of telling a story and having value within the cinema markets.
JO: I feel like at the end of the day it’s like everyone else suffers, because you are not listening to all of these amazing stories that are out there and being ignored.
RC: Yes, and I mean I think it’s a learning experience for…well, more probably for our white brothers and sisters, but you know it seems like it’s changing. Being able to see yourself in a protagonist that doesn’t look exactly like you or maybe doesn’t have your anatomy, even that, you know is a big thing and it connects us as human beings.
JO: And the thing is that the film brings a part of history to the general public that has just been overlooked.
RC: Yes, I guess overlook is a way to see it, because it’s there and people just don’t deal with it. You’re right, it’s just been overlooked. It’s there, but they don’t pay attention to it. And you could say that about female directors, Latino directors and on and on. I am working with a guy now who is Korean and he has interesting history. The way the general market thinks is that well this is it, you know we’ve covered it all.
JO: Hopefully things continue to change because it’s so interesting, like everybody’s history is so rich, and there is so much to learn. I have always been like a school nerd so I love learning about things, but this film is so entertaining as well. So I think that’s what going to make people start to have a dialogue. I am curious as a director, what are some of your biggest influences?
RC: Okay well there’s influences, and then there are things that inspire you. So for example, like Gordon Parks, I don’t know if he’s an influence, but he’s an inspiration. When I started out, I worked with Robert Townsend and Spike Lee. They are probably a combination of both things, inspiration and influence. I was working as an actor with them and I realized oh yes this is something that’s possible to do, but before that I was just like well you have got to be a performer. But after I felt you don’t have to just perform. You can be a writer, a director, there’s a lot of things that you can do. So all of that and then just within horror – my influences go all over the place. I am one of those people that I like horror, but it’s not—I’m not myopic about horror. So what excites me is always whatever the social connection is or whatever the political connection is to a story. And you know that’s what obviously we tried to do with Tales from the Hood. It was about the politics and the social connections. So you look at Rod Sterling and you look at Night Gallery and he had episodes that kind of dealt with race and being blind to what was going on around you. So I would say that that’s probably a huge influence. It was a huge influence on how I think about story.
Xavier Burgin- Horror Noire Director
JO: I watched the film earlier today. It was really like beyond my expectations; it was so good. I love that it goes from not only being entertaining, but it’s like very academic too. But you don’t even realize that it is because it’s just so enthralling. Where did the idea to make this film come from?
XB: So an interesting thing is, I always want to give credit where credit is due, the beginning of this did not start with me. It actually started with Ashlee first and foremost. So Ashlee started it and she started building everything out, because of the book from Dr. Robin Means Coleman. The whole thing is when they start to build out the idea and the story for it that’s when they reach out to prospective directors. I was one of those directors and when I read about it and found out about it – how it dealt specifically with blackness, and how the fact that we don’t see this on a regular basis, that absolutely made me extremely interested. I was like I need to be a part of this. So I sat down and I created a 12-page production book about how I wanted to see everything go and they were just so impressed with it that they brought me onto the project.
JO: The people that you got for it are just incredible. Was there anybody in particular that you were like super excited to work with?
XB: Now of course everybody loves Jordan Peele, but I think one of the more interesting ones or the coolest ones for me was William Crain the director of Blacula. Essentially when he starts talking about specifically Blacula, he was talking about what it meant as a black person decades ago, to make a film like that and be the director and be the face of the film and still not have the power that he deserves as a director.
JO: His stories were so insightful. Like when he talks about the AD on Blacula and how they would ignore what he said, I was like what the hell. He’s the director!
XB: Exactly, it’s ridiculous in the first place, like how dare you come into the domain and override the director like that, but that’s what was happening to him at that point. And I can only think about the career that he should have had, if there hadn’t been a rampant racism going on. That to me as a director, because I mean you realize that this man paved the way for me to make a film like this, and to be a part of a film like this and that’s just something that is huge for me.
JO: I bet as a director speaking with him was really impactful and seeing what he went through.
XB: Yes, it’s seeing myself and what could have happened to me 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago before – Hollywood still has a long way to go, but you know for him, that is a story that he was able to get that off in the first place honestly.
JO: I am so glad that people are going to see the film and realize how it was. Because logically yes of course his crew was all white people, but it’s something that I have never really thought about. And the fact that his crew was going above him..it’s just crazy to think about.
XB: It’s a beautiful thing to see everything open up like this. Like I said there is still a long way to go, but at least this can be a starting point for a lot of people. And you know even me as a black director because you know they didn’t have to choose me they could have taken a white director, but they made a clear decision to say we want to bring someone on that is of the people and that is of the voice. I am just so happy that I am a part of this family.
JO: As a director and having done this documentary now, do you see yourself ever doing a horror film?
XB: Well, that’s the interesting thing. So I did my grad school stuff at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I came out and I was focusing on romantic comedies and things like that because I always thought well nobody is going to pay attention to me if I am trying to make a horror film and then Jordan Peele makes Get Out. And then I see one of my friends Sharon McMurray did the first Purge and he specifically is one of the people that convinced me to go to USC. So he does that and then I get this, and it made me realize that folks will actually take me seriously with my ideas. So I’ve been building out more horror ideas for myself. It’s crazy to think that literally doing this film made me say that I can actually go this route.
