Interview: Tananarive Due Talks Blu-Ray Release For HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR

Horror author, TV writer, producer and professor Tananarive Due has become a powerful voice in horror criticism and film education in recent years. Featured heavily in the Shudder original documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Due is introduced as the nerdy cool professor of the film class you thought would be an easy A but wound up changing your whole perspective on movie history.

With the new horror novel The Reformatory on the way and more projects in development, Due continues to teach her class inspired by Jordan Peele’s Get Out. In fact, you can take her class, “Sunken Place: Racism, Survival, and Black Horror Aesthetic, at UCLA online HERE!

In our conversation below, Professor Due and I talked about the cultural impact of Horror Noire (it’s required viewing for horror fans), the legacy of Cicely Tyson, The Twilight Zone, and music in horror from Gravediggaz to Childish Gambino.

This was a great discussion that should make fans want to delve into film history even deeper and pick up the new Horror Noire Blu-ray out February 2, just in time for Black History Month.

Synopsis: Delving into a century of genre films that by turns utilized, caricatured, exploited, sidelined, and finally embraced them, Horror Noire traces the untold history of Black Americans in Hollywood through their connection to the horror genre. Adapting Robin Means Coleman’s seminal book, Horror Noire presents the living and the dead, using new and archival interviews from scholars and creators, from the voices who survived the genre’s past trends to those shaping its future.

Dread Central: I was really sorry to hear about Cicely Tyson passing away. It was so important that she was not only in films but people saw her all the time on television and viewers got used to seeing a strong woman on screen. Now you see so much more representation on the small screen.

Tananarive Due: Yeah, I just finished writing a novel called The Reformatory and it took me seven years to write it, unfortunately. I have an 80-plus-year-old character I always pictured as Cicely Tyson. She was just such a strong blessing my whole life. In a lot of ways, it felt like she was an older actress from the time I saw her onscreen. It’s been such a blessing to have her until 2021.

DC: I watched the last couple of seasons of The Twilight Zone. You wrote the episode “A Small Town” with your husband Steve Barnes. He wrote for Twilight Zone and Outer Limits before, right?

TD: He sure did. That Twilight Zone writing credit is my first official writing credit. And it was full circle for him because the eighties version of The Twilight Zone was Steve’s first TV writing credit, I believe. With Jordan Peele at the helm with the new Twilight Zone, that really came about after I invited him to surprise my class at UCLA. It’s a very Hollywood story.

DC: That’s a fantastic surprise. Are the two of you working on anything together now? Could we possibly be seeing another Twilight Zone episode written by you?

TD: I don’t know what’s going on! I haven’t heard anything about a season 3 of The Twilight Zone but, sure, I’d love to.

DC: You mentioned your class. When film history becomes curriculum, I think sometimes we’re in danger of over intellectualizing the medium. Is it hard for you at times to turn off the switch from being a professor to just being a fan?

TD: That’s a great question because in my mind they’re the same thing. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just talking about all the movies I love and the things I love about them or critiquing things that bother me. It just feels, in a lot of ways, like conversations I’d be having with my friends or conversations with my husband. So yeah, the line can feel very thin but I have to gauge it by my students reactions that this is something they haven’t thought about. That just makes it fun, honestly, when you can just talk about what you love and get paid for it and also teach people. That is the winning ticket right there.

DC: Yeah. Maybe we’re just making art more enjoyable on a deeper more universal level by doing that.

TD: Well, I think so. A lot of us as fans and consumers, sometimes you just turn it on as background noise. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of escapism for positivity. I know during the pandemic, for me, it was horror movies and Schitt’s Creek. Or the entire run of Columbo.

DC: With the documentary, it really feels like it takes place in the classroom with a lot of great guest speakers entertaining the students. That’s how I feel watching it.

TD: I use the documentary in my classroom, it’s great. It’s a great resource for me. We just talked about Tales From the Hood this week. You can hear me talk about it or hey, here’s Rusty Cundieff talking about it here in the documentary!

DC: I liked the segment in the documentary that focused on music as well. I remember when the whole idea of Horrorcore hit and the group Gravediggaz. I’m from Texas so Geto Boys and that whole Chucky connection is something I grew up with. And “Nightmare On My Street” and all that. There’s such a focus on the fantasy, sci-fi and horror films of Afrofuturism that it seems like sometimes music isn’t as much of a focus. Music and horror seems to have gone away. Do you agree with that, and if so, do you miss that connection?

TD: I love everything you just said. A lot of people don’t know about that history of horror hip-hop. I admit music is not as much a part of my horror course as the other course I teach at UCLA which is Afrofuturism. But, absolutely. When I look at Childish Gambino “This Is America, that’s horror to me. Yeah, so I really do think there’s a lot of room for musical artists to enter the horror space more consciously with their music and their videos.

DC: Maybe if there is a Horror Noire follow-up, there could be more of a focus on music. I’d love to hear a commentary on someone like Sun-Ra and his film Space Is the Place.

TD: Yeah, yeah. Afrofuturism for me is a really broad category that’s basically all black speculative fiction. So there is definitely crossover with the horror science fiction space. Get Out is horror science fiction as a matter of fact, right? So yeah, when you look at Sun-Ra and his Utopianism trying to imagine safe spaces for black people. All of that is part of the same conversation. Fear and joy are two sides of the coin. For me personally, I can’t just dwell on the fear space. I need my horror fix every day and I need my comedy fix every day.

RLJE Films has picked up select rights to Horror Noire from Shudder, AMC Networks’ streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural. Horror Noire will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 2, 2021.



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