When February started, I set out to do something different and focus on Black Women in Horror History to shake things up and cover both of the groups being recognized this month in one fell swoop. I consider myself to have a fairly thorough knowledge of horror movies, and didn't think this would be an issue. But, like that 64 oz. fountain soda from the gas station or completing the filmography of Stuart Gordon (Castle Freak? Robot Jox? Really, man?), that turned out to be a bad idea. Unfortunately, I was more likely to find a copy of Bacon Busters magazine than a slew of strong black women in horror films.Don't get me wrong, there are a few black women in horror films I could have mentioned. Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later... was an obvious pick, but I wasn't comfortable calling that a historical entry when my first post on Jada Pinkett/Demon Knight covered the same things I would say about her performance. I considered a few more recent performances, like Halle Berry in Gothika or Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned, and maybe there was something to say about their performances - except the films are both pretty awful. There are other '70s blaxplotation horrors like Blackenstein or more stylish films like The House on Skull Mountain, but none really seemed to focus their attention on creating memorable female characters. I even grasped at last week's Midnight Movie of the Week, Dead of Night, looking at the lounge singer played by Elisabeth Welch who appears in the film's final segment, but that was a bit part only notable for being the earliest appearance of a black woman in a horror film (an English horror film, to be fair).
When I tried scouring the internet for more ideas, the first google result for Black Women in Horror was....my own blog. The next best thing I could find was a post from over at Pretty-Scary, which confirmed what I was thinking...between 1930-1960, when cinema was at its classic peak, there were a couple of opportunities for black women to play voodoo priestesses...and not much else.
Worse, after the blaxploitation craze of the 1970s, the slasher-driven '80s didn't provide much for black women in horror either. Really, would it have been that hard for one commercial slasher to put an African American actress in a survivor girl role? Was American Cinema so caught up in stereotypes that they couldn't pull it off? Apparently, the answer is yes.
The 1990s and 2000s have been at least offering more chances for the likes of Pinkett, Berry, and Harris as leads, but there are still awful characters like Kelly Rowand's in Freddy vs. Jason that enforce the race and gender stereotypes that are too prevalent in society. The recent remakes of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have, like their predecessors, maintained an all-vanilla flavor with their female characters, also.
Hollywood has sent a message, and it seems independent filmmakers have followed it. With the exception of "Hood" based horrors that go DTV, black women aren't getting chances in horror. I hope that I'm wrong, that I'm simply too stuck in the middle of Iowa to see the good stuff that's out there, but the fact that so many horrors are being produced and almost all of them are continuing to ignore the abilities of black women is terrifying and insulting.
Here's to hope that we can see progress in horror over the upcoming years. There are a lot of fine black actresses working today, and I'm sure there are plenty more that are fighting for their chance too. The ball's in your court, Hollywood. Break the stereotypes, and we can open a new chapter in horror history. I'm certain that there are a lot of women out there that won't let you down.
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