women of colour

All posts tagged women of colour

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

 

 

 

Oh Canada. A Woman Of Colour and Her Perspective On Horror In The Great White North

Published December 4, 2014 by vfdpixie

I am a fan of many things.  At the top of my list is the horror genre.  From the first scary story my late mother told me when I was a kid to the last horror film festival I attended, I’m all in.  I am also a fan of my country.  I love Canada.  Being born in the States and relocating here at an early age, I consider myself a bred Canadian.  I love our way of living here, the at times maddening weather, and our culture of easy-going politeness, tolerance and multiculturalism that is world-renowned.  When the two combine, however, I am sorely disappointed because the obvious mixture of culture that we experience day in and day out is lacking in the indie horror film industry here.

Last year, my best friend and I went to a screening of The Dirties.  Heavily endorsed by indie giant Kevin Smith, this Canadian independent film documents 2 high school students as they make a film about killing their bullies which becomes a deadly obsession for one of them.  I was an outsider as a child, with very strict parents and not a lot of money.  I had a small group of nerdy friends and we were all tormented by bullies at some point, so I was really interested in the subject matter.  Both my friend and I were enjoying the dark, quirky humour until one scene in particular. The boys recreate a scene from Pulp Fiction, and one of them is in blackface as he portrays Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield.  I’m not sure if this was intended to show how much of an idiot the main character Matt was, as his friend let him know that his characterization was inappropriate, but I was let down.  Let down because the significance of that historical offence was somehow beyond the filmmaker’s radar.  Let down because that historical offence was made light of.  After the film, my friend also pointed out that even though the cast was diverse, the bullies were people of colour.  The filmmaker failed on two points.  He not only stereotyped the Black bully, but himself as White and ignorant of other cultures.  We approached another movie-goer after the film, another Black woman, who also notice the scene and was also disappointed.  Having discussed it at length with my friend, I let it sit with the other things in my mental file called “Really People?!!”, but stayed silent, like a good Canadian.

Just recently I attended a horror film festival featuring only Canadian horror.  I  really love this festival, and enjoy all the chatty fans and great independent films made right here on my doorstep.  Many of the films were great, and I don’t take issue with the festival itself, but there were two movies that really stuck in my craw, and overwhelmed by disappointment as a rabid horror fan, I can stay silent no longer.

The first was Bloody Knuckles.  It was getting quite a lot of buzz as being offensive but really funny, and had a premise similar to Idle Hands.  The creator of an offensive comic, Travis, angers a local Asian mob boss and is punished by losing his hand.  The dismembered hand is reanimated and wreaks havoc in Travis’ life and aims to get revenge.  One of the programmers of the event forewarned the audience that the movie was offensive.  Note taken.  The comic book covers depicting the Asian mob boss in an act of sodomy and an African military officer as a cannibal were vulgar and ignorant, yes, but it illustrated the character’s mindset.  What I couldn’t understand was why Travis says the “N” word to show that he has no boundaries when he is questioned about the inappropriateness of his work.  It was just unnecessary, since the point was already proven:  the character was obnoxious and had no filters.  There was no need to utter that word, which unfortunately carries so much weight to this very day, and immediately alienated me as an audience member.  Yes, I have been called the “N” word, and yes, it stings regardless of the context.  Apparently, the director did the film to, among other things, speak out against censorship, but when that word comes out of any mouth, White or otherwise, it is never appropriate.  And the portrayal of a gay character, the Asian thugs and mob boss were no better.  Aside from the great special effects of the reanimated hand, there was no real redemption here.  Travis didn’t seem to learn any real lessons about his character, so this film was a cultural fail.  To my surprise, it won as best film in the festival.  I am disturbed by this because it makes me wonder if I saw the same film as the festival jury, and it makes me wonder why something so blatantly offensive would charm an audience.

The icing on the alienation cake was the film Kingdom Come.  Nine strangers wake up in an abandoned hospital with no memory of how they got there and no way of getting out.  They must work together to escape and deal with demons, both in their hearts and in the halls of the hospital.  This film had so much potential with its large ensemble cast and interesting premise, but I was underwhelmed by the glaring racial stereotypes presented.  A character named Roger was a rapist.  He just happened to be Black, aggressive, and loud.  Then there was a Middle Eastern or South Asian man, Nadir, who was portrayed as weasely and hated Blacks, especially Roger.  Nadir accidentally kills his daughter when he finds out she had been dating a Black man, who is framed for her death.  She comes back to haunt her father, and in her rage, and to shame him, uses the “N” word.  Yet again, it rears its ugly head.  It made me wonder what the motivation for the actors who took these roles was, because I am still baffled.  The only redeeming factors for this film?  The production value including the great opening credits, the hospital setting which was really effective, and the stand-out performance by Jason Martorino as Daniel, whom I wished I had seen in something other than this film.

A note to Canadian writers and directors:  DO NOT USE THE “N” WORD. EVER.  It is vulgar and ugly and lazy.  Even if it comes out of a visible minority’s mouth.  Another note:  STOP USING ONE-DIMENSIONAL RACIAL STEREOTYPES.  I wonder if these images and roles are perpetuated because the White majority is tired of being politically correct and is just angry that they have to be sensitive to “The Other”; that we are here and no longer want to be silenced or parodied.  Or maybe in order to be provocative, minorities become casualties at the expense of the majority’s creative process, if we are considered for roles at all.  Please realize that horror has nothing to do with race.  It is an entertaining genre that many are drawn to because we love to be scared, and you will find a scary story in every culture, so when these very images, these words, these slurs for any cultural group are uttered or perpetuated, they are hurtful and immediately excludes and divides us.  I am by no means asking for a gag order, but rather to open your eyes to fans who are outside of your 14-30 year old White male demographic and get creative instead of regurgitating racial tropes from bygone eras that offend, alienate and disappoint.

I am a horror fan through and through.  And I am a woman of colour, a Canadian woman of colour, and I no longer want to feel invisible.  I am surrounded by diversity, which is what I think this country excels at in real life, but on the indie screen, it lacks in representation and scope.  Step outside your door, and you will see teachers, artists, writers, doctors and business owners of many hues.  The black rapists, racist minorities and stereotypes are not our absolutes.  Go to comic and horror conventions and you will see racially diverse horror fans with dollars that support your craft, not to mention the huge amount of women, and women of colour, who live for the genre, but that is another post altogether.  I therefore challenge all independent horror film makers out there, indeed any film maker, to think outside of the box, because you are Canadian, you can do better, and I expect more from you.

See Canada for what it is in 2014: cast some people of colour in roles because they can act or represent the character fully, not because of your laziness and what old school racial rules dictate.  They don’t apply anymore.  Network television is beating you by leaps and bounds with shows like Sleepy Hollow, Falling Skies, and Grimm with their racially diverse casts.  Take a cue from your crew, because when I read the credits to your films, I see a lot of diversity there.  Give me an Asian final girl, a Black hero/heroine outside of “the ‘hood”, a South Asian family that battles a creature, or, and stay with me here, Native-Canadian cast members. Why?  Because when you finally take your blinders off, you’ll see we’ve been here all along, supporting you.

 

 

 

 

 

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