Black history is Black horror.
– Tananarive Due
One of Tananrive Due’s comments early on in the Shudder’s Horror Noire documentary will live on in my mind forever because of how it gets right to the meat of the relationship between Blackness and the horror genre.
I love learning things and I spend a lot of time being afraid of things – especially the things I’m learning about – so Horror Noire, Shudder’s new documentary about the history of Black people (and Blackness) in the horror genre is right up my alley.
Back when I was watching Eli Roth’s AMC docuseries History of Horror and livetweeting some of the episodes, one of my recurring complaints was about the whiteness of horror history as they portrayed it. Across six episodes (I didn’t watch the ghost story one because I am a baby), there were very few experts and actors of color that got to let their horror knowledge shine.
The absence of Black people in a series about a genre that used Black people as monsters and monsters as metaphors for Black people… rubbed me the wrong way.
Directed by Xavier Burgin and based on Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman’s book of the same name (which is conveniently in my wishlist…), Horror Noire revolves around a hundred-year history of Black horror and lets Black experts – actors, directors, and writers – talk about their experiences with the genre.
From the start – them starting at Get Out and showing the reaction to Jordan Peele as an unexpected master of horror – I knew this documentary would be the kind of horror documentary I needed. I needed the connections that they made and I needed to see other Black people talk positively about a genre that would be so easy to write off as being Not For Us.
Black history and Black horror are two super important things to me and getting the chance to experience a documentary that looks at how the former influences the latter was like… amazing. I’m (re) watching it as I type this little review up and I can’t stop basking in the unadulterated brilliance that comes from the genre’s greats.
I think my favorite thing about Horror Noire is how it sets up two things about Blackness in horror fiction:
How horror films from Birth of a Nation on down (because it totally counts as a horror film) influenced the way that non-Black people saw Black people
How Black creators used their experiences, pasts, and hopes for the future to craft nuanced Black horror
I also have this whole thing about talking about racism in media (and fandom) as being partly comprised of the erasure of people of color and I love that the folks in Horror Noire talk in detail about how mainstream horror really didn’t put us in things.
There are a bunch of about how Black people in fantastic horror, ghostly horror tended to be servants and then when the alien or monster movies and other forms of scientific horror series lacked servants so they lacked people and then like… they had the Other in the form of monsters that clearly served as metaphors for Blackness and like…
It’s such good commentary.
So is the commentary on Night of the Living Dead. I’ve never seen it all the way through because I am a baby who is terrified of zombies, but I know pretty much everything about it and I think it’s one of the best zombie films in the history of the genre.
The connection the documentary makes between the Blaxploitation commentary and the way that this time period was also known for an interesting presence of Black women in horror (Abby, Sugar Hill) is amazing.
I really love this documentary.
I could spend thousands of words talking about Horror Noire and thinking about Black horror.
This documentary is brilliant and inspiring. I thought I knew a fair amount about horror before this documentary but like… y’all… Not enough. I finished this documentary wanting to write about Black horror and to write it myself. I felt so
Horror Noire puts Blackness (or the absence of Blackness) in horror into a clear cultural and historical context in a way that very few horror history series across the years have even tried to attempt.
It talks about how the Black existence is horrifying to white people and how that translates to a history of horror where we’re either present as ourselves (but monstrous) or not present outside of a non-human monster who is both a metaphorical stand-in for Black people and treated better than we are.
It gives us a trajectory of horror history that shows problematic and painful works of the genre (like Ingagi, Birth of a Nation, and uh… most zombie films) opposite films by and about Black people that shift the genre forward.
And it does it all with a heavy focus on Black women at the forefront of the conversations and sharing their experiences with (creating, loving, and learning about) Black horror.
Honestly, I don’t think you can call yourself a horror fan if you don’t at least try to watch Horror Noire for yourself on Shudder.