This week AML hosted a screening of the documentary Horror Noire featuring Professor Robin R Means Coleman whose book of the same title inspired the film. Horror Noire details the history and impact of Black American representation and involvement in the horror movie genre. Actors, directors, writers, and academics spoke in the film about how blackness functions in horror films, in particular in response to racism throughout American history. The film included clips of famous Black horror films including Blacula, Get Out, and Candyman to showcase how different eras of horror films represented blackness. After the viewing, Professor Means Coleman answered questions from the audience and continued the discussions that were raised during the film.
While not a scholar of film (as well as a bona fide scaredy-cat who watches most horror films with my eyes shut) I found this documentary extremely entertaining. I was most interested to learn about how Black representation in horror films evolved from the 1940s through to present day. Speakers in the film discussed how early representations of blackness in horror relied on racist, negative depictions of Black Americans from the era of enslavement and Jim Crowe laws in the United States. A turning point came in the 1960s and 1970s when more films featuring Black actors as monster and victim were made. Later in the 1990s and 2000s horror films finally depicted Black characters as the hero of the film who is able to survive or perhaps even defeat the monster.
One aspect of the film that was interesting to see was how horror could be used to represent political issues in the United States related to race. These films could reflect the real-life horrors that Black Americans have faced in a way that was entertaining and offered an escape from the news stories of how people of color in the US were being treated. In this way, the horror genre could be used as an outlet for Black creators of film and actors to present those real-life fears in a method that is separate from reality.
After the viewing, Professor Means Coleman answered audience questions about the horror genre, Black representation, and what the future of horror noire may be. Audiences were particularly interested in the films of Jordan Peele, the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his 2017 horror film Get Out. As one of the most recent successes in Black horror filmmaking, Peele’s movies had fans in the audience who were interested in discussion how he uses nuance and contemporary discussions around race, technology, and politics to develop his narratives.
Overall, the film screening was a great event. Horror Noire was both entertaining and informative. To have Professor Means Coleman available to answer our questions and further our understanding of the film was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this genre and where it might be headed in the future.
Horror Noire is produced by Shudder Films. You can find it on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. The book that inspired the film, also called Horror Noire, by Professor Robin R Means Coleman is available on Amazon or at the American Library.
Post by American Scholar Lauren Cortese