An essential documentary that explores the links between African-American history and the evolution of the horror genre.
“Black history is black horror.”
Based on the 2011 non-fiction book Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present by Robin R. Means Coleman, this enlightening documentary film from Xavier Burgin examines the relationship between African-American history and the evolution of the horror genre. Featuring interviews with Coleman and various academics, as well as Tony Todd, Jordan Peele, author Tananarive Due and many more, Horror Noire doesn’t limit itself to a pedagogical rundown and analysis of black representation in the cinematic genre but exposes how horror has, over the years, become a way to address and fight societal trauma.
Through unique and lived perspectives on what “horror” means, the documentary delves into how D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth Of A Nation is a horror film, “especially if you’re a black person”. From that point on, Burgin chronologically advances through the decades, from 1933’s King Kong, 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead, the blaxploitation movement of the 1970s, the representation nadir of the 1980s and the “renaissance” of the 1990s and 2000s, to expose how harmful stereotypes and ugly depictions have shaped the history of black representation in Hollywood.
It’s a thoroughly insightful watch that approaches the shameful tropes that have permeated so many films – from the “black magic the white man seldom sees”, the figure of the Magical Negro to the sacrificial “first to die” tokenistic roles – to better explain societal and cultural evolutions, as well as their impact on personal identity. Crucially, the documentary never shies away from celebrating the films that have become important milestones for black representation on the big screen. It justifiably lingers on Candyman and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, both modern landmarks that have elevated the horror genre’s cultural and politically charged themes, the latter being, according to director Jordan Peele, a direct response to black inclusion in cinema.
Seek out Horror Noire: it is both an essential watch for horror hounds – who are treated to dives into lesser known classics like 1974’s Abby and reappraisals of more recent films like 2011’s Attack The Block and 2016’s The Girl With All The Gifts – as well as an accessible testimony to the power of representation that engages a broader audience on a human level.
Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror / Directed by Xavier Burgin (US 2019). Starts October 15.