people of colour

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Get Out: Terror, Tension, and Race in the Modern Horror

Published March 5, 2017 by rmpixie

getout

Get Out (Blumhouse Productions, 1 hr 43 mins., 2017)

The buzz has been on about Get Out since late last year when it was announced that Jordan Peele, award-winning comedian and actor know for the hit comedy series Mad TV and co-creator of Key and Peele, had written and directed his first film, and not only was it a horror, but it carried a message . The hype machine ran rampant with accolades as usual, but this time, it was right. He’s made an excellent horror film that illustrates an everyday fear and paranoia once thought to be exaggerated by most, but now (one would hope) most likely understood by all in today’s politically and racially charged world.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young photographer preparing to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). They plan to visit her parents out of town, and Chris is concerned because Rose, and her family, are white, and he is black. When she reassures him that her parents will happily accept him into the fold, they head up her family estate. After a jarring experience hitting a deer and dealing with suspicious local police, Chris attempts to keep his cool as he is interrogated by Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and her strange brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). Things get even more awkward when a yearly party with their old school family friends conveniently takes place during their weekend visit.

Chris feels not only alienated and scrutinized during his time with Rose, her family, and their white friends, but also that something isn’t quite right. When his interactions with the extremely odd black house staff Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and a black guest (Lakeith Stanfield) at the party go south, his “spidey” senses tell him all isn’t as it seems at the Armitage gathering.

Get Out bridges horror with a mixture of Hitchcock-style suspense and Twilight Zone weirdness, nailing the daily horrors of being a person of colour navigating a systemically racist society at large. The social commentary was so well done that everyone person of colour can nod their heads as they relate to the micro aggressions in the film that are dealt with daily, in fact, there are many themes I want to touch on, but I’ll try to make each observation brief.

A young African-American man, an anti-everyman who is both feared and envied, as the vessel to convey the current social climate was bold, brilliant and well needed. Not since Night of the Living Dead’s Ben (Duane Jones) and that film’s supposed accidental social commentary during the Civil Rights era have we seen such a memorable character. Chris embodies the aspirations of every young Black man and woman who just wants to live unafraid and with all the same opportunities afforded to everyone else in the country touted as “the land of the free”. It’s a heavy load to bear, but Kaluuya plays the character to a “T”. I first saw him as a teenager in a British series called The Fades, where he played the best friend of a boy who had supernatural powers. Kaluuya was hysterically funny then, and his humour has matured with his portrayal of Chris that dripped with irony, while capturing the sincerity and sensitivity of a young man at odds with his acceptance in a literal and figurative sense. I also thought it was clever to make Chris a photographer as we see through his literal lens and point of view. Chris’s friend Rod (LilRey Howery) creates comic relief not to be missed as he personifies Chris’s inner voice telling it like it is. He’s a throwback to the “Black person in a horror film” joke. I was also thrilled to see Erika Alexander from the 90’s sitcom Living Single as the detective Rod tries to enlist for help.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Armitages as well. Keener and Whitford played the slightly off liberal parents with a subversive finesse, bringing to light Peele’s skill at writing them with a complexity that is not often expressed properly. Here, they represented the ingrained ignorance of whites as they assert their supremacy over people of colour without any thought to the person in front of them. It’s a brilliant display of how intent is often masked with a cloak of inclusivity, but only on their terms. While a generalization of White society, it also embodies how Blacks, and people of colour in general, have to pick our battles daily while struggling to keep and define our identities at the same time.

Peele’s use of an interracial relationship as the vehicle for his premise is a no-brainer. Where else can you question your place in society than with two people taking a chance and presenting themselves in the world as they defy archaic social norms? It plays on the paranoia, defensiveness and potentially hidden agendas for those involved in interracial relationships.

Lastly, the film is visually simple and clean, with nice camerawork and set design that stood out as effective signifiers of old money and privilege. He also treated Chris’s loss of control with dream-like sequences that were some of my favourite scenes and reminded me of the underrated Under the Skin.

