Celebrities

Black horror: ‘We have taken the narrative back’

"We've always loved horror, but horror hasn't always loved us."

Those words opened the film "Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror" at Le Petit Theatre on the last day of the 2019 Overlook Film Festival. The screening was followed by a panel of three women who were in the film and who discussed the history and future of African-Americans in horror movies.

According to the panelists, for the first time in over a century, things are starting to change.

It was the only one of the 43 films at this year's four-day festival that was offered free to the public, and the screening offered an 83-minute look into the history of African-Americans' involvement and portrayal in the horror genre.

"Black history is black horror," said Tananarive Due, a screenwriter and UCLA professor, during Sunday's panel.

Due and others in the film — including "Get Out" and "Us" director Jordan Peele — said that until recently, African-Americans were rarely given the chance to stand out in horror films, often left to play stereotypical stock roles.

African-Americans were often consigned to the role of sidekick throughout the 1980s and 1990s, only concerned with the welfare of white main characters, the film argues. Before that, they were often relegated to even more degrading roles, like servants and Voodoo priestesses.

But after more than a century of serving outside the main roles in horror films, that's finally starting to change, according to the panel.

"I do think we have taken the narrative back," said Robin R. Means Coleman, author of the book "Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present," which the film is based on.

Coleman said horror films made by African-Americans are often distinctively different from their white counterparts, with political and social overtones rooted in African-American history in the U.S.

That's seen in Peele's 2017 film "Get Out," which Peele said he made to break down the remaining stereotypes.

The success of Peele's film, which took in over $250 million at the box office on less than a $5 million budget, showed that moviegoers will watch horror films with African-Americans in lead roles, the panelists argued.

That's led to an immediate impact, they said, with directors and screenwriters rethinking how they look at casting, sometimes opting for black leads.

"Horror fans are just so amazing," Coleman said. "We will watch just about anything if we think it's good," noting the time she saw "The Ring" in Japanese without subtitles.

African-Americans also make up a much larger portion of moviegoers than they do of the general American population, according to the panel, with that factor definitely playing a role in decision-making going forward.

"Black people have always loved the genre," said screenwriter Ashlee Blackwell.

Due said she expects the impact will be very noticeable in coming years, saying that by the end of the next decade, "if I may dream, we will have an entire catalog of black-created horror."

This was the third year of the Overlook Film Festival, and the second straight it's been held in New Orleans.

Films were shown from at Le Petit Theatre, Canal Place, the Hotel Peter and Paul and the Robert E. Nims Theater at the University of New Orleans.

  Comments