“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that unfortunately, horror hasn’t always loved us.” That sobering quote is from the beginning of Ashlee Blackwell’s insightful documentary Horror Noire. Based on the adaptation of Robin Means Coleman’s seminal book, HORROR NOIRE, the documentary examines the history of the complicated relationship that Black people have with horror films as a genre. From Black people notoriously being the first ones to die in horror movies to the social implications of Get Out, no difficult subject goes untold in this documentary.
Using archival footage from classic horror movies like Night of the Living Dead along with interviews with actors like Keith David (The Thing), Rachel True (The Craft), and Academy Award Winner Jordan Peele (Get Out), the film explores the unique aspects of horror noire, a sub-genre of film that can refer to films like Get Out. Horror Noire deftly handles an often ugly connection of Black depictions in film and institutionalized racism. Movie monsters like the Creature From the Black Lagoon were actually avatars designed to represent stereotypical ideas some people have held about Black people.
Following a special screening of Horror Noire at West Philadelphia’s Scribe Video Center, Blackwell discussed her creative process, hopes for diversity in the film industry and more.
Blackwell was first intrigued by the thought of analyzing the themes and ideas of horror films as a child. “Those questions and ideas started when I was really young, mostly when I was a teenager,” she explained. “I started thinking mostly about gender and how that played out, because as a kid in the ‘80s I’ve seen a lot of women be heroes in these movies. Then it became race when I found about about Dr. Robin Means Coleman’s book Horror Noire and also a friend of mine, she lives in Brooklyn, and her master thesis is about Black women in ‘70s-inspired cinema. That was the spiral about learning about Black representation in horror films.”
As an independent creative with friends in different spaces throughout the film industry, Blackwell is forthright about professing the need for consumers to support emerging talents. “It really is about your own personal mobilization,” Blackwell said. “When you’re on the internet go to Vimeo, go to YouTube. Mine those spaces and take the time and patience to look for those artists’ work. Everyone is strained by budgets and hear no all of the time. If we come together and watch their movies and support their work, then maybe the higher-ups will start to really listen because it’s still a struggle. I’m saying that out of my own personal frustration of trying to push scripts to Blumhouse and other places and keep hearing the word, ‘No.’ It really starts with us. We really have to keep pushing.”
With a well-researched documentary appearing on the movie streaming application Shudder, Blackwell is excited about the film’s release even if she cannot share what the next thing that she is working on yet. “I can’t really say it because I signed papers, but there’s definitely more that’s coming on the way,” Again, it’s all about waiting for that, ‘Yes.’
Watch Blackwell and author, executive producer, and educator Tananarive Due—who created a university course inspired by Get Out—discuss the doc and Black representation in horror films.