Jordan Peele succeeds in giving us a smart, well-written thriller/horror filled with a great balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and a viscerally intense uneasiness. Without giving away spoilers, he captures the need for the incessant and historic commodification, exploitation  and abuse of African-American lives (literally and figuratively) with no consequence felt by those exploiters in this supposedly “post-racial” world.

See Get Out and discuss how it makes you feel with everyone you can. Perhaps a film created in a genre that is not usually accepted about a historically ostracized/demonized/shunned yet culturally mined people can open the doors to some sort of social justice, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the face of mainstream horror (and film at large) change.

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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

Pixie Dust Project Gets a Reboot for the Web: An Update

Published May 1, 2015 by rmpixie

PillJarPosterPortrait (1)

 

It has been an interesting journey for Damon Colquhoun and his Pixie Dust project.

Not so long ago, I interviewed him as he started an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a fantasy film about a young girl, her mentally ill mother and a family secret.  While he didn’t make his goal, he did get accepted for a grant fellowship from NBPC 360, a funding initiative by the National Black Programming Consortium media arts organization that is committed to “educating, enlightening, empowering and engaging the American public.”  The Harlem based non-profit strives to “support diverse voices by developing, producing and distributing innovative media about the Black experience and by investing in visionary content makers.”  Since 1979, they have provided content for outlets like PBS and PBS.org among others, and invaluable mentoring for up and coming Black filmmakers.

With this opportunity presented, Colquhoun rewrote Pixie Dust as a 10-part web series including sample footage, and his treatment was the only entry with a script.  The project was almost cut due to its fantasy based subject matter since the committee focuses mainly on non-fiction.  Fortunately some well-known producers, namely Ron Simons who was behind Blue Caprice as well as Deniese Davis who produced the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, fought to keep Pixie Dust in the running.  After passing the muster at “Pitch Black”, the final pitch session where a group of seasoned producers and executives make their final choices, and with the help of cinematographer Arthur Jafa and director Terence Nance as mentors, Colquhoun will get between 50 and 100K for his project.  He is well on his way to a promising breakthrough for programming as the industry becomes more accepting of interesting and unique content for a growing niche market.

Damon Colquhoun pitching his ideas to top industry execs.

Damon Colquhoun pitching Pixie Dust to public television industry execs on April 23rd, 2015. Photo by Lindsey Seide (NBPC)

I am excited that a great organization has recognized the need for science fiction/fantasy in their roster, as many Black and other visible minority viewers crave content including people of colour in a genre that has been lacking in visible minority representation.  Congratulations to Damon as he embarks on his new route with Pixie Dust and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final series.  Stay tuned for more info!

Pixie Dust interview with writer/director Damon Colquhoun

Check out the NBPC site for more information on the organization and one of their series based on stories from the African Diaspora called AfroPop.tv.

 

Pixie Dust: A Journey Into The Fantastic With Director Damon Colquhoun

Published December 23, 2014 by rmpixie

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There is a lot of great talent within the indie film scene, and social media is making that more than evident.  All it takes is a follow here, a tweet there, and you are exposed to writers and directors who have a unique vision.  One such person is Damon Colquhoun.  Based in Harlem, New York, this photographer, writer and filmmaker used his multi-faceted talents to create a short film which was a 2013 finalist in Ron Howard’s Project Imagint10n, based on his winning photo “Manhattan’s Many Moons”.  The film, entitled Transporter, is about a young man Darien, whose family is involve in shady, criminal activity.  Darien has a unique ability that is doomed to be exploited by them, unless he can escape.  This 10 minute film is a dark, grim tale of a young man trying to leave his harsh reality behind.  I was really intrigued by this short, which will now be a feature film, and I loved the style and tone of it, so of course when Colquhoun let me know about his next project, Pixie Dust, he got my pixie attention.

Pixie Dust is an urban fantasy about a powerful 13-year-old girl named Faye and her mentally ill mother. Faye’s mother suffers from a mental illness which sends her into violent spells. She refuses to take her medication, forcing Faye to find a way to get her back on track. Through Faye’s journey, she discovers a magical family secret which could help her save her mother, but it could also kill Faye.”   (Excerpt from http://www.damoncolquhoun.com and the Indiegogo campaign currently underway to fund the project, but more on that later…)

I wanted to find out about the mind behind these dark and fantastical stories, so I got a chance to ask him a few questions about his life as an artist, the project and his process.

 

1.  You started out with an art degree, and through your artistic journey, made a stop in the film world.  What got you interested in film?
 
I actually started as an actor. I studied at a pretty serious acting conservatory, and was in few indie films. During my training I kept getting into trouble because I had this urge to control staging, and other actors’ performances. I would get really frustrated if one of my classmates didn’t deliver what I thought they were capable of. Finally, one of my instructors told me I might want to consider directing.
 
I directed a couple of things, got fed up with the no budget process and went back to school. I studied art because I wanted a career in VFX [visual effects]. I figured, learning VFX would allow me to make films on my own, but once I got a job in the industry, the 9-5 hustle took over. Plus I really didn’t care for the tediousness of the work.
 
I went back to directing because all-in-all it’s the right place for someone like me: a jack-of-all trades who’s a control freak with stories to tell and a clear vision through which to present them. Plus, new technology allowed me to make movies the way I wanted to.
 
2.  Tell us a little about the melding of fairy and fay lore with the story of Pixie Dust.
 
I wanted to paint a picture of a modern urban fairy. Some fairy traits are incorporated in an anecdotal way to tease those who know fairy lore. At the start of the film, it’s not obvious that Faye is a fairy, but, for those in the know, there are hints. The most obvious hint is her name, then there’s the fact that Faye doesn’t care for salt. Their landlord is going to wear her sweater inside out as a way to protect herself when delivering the bad news to Faye.
 
Fairies are nature spirits, so Faye is there to restore balance within nature’s black sheep, humans, hence her ability to see people’s inner beast (a metaphor for [their] psychological issues).
 
I also wanted to subvert the popular image of pixie dust. Faye ends up finding her own kind of pixie dust in the form of her mother’s medication, but medication is a double-edged sword: they have side effects. A fairy can be both “good” and “bad,” the viewers have to ask themselves, are Faye’s actions ultimately good or bad?
 
3.  Your cast for Pixie Dust looks amazing! (Mia Guzman as Faye; Rocio Mendez as her mother; and Mary Looram from Orange Is The New Black as the Landlord) How influenced are you by diversity, and in light of the recent Chris Rock essay, how difficult is it to stay true to your community and how it is represented within the independent film world?
 
Thank you! Getting your hands on a great cast is tough. So, yeah, I got lucky.
 
In terms of diversity, it comes organically for me. Growing up in NYC’s Upper West Side means that my world was full of diversity, therefore, diversity is essential to an honest retelling of my experiences. It’s the story that dictates the specific variety of diversity. In a film like Transporter, diversity meant a cast that was African-American, Haitian, Nigerian, and Israeli.
 
Filmmakers have to be true to their stories. Color is not the important thing, ethnicity is. Americans are products of their ethnic backgrounds, which are steeped in history and culture, which create a distinct POV. But look, if you’re a filmmaker who grew up around nothing but middle-American White people, then please don’t add a token Black person to your film. Instead, make certain that you look deep enough into your world to reflect in your film the cultural isolation you were raised in and what effect that had on you and therefore your story.
 
 
4.  With your short film Transporter, your main character Darien is an introvert and lives in his head.  I wondered at times how mentally fit he was.  In Pixie Dust, the film focuses Faye and her mother’s mental illness.  I can see a thread with both films that deal with mental illness using a fantasy backdrop, making it easy to open the subject up to discussion.  Was that your intention in order to address this seemingly still taboo subject in the African-American community?
 
