Horror Noire Opens the Door to the Richness of Black History in Horror
Editor’s Note: Thank you to contributor Elijah Horton who provided this review!
Horror Noire (2019) is a Shudder exclusive documentary which reflects on the history of black representation in horror films over the last century. The first piece of dialogue that is uttered in the movie sets up the premise: “We’ve always loved horror, it’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.” While this statement does set a somber tone for the documentary, you quickly realized that while truer words couldn’t be spoken, there is a brighter future on the horizon.
The concept of the Horror Noire film is based on the book by Robin R. Means Coleman which traces the history of blackness in horror cinema. Directed by “Que The Lights” and “On Time” director, Xavier L. Burgin, co-written and produced by Ashley Blackwell of Graveyard Sisters and co-written by Danielle Burrows; the film provides an inclusive and comprehensive understanding of the history of Blacks in horror. The documentary is comprised of interviews taking place in a movie theater, reminiscent of a Q&A after a movie premiere. This environment made the piece feel more immersive and propelled my fascination into the history lesson being shared. Though the film is focused on the horror genre, there’s a wealth of information about the overall Black history in cinema that will satiate the most knowledge-seeking among us.
At the onset of Horror Noire, we are given a cohesive timeline of the ugly truth behind black representation in film, starting with Birth of a Nation (1915) and how, during that period, blackface and the comical ignoramus black caricature were generally the only form of representation of black people on screen. We learn of leaders such as actor and filmmaker Spencer Williams and director/author Oscar Micheaux who stepped up to set a precedence on what proper black representation should be. They created black lead characters that didn’t adhere to previous stereotypes and the common caricatures of black people. From here, we get a conversation piece between different actors, writers, directors, and artists through different generations that talk through the decades of black horror films and the evolution of black characters in horror. From Ernest R Dickerson (Bones), to Rachel True (The Craft), and even Candyman himself Tony Todd; we hear about black characters going from the “sacrificial negro” or first ones to die, to being at the helm of a major horror motion picture.
While this project was able to provide a great deal of information in such a short amount of time, but it never felt overwhelming at any point due to the relative pacing of the timeline and expert editing. The film provided such a rich history of black cinema that it can provide value in both an individual and academic setting. Horror Noire is great at how open and honest it is with its viewers as well as with itself. With conversations about the history of blaxploitation films and the stereotypes and tropes that the black artists of that time adhered to, we are able to reflect on the long-ranging consequences of these decisions and make sure we learn from them. The ultimate goal being to promote more profound and multi-faceted representation of Black people in cinema.
One recurring theme that I noticed was the harsh truth that real life, for most black people, is in and of itself a horror movie. The realities that we live through are just as scary as the things that go bump in the night or the monsters on screen for other people. To be able to get the opportunity to tell these stories through a black perspective is important because our voices need to be heard too. And with movies like Get Out (2017), it seems like we are getting closer to realizing a broader space for black horror.
The documentary ties up everything that was addressed in its 83 minute run-time with a bow of passionate optimism. From the disturbing understanding of what art can do to falsely represent black people to the world, to developing projects that sets the stage to showcase our range of talents; Horror Noire provides the clearest picture yet into the future. This film made me excited for the doors opening for black creatives and future generations of black kids looking to see themselves in the content that we consume. Make sure you don’t miss out on Horror Noire (2019) exclusively streaming on Shudder right now.
Watch the Horror Noire trailer below!