Black women in Horror

All posts tagged Black women in Horror

Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by rmpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

Crazyhead’s Raquel: Susan Wokoma, Women in Horror and the Next Generation of Slayers

Published February 20, 2017 by rmpixie

crazyhead

Crazyhead (Netflix, 2016)

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) was a phenomenon that continues to live on. A TV series spawned from the 1992 cult film, the fandom for a spunky high school student and her crew of friends as they battled vampires, demons and other supernatural fare while dealing with real issues knew no bounds, and new fans of her quest to save the world from creepy crawlies spring up even to this day.

Enter a new generation of shows that have found a home on Netflix. Here, writers and directors have the free reign to offer more than your local cable provider with shows like smash hits Stranger Things (2016), Luke Cage (2016), and Daredevil (2015). There’s also room and the desire for many international contributions as well, including the 2016 comedy horror from E4, Crazyhead.

Crazyhead is the story of Amy (Cara Theobold) and Raquel (Susan Wokoma), two young women who suffer from what doctors think is a mental illness. They see things – people with demonic faces – and are continually told that it’s all in their heads. When they meet one night after a frightening attack and realize they both see the same thing, they join forces to destroy these demons on earth. Raquel also has a special lineage that makes her of interest to the devilish clan, and along with Amy’s perverse puppy-dog of a friend Jake (Lewis Reeves), they go through some crazy hijinks to find answers and not get killed.

With this being Women in Horror and Black History Month, I must focus on British-Nigerian Susan Wokoma, the woman behind the off-the-hook Raquel. I first noticed her in hysterically funny and outrageous Chewing Gum (2015-2017) as the main character’s religious and fearful sister Cynthia. Her performance kept me laughing and cringing, and I was thrilled when I saw her in Crazyhead. Here, she once again kills with one liners and holds her own as the sharp-tongued and zero-filtered but vulnerable Raquel, who just wants to kick some demon ass and figure out life as a young woman with this unbelievable vocation. Wokoma breathes a vibrancy into the character that allows her to take up space and be present, even declaring at one point that she deserves better from Amy since she is a “strong, powerful black woman.” Even though Raquel has issues connecting with people and making friends, she has a great relationship with her patient brother Tyler (Arinzé Kene), full of playful jabs, sibling rivalry and lots of love. I also applaud the writer Howard Overman for making her confident in the way she looks and her space as an attractive black woman. Raquel gets “hers”, she is sexual, she is attractive and doesn’t look to others for validation, even though she may be looking for love. It is refreshing to see a black female character in a leading role own her sexuality in a healthy, non-stereotypical way like it was meant to be treated; like it always had a place at the table. North America should take note of this representation of female sexuality in general.

 

Her counterpart Amy is the perfect foil for her zany observations and plans with Amy’s voice of reason as a helpful, if ignored, counter argument for Raquel’s actions. Together they are a believable representation of young women in today’s world trying to carve out a space for themselves while dealing with the trials of being “normal”. This brings to light a couple of things: it shows how as a woman, your mental health is sometimes glossed over with medications and misunderstanding, and how once they found each other, Amy and Raquel’s bond strengthened their courage and belief in themselves. Although they have some rocky moments in their relationship, it is a real sisterhood.  In terms of mental illness, the title is a touch misleading as they are not actually mentally ill but battling supernatural forces.  They are however, at the mercy of either indifferent mental health professionals or ones that have an agenda.  Either way, this brings out how those living with mental illness may go mismanaged or pushed out of the medical system without much thought to their situation.

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Crazyhead is a comparable British counterpart to Buffy. It holds it’s own as a show, but it wouldn’t be here if Buffy hadn’t blazed a trail, and that’s ok. Joss Whedon paved the way for shows to push the envelope and have fun doing it.  Like Whedon, Crazyhead’s  writer and producer Howard Overman ensures that the dialogue is sharp and funny with a good amount of raunch, and thanks to the cast members, the delivery is on point.  He’s worn the same hats and worked his magic for The Adventures of Merlin (2008-2012), as well as being the creator for The Misfits (2009-2013), Atlantis (2013-2015), and the UK Dirk Gently (2010-2012). Each of these series has come in with a bang, created a huge following and left before they overstayed their welcome. I have complete confidence that Crazyhead will do the same and make a lasting memory in the world of #BlackGirlMagic as well as in the minds of horror comedy fans for years to come.

Crazyhead is streaming on Netflix now, so do yourself a favour and watch!