Ashlee Blackwell- Horror Noire Producer & Co-Writer, Founder of GraveYardShiftSisters.com
JO: Xavier was just telling me…he wanted to give you credit for the start of Horror Noire because I was asking where did the concept originate from. I loved the film by the way. I saw it and it’s amazing and I think it’s so important, and it’s so entertaining at the same time, but where did the idea first came from?
AB: Well it wasn’t just me, it was really Phil Nobile Jr. who is now the editor-in-chief of Fangoria. At the time we both lived in the same area. I picked up Dr. Coleman’s book as a kind of a catalyst to my own website. And she was like—all of her work was the genesis of the film and gave me the inspiration to do what I am doing now. Phil followed my website and because of that he gained respect for me and we saw each other at conventions because we both lived in the same area. He introduced himself to me and we became really good friends. Fast-forward to Get Out, we talked about the history of black horror and I thought maybe I can parlay this into something you know really special. If I can get Dr. Coleman interested then we can put together a story about black horror and about the history of it. The whole idea is that Get Out – it’s getting everyone’s attention, it has gotten everyone’s attention, but what people don’t know is that there is this whole other story that comes before. Like you know black characters have been reduced to stereotypes, where there’s the black person always die first, which is not true.
JO: I am someone that is obsessed with film & film history and I learned so much. And of course there are things that people need to know about like Birth of a Nation and I feel like – and especially the younger generation probably doesn’t know much about it and the awful implications it had. But there is so much about even like The Creature of the Black Lagoon, I never put two and two together. It was really eye-opening, and Dr. Coleman is amazing. Right after the film, I was looking her up and ordering her book. There are just so many great parts of history that I feel have been overlooked that are so important. So thank you for doing this because I think it’s something that’s really needed and I am so glad that it’s coming out.
AB: Yes, and that’s my comfort zone, my comfort zone is doing all of the research and discovering all of these things for myself. And then kind of writing them for all of these people and that’s what I really love doing. I love the response of, oh my God I didn’t know this because I’m just learning it just like everyone else. I come from a heavy academic background. I loved school and I loved reading and writing has kind of became my thing. I kind of parlayed that into what I am doing now. Because I am a black woman, I feel marginalized and I feel invisible, even in my local community. Using Dr. Coleman’s book I had the receipt for our history. We are here to make it present. I am really just glad that it turned into this, it kind of bubbled into this.
JO: I think it also just shows you the need for a film like yours and that people want it. I watched the film and it was like beyond what I imagined so I think it’s amazing. What are some of your favorite horror movies?
AB: John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorites.
JO: Oh, I completely geeked out on Keith David. I couldn’t help it! I told him I’m sorry, but you were Childs from The Thing!
AB: Yes, it’s really well done. It’s probably as close to a perfect horror movie that you can get. I am pretty much a horror fan across the board. I am Freddy girl. I love Wes Craven. I am a Freddy’s franchise girl through and through. I am an 80s kid. I was born in 1982 so I grew up on all of these films. I love Tales from The Crypt. I love the 90s stuff too. Scream came out and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Disturbing Behavior and The Faculty all in the 90s. I was at the theater every Friday watching these movies. So I think for me that was my teenage years. I love those 90s teen horror films so much.
JO: I feel like now there is also a resurgence of horror. People realize that there is so much that you could tell in that genre because it does bring about discussion that I think people don’t even realize – like once you start entertaining people they start talking about it.
AB: And they realize that horror is more than slasher films. I think it got put in that box for a really long time. And now we are seeing more films that are horror films, but they are a blend of genres. You are getting horror and drama and you are getting comedy, but you’re getting it in this very intelligent way. These filmmakers know how to tell a story and they’re blending all of these genre elements. So it’s still scary, but you have got some funny elements here. It’s still emotionally touching and a drama film, and all of that kind of good stuff, so that’s what I like about what’s happening now.
JO: What do you have upcoming like after this? iIs there anything that you want to explore in your career?
AB: Honestly, I want to take all of this to the classroom, that’s my personal goal. I really want to parlay this into can I teach this full-time.
JO: I mean I love the idea of you teaching this. I can completely see that.
AB: That’s the biggest thing that I want to do with it for sure.
Horror Noire will premiere exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, February 7th.
About Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium streaming service for horror, thriller, and the supernatural, today is unveiling its first original documentary feature, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Based on the acclaimed book of the same name by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, Horror Noire takes a critical look at a century of genre films that by turns utilized, caricatured, exploited, sidelined, and embraced both black filmmakers and black audiences. The film features in-depth interviews with noted directors, writers, and actors, including Ernest Dickerson (Bones), Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood), Jordan Peele (Us), Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned), Tony Todd (Candyman), Paula Jai Parker (Tales from the Hood), Tananarive Due (My Soul to Keep), and Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman.