Women in Horror Month

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

Published February 20, 2017 by vfdpixie

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!

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Women In Horror 2015: An Interview with Ashlee Blackwell, Our Graveyard Shift Sister

Published February 12, 2015 by vfdpixie

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When I first started this blog, I did it because I loved horror and had something to say about it.  That was my first intention, just to write about what I loved, but I always wondered if there was anyone else like me out there, a Black woman who had been immersed in horror from an early age. I would soon learn that I was not alone.

I still have the email my best friend sent me in 2013, asking me if I had heard of a blog called Graveyard Shift Sisters.  When I looked it up I was floored!  Another Black woman thoroughly obsessed with horror?  Can it be?  I sent the creator and founder of the site, Ashlee Blackwell, a quick message telling her how happy I was to find the site, whose apt tagline is “Purging The Black Female Horror Fan From The Margins”, and that started my fan girl following of a blog that has truly strengthened and transformed the way I see horror and women of color.

Based in Philadelphia, Blackwell has had a passion for horror from a young age, incorporating that love into her professional life with a thesis focused on women filmmakers and feminism in horror that earned her a M.A. in Media and Cultural Studies.  She is a writer, an “avid media consumer”, and has been a panelist and speaker at several conferences on women in horror such as Geek Girl Con 2014 and the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference.  For this double whammy Black History Month and Women in Horror Month, I wanted to get some of her insights on women of color in horror, and I was lucky enough to have this busy horror academic and brand new editor of Ax Wound Zine answer a few questions.

 

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The lovely Ashlee Blackwell!

 

1.  What is your first memory of horror?

I remember watching Beetlejuice for the first time on VHS in my apartment living room on N. 39th street in West Philadelphia. Maybe it was a trailer, I don’t entirely remember fine details but I do remember standing in the middle of the living room mesmerized by the images on one of those huge wooden-paneled televisions that was all the rage back in the 80s. First thing I remember thinking was that I was “weird” which, sounds sad I suppose, but I guess more accurately, ‘”different”[…]because it was already programmed in my brain that girls aren’t supposed to like “stuff like this” so much. I think I was about five then.

But I loved all the talk of ghosts, this pale chick wearing all black, sandworms, and the wildly inappropriate Michael Keaton title character. From there I just kept my eye out for any fringe TV or cinema that dealt with these themes. I didn’t have a way to express my love for a genre I wasn’t quite sure how to label back then, I just knew I loved the fantastic.

 

2.  What were your expectations for the Graveyard Shift Sisters site, and how have you seen it grow?

Graveyard Shift Sisters started with a question: Am I the only Black female horror fan? Answering myself, I said that this question is ridiculous, so let me start this blog as a clarion call and also tell people I’m sick of feeling invisible in this genre, and do a thoughtful job of showcasing all of the Black women who have appeared in horror films over time.

I let my creative expand from there, giving other women the opportunity to have their say. Everything you see on the blog now was not planned or intended, it just happened. If anything, it’s been an exercise in really challenging my imagination to produce ways of serving online content that’s fairly unique. I think and hope I’ve been successful at doing so.

 

3.  You approach discussions about horror in an accessible but highly academic manner, which I love, and present a place where you showcase other women who do the same.  Why is that important, especially with the specific subject matter of women of color in horror?

Horror in general struggles for respect in academia. You won’t (or can) believe how many prefaces or introductions I read in books about horror where the author and/or editor laments about reactions of their critical work. How many have had to stop looking for “approval” and really believe that the work they’re doing matters.

Women of color are an important subject matter to discuss in horror simply because they’re a part of the genre. They’ve played the roles of voodoo conjurers and maids all the way up to a heroine here and there with a plethora of authors, bloggers, etc. in between. And it’s taking quite a bit of work to do the digging to prove that Black women have a rich history here.

I have a grad degree in the humanities so I’ve been trained through-the-mud to do this kind of work, and come from a university where it’s emphasized to ‘stay grounded’ in a sense, when it comes to our work. I don’t “try” I just “do”, so it makes me thankful that particular lesson translated well so that readers of the blog didn’t feel isolated but affirmed and enlightened.

 

4.  You are now the Editor for Ax Wound Zine, so congratulations!  What do you hope to bring to the table?

We’re still in the phases of giving it order. Since Hannah Neurotica, its founder and genius, decided to embark upon its revamp as a blog, she is also looking towards a future for the zine to gain its stride again as physical media. There’s a lot of planning that needs to happen and I’m just lucky we work so well together.

Ultimately, I’m looking forward to shining a light on fresh and well-established voices from both the arts and academic communities who have invested an immense amount of effort into the horror genre and feminism, both men and women. The discourse on the two has only magnified since, for example, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film and Feminist Film Theory have been published.

Additionally, I want this demographic to be as culturally and ethnically diverse as possible. With artists and academics of color, they tend to bring forth concepts of intersectionality in their texts and as horror moves forward; this is a terrain that has not been well trekked and feels to me like an evolution where we look at how horror looks at matters of race and culture in the 21st century, more importantly from creators of color.

 

 5.  This may be difficult, but if you could narrow it down, what are your top 5 favorite horror movies?

I never in good confidence can answer this question without feeling like I’m betraying the other 1000 horror films that fall into a “favorite” category. There are particular films I love for very specific reasons. It’s difficult because it’s impossible for someone like me who is a self- confessed neurotic about horror. It’s my favorite film genre because it’s the only one where I have much more open mind and willing to watch anything under the moniker. Anything. That’s probably scary in and of itself.

 

Although Blackwell works tirelessly to have the horror genre seen in a more serious, academic way, she is always up for some fun!  Honouring the nostalgic feeling of watching a late-night horror film, she started #FridayNightHorror, a way to connect with other horror movie fans and share a discourse via Twitter and the ever popular hashtag.  Followers comment in real time, like they are at one giant sleepover, while watching some favourite classic titles like Lamberto Brava’s Demons.  It’s a great way of building community, and you can read about its genesis here.  Be sure to join in this Friday February 13th for a live tweet of none other than Friday the 13th Part 1 at 10 p.m. E.S.T.

A big thank you to Ashlee for her efforts to bring horror fans and women of color enlightenment and a place to flourish, and for her time!  Be sure to check out her site:

 

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com

 

and follow all the action on Twitter:

 

https://twitter.com/GraveyardSister

https://twitter.com/AxWoundZine

 

 

 

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