Spook Lights 2: More Southern Gothic Horror for the Soul

Published January 23, 2017 by rmpixie

 

 

spooklights2

Spook Lights 2:  Southern Gothic Horror

(Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2017, Kindle Edition)

 

From childhood scares to the horrific and sensual, Spook Lights 2: Southern Gothic Horror gives us more of the steamy Charleston, South Carolina-based horror from author and editor Eden Royce.

Currently based in the U.K., Royce has stayed faithful to her Southern roots, and while she is a fan of the supernatural in general, this time around she decided to focus on the human side of horror, inspired by wise words from her beloved grandmother about being wary of humans and not movie monsters.

This second collection takes the foreboding and magic of the first and once again weaves it into everyday life with stories like To-Do List, The Dating Pool, and Blood Read. Other stories like Laughter of Crows and Haints of Azalea Hall blur the lines between the living and the dead, and there is a timelessness with each one that makes you feel a nostalgic yearning from within.

Royce is very good at incorporating a nonchalant acceptance with each tradition of magic. The everyday fables and superstitions are like a collective memory or common knowledge with the characters; ingrained within the communities as a living history. They remind me of my own West Indian background and old wives’ tales I would hear as a child, casually tossed into conversations without the blink of an eye.

The historical content in the stories is just as rich as the first, but the human element prevalent in this collection. She uses the fragility of uncertainty within our human existence and reaffirms it with ancestral root magic and powerful women. Doubts soon dissipate as each character sees their true selves be it good or bad, and they either succumb or escape the terrors that plague them.

Her final story Folk will resonate with readers for many reasons. I myself will go back to read it several times and glean something different each time I do, but I think it tells us to remember where we come from and celebrate or take heed of it.

Eden Royce definitely remembers her roots, and not only revels in them, but documents her ancestral traditions, showing her pride in this wonderful sequel set in a sensual and mystical world.

Spook Lights 2: Southern Gothic Horror is available now on amazon here, and check out the rest of her writing here.

Follow her on her sites:

www.edenroyce.com

www.darkgeisha.wordpress.com

http://www.twitter.com/EdenRoyce

And read my review of her first volume here.

Southern Magic with Eden Royce’s Spook Lights

Published May 20, 2015 by rmpixie

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Spook Lights:  Southern Gothic Horror (135 pages, Kindle Editon, 2015)

 

As an avid horror reader, I am always open to new stories and writers, but I admit I can get bored when I read the same themes over and over again.  The Graveyardshiftsisters site features women of colour horror writers putting their own stamp on the genre, and one such author is Eden Royce, a U.K. based, African-American writer and editor who has contributed to several horror anthologies and written her own novellas.  My first introduction to her work was Containment, a unique story about a devil-human hybrid and his battle with a formidable entity which I really enjoyed, so I was happy to hear of her new collection honouring her Southern roots.

Sea sirens, enchantments and spirits from beyond take you on a mystical journey in Royce’s new anthology Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror.  Named after ghostly marsh lights and set in her home town of Charleston, South Carolina, this collection of short stories explore her heritage of root, a type of conjure magic known in the region, the supernatural and the richly diverse ancestry of the area.

From revenge to family secrets, each story is a blend of folklore and traditions.  Some reach back in time while others keep a strong foothold in modern-day horror, but they all represent facets of the Southern Gothic.  Cautionary tales like Hag Ride and Rhythm will make you more careful of what you wish for, while War Chief and Since Hatchet Was a Hammer tells of inner strength to overcome both earthly and otherworldly dangers.  My personal favorite was the bittersweet Doc Buzzard’s Coffin which hit all the marks:  suspense, the supernatural, and the charm of a child’s perspective.  Each character carries their own personal horror but there is a consistent vein throughout this mosaic of tales: the sensuality, strength and power of a woman.  Her spirit cannot be held or tamed for long; overcoming adversity by unleashing her natural powers.

There is a warmth to Royce’s writing, the dialogue rich with a Southern drawl and sensibilities that convey a strong pride for legends passed on for generations.  She evokes tangible environments to the point where you can almost feel warm breezes blow and smell the pungent scents that she describes, but Royce’s ability to incorporate these legends into horror stories is the strength of the collection; it makes the reader want to know more about these mysterious traditions.

If you’re looking to add to your summer reading list, Spook Lights is a must for those humid summer nights that keep magical secrets just beyond your reach.

 

Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror can be purchased now (for a steal I might add!) from Amazon here, and there will be a release party via Facebook on June 6th.  Check out the details here, and join in!

If you want more info on the rest of her writings check out her sites:

www.edenroyce.com

www.darkgeisha.wordpress.com

www.twitter.com/EdenRoyce

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