Believe it or not, I had no intention of focusing on the theme of mental illness in the way I have, but it’s a personal topic to me, so it happened organically.
 
I was shot when I was 8 years old. The bullet fell out of the sky, hit my leg, just missing my head, ripping a chunk out of my thigh. I didn’t tell my parents about it, just my sister, so the only treatment I got was a gauze pad and some ointment. From that point on, it felt like death could just descend upon me, seemingly out of nowhere. Many years later I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and OCD. Through therapy, I’ve learned to manage it all pretty well.
 
Once I came to understand the symptoms of anxiety-based mental illnesses, I began to see it everywhere in my Harlem neighborhood: it’s a look people have in their eyes; it’s in their breathing pattern; it’s in the way they communicate or fail to communicate. It’s wild. So yeah, I guess as a filmmaker, mental illness is my raison d’être.
 
5.  Tell us a bit about Faye’s character and where she draws her strength.
 
She’s actually modeled after my wife who is 5’, 100 lbs, but grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The schoolyard chant [in those days] went something like this:
 
Come from the Ville
Know I’m chill
Picture me runnin
Must be buggin
Walk up in your face
Beat you down and walk away
 
So yeah, Faye is a fighter. She’s uncomfortable showing emotion, but is full of love. Unfortunately, her mother’s constant need for care absorbs most of it. Faye [is also] a naturally attractive girl – the type who attracts boys without trying to, or wanting to. The boy-girl dynamic is still foreign to her – she’s got a lot on her plate. The fact that the boys like her means that a lot of girls don’t like her. Faye has to prove her toughness once every couple of school years.           
 
Faye draws her strength from her grandmother. Her grandmother was a fairy as well. There’s a confidence that comes from knowing that you have one more weapon than everybody else. For some people, it’s brains, for some it’s brawn. For Faye’s grandmother, it was brains and magical brawn – likewise for Faye.
 
6.  Do you find you have more freedom for storytelling in the fantasy genre?
I would say so. Reality is a bitch! It’s often hard to digest. So trying to get an audience to explore a difficult subject head on is often asking too much of people. The things you explore and say in a fantasy film can certainly be more overt. At the same time, it’s easier to lose the subtleties – the humanity – when you make an all out fantasy film. That’s why I prefer something closer to a hybrid, like Urban Fantasies.
 
 
7.  You mention films like Take Shelter (which I loved), and Melancholia having a similar vibe to Pixie Dust.  What are some your favorite sci-fi, fantasy or horror films?
As I mention earlier, I like hybrids. There’s nothing like watching human beings interacting without reservation. At the same time, there’s nothing like watching a human being fly!
Here is his list (which is pretty darn great!):
Sci-Fi:
La Jetée – Delicatessen – Children of Men – Battle Royal – Stalker – 12 Monkeys – Alien – Empire Strikes Back
 
Fantasy:
Tin Drum – Blade – Beasts of the Southern Wild – Pan’s Labyrinth – Brotherhood of the Wolf – TLOTR Trilogy (epic) – The Dark Knight – The Wiz
 
Horror:
Let The Right One In – The Birds – Rosemary’s Baby – The Shining – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Suicide Club – Halloween
 
  

Now that we know a little about the film and the mind behind it, I hope the insider info makes you want to see it as much as I do!  This project is in pre-production, with an Indiegogo campaign that will close on January 2, 2015.  $15,000 is needed to create Pixie Dust, with majority of the money going to actually paying cast and crew.

Let the holiday spirit inspire you!  If you can make a contribution, please do, and if you’re not sure, go to the link below where you get a chance to read his great script to help make your decision.  How unique is that?!

I think it is important that we support independent filmmakers who make genre films that defy cookie cutter cinema these days.

Make your contributions here:

http://igg.me/at/pixiedustfilm/x/3950522

and check out all the in-depth info about the production!

Thanks to Damon for taking the time to answer a few questions so candidly, and I can’t wait to see the finished film.

Good luck!

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