I want so much more than seemingly unrelenting reminders of how anti-Black this world is.As a horror aficionado, I am constantly caught between appreciation for the few Black horror stories that we have and the desire for them to explore so much more. Blackness in horror doesn't always have to be about racial injustice and anti-Black violence, and yet it so often is. In a pre-”Get Out” (2017) world, the most premier example of a horror film that used white violence as its foundation and impetus was Bernard Rose's “Candyman” (1992), and I don't doubt that many horror fans see it as fitting and appropriate that Jordan Peele is the one who is currently in talks to remake this horror classic. [caption id="attachment_50045" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Tony Todd in Bernard Rose's "Candyman" (1992)[/caption] Though the film is and always will be iconic, a critical reading of “Candyman” makes clear that this tale of hook-handed vengeance is principally about the haunting of Helen Lyle, who remains ever at the center. It is ultimately about a monstrous Black male figure obsessed with and terrorizing a white woman who becomes the story's hero in the end. Relationships between Black men and white women have long been the focus of various types of horror narratives, with the white women within them able to capitalize on the socially accepted truth of their delicacy, purity, and innocence. Peele smartly recasts white womanhood as villainous in "Get Out", as being wholly capable of and adept at enacting white supremacist violences, but he ultimately does nothing with the opportunity to interrogate our already prominent image of Black men who lust after white women. This gives me pause for the possibility of Peele resurrecting both Candyman and Helen to reassert this overall narrative, even if some details are changed. Nevertheless, “Get Out” and the way it relays its story of zombification and drapetomania remains absolutely refreshing for me, and I believe that it has opened up new possibilities for Blackness in the horror genre. Peele's “Us” will arrive next year. He once noted that “Get Out” would be the first of at least five social horror thrillers from his mind, so “Us” is likely the second of this line of projects. He has also recently signed on to produce HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”, a series adaptation of a novel about the horrors of the Jim Crow era with a Lovecraftian spin. Peele will also bring his talents to the role of showrunner, rebooting “The Twilight Zone”—a show full of mystery and suspense and known for its social commentary. It seems that “Get Out” has made Jordan Peele the go-to guy for social horror thrillers in Hollywood, and I know that he will bring more Black creatives with him. While I have concerns about how Peele will treat “Candyman” and whether or not he will do anything to improve upon it with his interpretation, I have a much larger concern that this remake, coupled the immense success of “Get Out”, might also help to send us down a road where it will become harder and harder to make other types of Black horror stories legible to audiences in a predominantly white industry. [caption id="attachment_50046" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Betty Gabriel in Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (2017)[/caption] “The First Purge” (2018) delves into organized white supremacy, its hold in U.S. politics, and how we sometimes get recruited to participate in our own subjugation. The events of “The Skeleton Key” (2005) are propelled by the demonization of Black religion and the punishing of Black people who invade white spaces. “The People Under the Stairs” (1991) tackles gentrification, capitalism, and the exploitation of poor Black communities. The most recent season of “Black Mirror” ventured into this realm with its “Black Museum” (2018) episode, a satisfying revenge narrative which I interpret as an exploration of many things, including enslavement in the prison industrial complex. The upcoming “Body Cam” is a feature in which a supernatural event occurs after a Black person is murdered by police who attempt to cover it up. We are already afraid of these things in real life. White people watch “Get Out” and “The First Purge” and think that they are fantastical over-exaggerations, but Black audiences understand that they are not so far removed from the truth, and that's what makes them so terrifying for us on a deeper level. Black people really die these kinds of deaths. We really resist in these kinds of ways, even if we aren't always as successful as the films’ heroes. Many of our real-life stories play out like horror films because they are horrific. We are already haunted by ghosts of historical anti-Blackness. When I watch horror, I’m trying to escape all this shit—trying to allow my anxiety and fear to be about something else for a while, something unlike my reality, and I still want to see my Blackness represented. Give me a Black ghost story that's not about the lynching, raping, and oppression of my people. Let me just imagine a world without white people taking up so much space, especially space in which white supremacist violences continually get rearticulated to produce stories for our entertainment. Before white colonialism and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, what did we fear? The earth, the stars, the wilderness, the gods, our own mortality. I think of these things and dream about what pre-colonial Black horror films might look like—exploring African mythology, legends, and folklore about trickster gods, ancient relics, and fantastical figures. There are tales of African vampires, which terrify people even to this day, and the lore can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptian blood-sucking cat goddess, Sekhmet. The adze vampire takes the form of a firefly, only becoming human when it is captured, and its victims become witches possessed by its spirit. The Impundulu is a human-sized vampire bird that is also rumored to be a witch’s familiar. It can summon lightning storms and its eggs have medicinal powers. Many more legends like these exist. I want to see and experience them, but they never seem to make it to the screen. I want to see Black traditions, cultures, and religions incorporated into horror in ways that do not demonize them, and I want Black characters who can be more than just tokens because they are among an entire cast of Black performers. Imagine Black-coded creature features with both ancient beasts and neo-monsters. Black punks going up against the undead, the occult, and the macabre. Shamans and demon-slayers fighting otherworldly evil alongside Black celestials and prehistoric beings. Imagine Afrofuturist horror. Black innocents in dark fantasies and sci-fi techno-horror. Invasions, outbreaks, and cosmic abductions. Found footage and catastrophic post-apocalyptic survival narratives.
