women of colour

All posts tagged women of colour

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

SL Cover Final

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

Ex Machina and the Puppetry of the Patriarch

Published April 26, 2015 by rmpixie

exmachina

Ex Machina (2015, 1 hr 48 mins)

 

Artificial intelligence has been debated for many years about whether it will be the downfall of humankind.  Stephen Hawking has famously warned against developing A.I., citing its dangers of a total takeover of humanity.  Writer Alex Garland, the mind behind Sunshine, and The Beach, gets his directorial debut with Ex Machina, where the controversy goes much further than A.I. and into the realm of misogyny and male superiority.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coder that has won a contest to work at the secret research facility of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive computer genius and mogul who has created a Google-like company called Bluebook.  It is here that Caleb learns of his task:  to test the artificial intelligence of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a fully functioning robot who just might be too real to handle.

This film has been getting rave reviews, and objectively, I can see why.  The writing, the sets, and the acting are all top-notch, not to mention the incredible C.G.I. involved in creating Ava’s mechanics and the pulsating heartbeat-like scoring, however as a woman, and a woman of colour, I have to call foul on several points.  ****(If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further!)*****

First, Nathan is a genius but he has no respect for women, as we see with his treatment of Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), his beautiful and silent housekeeper, as well as Ava, his creation of the moment.  His ego and false sense of superiority also gets way ahead of him as he manipulates all who come in contact with his world, giving the character full license to behave badly.

My second point comes from the notion of sexuality and race.  In 2015, there are still many issues with race and gender, and it becomes more complex and insidious as we forge into the future.  With the character of Nathan, we get an idea of his sexually dominant leanings as Caleb gets to know him. When Caleb challenges Nathan’s choice of a female robot instead of a grey box to house the A.I., implying that results would be skewed due to Caleb’s attraction to Ava, Nathan uses the example of a preference for Black women, or “chicks”, when describing nature’s ability to hardwire humans for seemingly random attractions.  This example was obnoxious and kind of played out, and I wondered why Nathan didn’t use Asian women as an example instead because plot wise, that was obviously his preference.

Nathan’s odd choices for a genius would soon be illustrated with his perverse collection of A.I. dolls, where there is a distinct difference.  Just in case there were some of you wondering if Ava was the only choice, never fear, because Nathan also builds Asian, Nordic looking and Africa-American prototypes, used, abused and hung up in their own little closets.  What is extremely poignant to me is that the African-American robot Jasmine (Symara A. Templeman) had a beautiful body like the others, but no face, and later on, no head.  To everyone else, this may not be of any interest, but to me it speaks volumes.  I see it as a not so subtle knock to Black women and their standing in society; the faceless, objectified plaything that really has no merit or garners no understanding.  She is just to be used and discarded.  The same fate happens to the other prototypes, but they at least have faces, an identity, albeit one-dimensional.

Dear reader, if you have come this far, please stay with me for a moment longer.  As a woman who has loved horror and sci-fi since I was a child, I get that it has been a mostly white male dominated genre.  I get that women are objectified in many ways, and as a woman, I have to pick my battles, because there is a thing called context.  I cannot feel anything but disappointed with the writer’s choices in this case because I see through them.  I identify with that faceless Black robot because it is a perpetuated sexual stereotype that Black women are still seen as sexual chattel but not valued; that their opinion and intelligence is disregarded, illustrated by the robot’s missing head.  Garland takes racial stereotypes further with Nathan’s Japanese housekeeper Kyoko, who is portrayed as completely subservient.

Thirdly was the amount of nudity.  I am not a prude, and I have seen my fair share of nakedness and violence in horror and sci-fi films.  Most of it is unnecessary and cater once again to the male heterosexual viewer, and I have come to an unfortunate and begrudging acceptance when a female body part is flashed or slashed on the screen.  Nathan’s brutality with his naked creations was, however, disturbing and overdone to me, as was Ava’s transition into “flesh and blood” which seemed, without body-shaming Vikander, if that was in fact her body, creepy and a tad too pre-pubescent.

Garland’s United Nations of lady-bots was perhaps a step in the right direction, but the blatant misogyny and stereotypes, including the one of the God complex male genius whose first inclination is to make himself a robot harem, all but clobbered this viewer over the head.  In the end, Ava may have cared more about her own motivations than the plight of women, (after all she isn’t real right?), and some may think that her final actions were a battle cry for feminists, but it just seemed heavy-handed, predictable and buried any accountability for the treatment of women in the film.

This story could have been much more than a mad genius working out his sexual fantasies, and I’m going to assume that many people are going to dismiss my findings as overly sensitive or they ignore the fact that Nathan made fake women; that they weren’t real and therefore gave him license to abuse and lord over them at will.   I pose to those people this question:  Why, in this day and age, is a film that is considered smart and a potential representation of our future, still using male dominance and misogyny as a baseline?  I would hope in the realms of fantasy and science fiction we could get past that and be more progressive but obviously this is not the case, as women in technology fields still struggle to find their footing (can you say Gamergate?).  Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is.  It’s truly a shame that Garland, who penned one of the greatest female characters in horror, Selena played by Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later, has come up with such a disappointing view of women masked as a dialogue on artificial intelligence.

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