HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR Review – A Celebration of Horror’s Unheard Voices
Starring Tananarive Due, Robin Means Coleman, Ken Foree, Tony Todd, Keith David, Jordan Peele, Rachel True
Written by Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows
Directed by Xavier Burgin
For many people, it’s
When I see conversations about representation in cinema, I fully admit it took me a while to understand what was being asked by those who were making the pleas. After all, Jungle only came out in 2017. These conversations aren’t about taking away voices from anyone but instead are about giving voices to those who have been stifled for far too long. And that’s precisely what Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is about.
Based on the book by Robin R. Means Coleman, the film features talking head interviews from legends of the industry (writers, filmmakers, actors, scholars, etc…). The documentary traces the representation of black people from the early days of cinema to the hopes of what’s to come. This is all done with unflinching honesty from authorities who have lived through the challenges of being a black person in this world. From the open racism in the KKK propaganda film Birth of a Nation to the myriad of tropes seen over the decades (ex. the “Magical Negro”, the “black person who dies first”, the “servant”), black people have been relegated to roles that distance them from the empathy of audiences. It’s only within the past few years that we’ve seen a cultural shift, one that sees black people finally take the lead.
As a horror fan, seeing Tony Todd, Keith David, Ken Foree, Rachel True, Kelly Jo Minter, Loretta Devine, and so many other horror stars that I grew up watching was a delight. And it as a brilliant move on behalf of writers Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows and director Xavier Burgin as it allows horror fans to hear potentially difficult topics from voices they already know, love, and (hopefully) respect. Some random Twitter account may not convince you of the need for representation but Candyman? Childs? Rochelle? These are the roles that spoke to so many over generations. Their words hit hard and come from places of experience, as difficult and unpleasant as it is to believe.
And there’s no disputing the frustrations they bring up as the documentary provides one piece of evidence after another to support their statements. Spliced between the conversations are scenes from various films over the past century as well as news clippings that illustrate their points. A shocking example comes from the announcement of Blacula, when a newspaper headline brazenly reads, “William Crain, a black, to direct first black vampire movie.” Or when scenes from the ending of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead are set against historical images and videos from the violence during the 1960’s civil rights marches.
And through it all, everyone speaks passionately with humor, grace, and profound insight. These are voices that have been begging to be heard for a long time and this is their opportunity. They speak of the horror genre with love and reverence. They gush about the films they grew up watching. They are horror fans, plain and simple. Their criticisms are never at the cost of the pure love they have for a genre that has prided itself on being a voice for the little guys, the disenfranchised, the outcasts. Their commitment to a system that has constantly beaten them down is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is the kind of documentary that will make you think about the movies you love with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It is, without a doubt, the most important horror documentary ever made and everyone needs to carve out time for it.
Never dull, always informative, and expertly crafted, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is a triumph of masterful execution, engaging storytelling, and brutal honesty. It is a celebration of horror from a group of people who have long been held back and who clearly are paving the way for a new generation of stories and storytellers.