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“I Feel Pretty” is mostly an exasperating attempt to appeal to all women as it blatantly marginalizes others.by Candice Frederick I have seen most of Amy Schumer’s live action projects, including “Snatched”, which is an abomination for many reasons, including racist stereotypes. Like so many comedians, her best work is in stand-up, specifically on “Inside Amy Schumer”. Schumer’s work has helped normalize the idea that (white) women can be brash, unapologetic, feminist, and successful. She is funny, when the material is hers and when it isn’t fat-shaming or racist. The criticism she’s received is based in truth; after all she is a white, blonde woman from Long Island who can joke about her lower back tattoo, blow jobs, and waking up in someone else’s bed after a wild night and be celebrated for it—she’s privileged, whether she recognizes that or not, and this shows in her newest film, "I Feel Pretty". When I first saw the trailer for the movie, in which she stars as Renee, a woman who suffers from low self-esteem about her physical appearance and wishes herself to be “beautiful” in order to achieve success, it gave me pause. I was conflicted, but I was interested in her addressing a real issue that plagues so many women who believe their self-worth is based on their physical appeal. It’s right on brand with who Schumer is as a comedian, and it is an important topic to explore. Yet, after watching the movie, I was acutely aware of one other thing: Schumer’s brand continues to highlight what’s wrong with white feminism. I can pinpoint this to one particular scene in the film: Renee goes to a spin class and, ridiculously, falls off the stationary bike onto the floor and bangs her head so severely that it knocks her out. She wakes up to find Tasha ( Sasheer Zamata), the super hot, super fit, Black front desk clerk standing above her with a bag of ice to soothe what is likely a concussion. Tasha is tasked with taking care of Renee, who she loudly announced wore size 9 ½ double wide spin shoes and at another point described her belly as “full.” It’s clear by their few interactions (Zamata only appears three or four times in the film) that we’re supposed to see Tasha as someone who looks down at Renee. Through Schumer’s lens, someone who looks like Zamata has everything going for her and is fine being relegated to the background to make way for her.
Instead of viewing Black Panther’s success as an opportunity to complain about something that is lacking in our communities, non-Black people of color should appreciate the work it took to create something of its caliber.By Sanjana Lakshmi It’s been a few weeks since “Black Panther” came out, and its reception has been deservedly overwhelmingly positive. Ryan Coogler’s film is more than just another superhero movie: it is a blockbuster film that centers the experiences, cultures, and strength of Black folks in a way we have rarely, if ever, seen before. However, one particular response to the film by non-Black people of color has bothered me: the idea that we need to react by saying “where’s our Asian-American superhero movie,” or “where’s our Latinx superhero movie” (note that the latter doesn’t usually imply that they are looking for afro-latinx representation). All people of color deserve media representation, but this is not a constructive critique of ”Black Panther”; these concerns were rarely, if ever, raised during the decades of primarily white superhero movies. The fact that these questions are being posted in reaction to a successful Black superhero movie that is breaking the box office is no more than thinly veiled anti-Black racism. “Black Panther” was not simply handed to the Black community. Black folks fought for this movie. Media representation of the Black community has been historically stereotypical, if not offensive and racist, from caricatures to hyper-sexualization. Wakanda’s portrayal as a technologically advanced and successful African nation untouched by the devastation of colonialism and imperialism is groundbreaking in itself, and the movie’s depiction of Black women stands in contrast to the stereotypes that have been pervasive in our media. These long-awaited portrayals, and their positive reception, need to be celebrated. This is not the time for non-Black people of color to be saying, “what about us?” Black directors, producers, writers, and actors have been fighting for this kind of representation for decades. Black Panther’s success was not an easy feat. It is important to note, too, that there is an extraordinary amount of anti-Blackness in non-Black communities of color. In the South Asian American community, anti-Blackness comes in many forms: the billion-dollar skin-whitening industry, the attacks on African immigrants within the South Asian subcontinent, the model minority myth, and overt as well as subtle colorism. This only scratches the surface of entrenched racism within one non-Black community of color—all of this while Black communities have historically not only supported, but actively fought for the rights of non-Black people of color.
P.T. Barnum was a wicked man, and deserves to be remembered as such.Every so often pop culture affords us the opportunity to subvert a paradigm, promoting diversity and inclusion through storytelling—the upcoming "A Wrinkle In Time" and "Ocean’s Eight" are perfect examples. But unfortunately and most of the time, like in Hugh Jackman’s new biopic "The Greatest Showman", visual media not only upholds systemic and structural inequalities but goes even further to whitewash over terrible history and evil deeds. "The Greatest Showman" presents the founder of the circus P.T. Barnum as a charismatic hero, framed in multiple love story narratives, as we follow his creation of his so-called Greatest Show On Earth. While multiple accounts of Barnum’s real-life personality do indicate his commanding stage presence and business smarts, "The Greatest Showman" appears to gloss over and omit the laundry list of cruelty, misinformation, and exploitation upon which Barnum relied for his capitalist circus and sideshow projects. Step right up for a reality check about P.T. Barnum. While historians can claim that Barnum made space for the disabled and atypical to work within their physical means, Barnum’s advent of the “freakshow” did not work to promote anti-ableist human rights. Instead, he further marginalized and othered them by framing them as those who are not like "normal" people—he displayed them in ways to heighten their perceived monstrousness and physical difference. The people used as human displays were taunted and verbally abused by spectators, and they were mistreated behind the scenes as well since they had no power to demand equal or even fair treatment to able-bodied carnies and visitors. The "freaks" were not considered equals to the "norms", a fact that "The Greatest Showman" has conveniently overlooked. Often these sideshow performers were indentured servants to the Big Top, since their weekly wages were subsumed into Barnum’s money-making machine to cover lodging and food when touring the country.