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The story of Sarah Winchester and her unfinished mansion is one that would not exist without the violence of white colonialism.

In San Jose, there stands an extravagant mansion with hundreds of rooms that is still, technically, unfinished. It has secret rooms, hidden passageways, trap doors, windows in the floors, and staircases that lead to nowhere. The construction of this surreal, monstrous structure was commissioned by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Following the unexpected deaths of both her infant daughter and husband, Sarah visited a spiritual medium who gave her a grim answer to her existential questions. Sarah would forever be haunted by the vengeful spirits of those who had fallen victim to the Winchester repeating rifle, more popularly known as “The Gun That Won The West.” Slaughtered by the weapon that created the Winchester fortune and helped to ensure Manifest Destiny, the restless spirits seemed to be attacking the Winchester family in retaliation for the destruction that the rifle had caused during the American-Indian Wars. The spiritual medium convinced Sarah that this haunting was responsible for the deaths of her family, and that it would forever be attached to her. In an effort to deter the angry ghosts, she began to build the San Jose home in 1884 and the building continued until her death in 1922. It was believed that the maze-like layout and sheer size of the mansion would confuse the spirits and therefore protect her from their wrath. The story of Sarah Winchester and her unfinished mansion is one that would not exist without the violence of white colonialism, but I do not expect that to be contemplated much in the newest sensationalized version of her story, a biopic and horror drama starring Helen Mirren. Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built” is set for release Feb. 2. With this feature, Hollywood continues the tradition of sensationalizing and distorting the reality of Native American suffering in order to tell horror stories that center white characters. The same is true of narratives with Black ghosts that use racialized U.S. chattel slavery and antebellum violences. Rarely are the lives or deaths of Black and Native people explored in horror films unless they are done so in this way. These racialized violences are used as nothing more than plot devices, rather than as a means to interrogate and condemn the white supremacy and colonialism that necessitates them.
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We can add IT to the growing list of 2017’s massive creative let-downs.

[Spoiler alerts for the new IT adaptation.] The long-anticipated and much-hyped adaptation of Stephen King’s monster opus IT opened yesterday with a lucky September 7 at 7 showing. Since my corner of Florida is in Hurricane Irma’s devastating path and the other local movie theaters were closed, this first official public screening was packed — and with a really fun crowd of clappers, screamers, and talk-backers who like me, vocally interacted with the madness on-screen. The woman across the aisle from me even pulled out two bottles of wine and uncorked them with gusto. Tensions are high and we all needed some welcome relief and a couple of hours of escape. Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of IT definitely provided a brief getaway from the potential devastation en route here in real life. But unfortunately the film didn’t provide much else but sanctuary from storm worries. King’s novel is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it when I was 11 and in the almost-thirty years since, I’ve revisited its pages 8 or 9 times. While the evil force behind Pennywise the Clown is indeed terrifying, what is scarier in the novel is the unequivocal theme that humans are ultimately the monsters and architects of the horrors of childhood abuse, domestic violence, racial and sexuality-motivated crimes, and generational apathy that allows justifying looking away when terrible things go on. These themes only marginally made it into the new IT film, and while the 1990 TV movie fields much criticism, all these important messages from the book are front and center there.
Related: THERE’S A BIG PROBLEM WITH ‘INGRID GOES WEST’

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