‘Black People in Horror Films’ event examines history and cinematic tropes – UMSL Daily
As the audience walked into the SGA room at the Millennium Student Center, Felia Davenport, associate professor of communication and media at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, posed a question to the crowd.
“What happens when a black man is in a horror movie? said Davenport.
Laughing, much of the room responded, “We are dying!
However, Davenport noted there’s a lot more to explore regarding black representation in horror and launched into her presentation, “Black People in Horror Movies” last Tuesday. It was one of many planned events related to National Black History Month.
Charles White, Executive Chairman of the University Program Council, organized the hour-long event, which featured a spirited turnout among attendees. White said he was inspired by his love of horror movies and his desire to explore black people’s relationship with them.
“I thought it would be an interesting topic that nobody really talks about,” he said. “It made me think of things that Jordan Peele did like ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’, and I wanted to see the evolution. What was it before ‘Get Out’? What was it like? I wanted to just see that.
Sophomore Aliya Byers also had an existing interest in the subject and was excited to learn more at the event.
“I wanted to see what we would talk about and the different things we would analyze because I had recently learned more about this when I saw this documentary called ‘Horror Noir,'” Byers said. “It’s a Shudder documentary that’s about black people exclusively in the horror genre. It was really interesting to see some of the different actors, directors, producers talk about these movies.
Junior Sabrina Kraus said she’s not particularly a fan of horror movies, but she wanted to be more aware of some of the genre’s tropes.
“There are certain tropes that you see, and I don’t know them as well,” she said. “I wanted to be well-versed, so I could recognize them. Are they doing people a favor or a disservice? What is their impact on our understanding of things? I came here to explore this a bit more.
At the start of the presentation, Davenport explained that to understand black people in horror movies, you have to understand black history in movies more generally. She said that the tropes present today go back to earlier times.
The first film she covered was “Birth of Nation,” a silent epic by DW Griffith about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Davenport noted that the film established many tropes that have persisted beyond its inception, such as oppressed black women and the idea that black men are aggressive and animalistic.
“It was used as a propaganda documentary to rebuild the Klan,” Davenport said. “In this process, black people were portrayed – especially black men – as lusting after white women. This is how they were perceived. In early black cinema and cinema and early cinema, that was shown to the world.
Davenport noted that these tropes served as a direct line to “atomic age” cinema after World War II. Black people were rarely depicted themselves, but movie monsters such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon served as stand-ins.
Then she moved on to “Night of the Living Dead,” George A. Romero’s classic 1968 zombie film, where a black man, Duane Jones’ character Ben, serves as hero and protector. However, at the end of the film, he is shot by a white mob.
Davenport noted that Romero wrote the ending before casting Jones, and this underscored the importance of the viewer’s lens.
“That’s the problem, when you create any form of art, you can have whatever intention you want, but your viewer is going to see it through their lens, their experience and their life,” he said. she declared.
The next era Davenport looked at was the 1970s and the Blaxploitation movies. Although most were made on shoestring budgets and designed to take advantage of white and black audiences, there were exceptions.
Davenport said many films of the era portrayed black life negatively, but “Blacula” used the medium for social commentary. It also offered a more dignified and sophisticated portrayal of black characters via William Marshall’s Prince Mamuwalde and Blacula.
“When we watch movies, we usually do it for entertainment, and we don’t see the little nuances,” Davenport said after watching a clip from the film. “Here he is trying to negotiate to end the slave trade.”
Before moving into the modern era, Davenport tackled the early 1990s during the rise of talented young black filmmakers such as Spike Lee and John Singleton. Davenport noted that many black horror movies of the time, such as “Candyman,” “The People Under the Stairs,” and “Tales From the Hood” were more socially conscious than other horror movies at the time. ‘era.
“It’s your first horror movie where — and it’s a supernatural horror movie — it’s got a black man as the lead,” she said of “Candyman.” “Again, this is the change. We are no longer the tokens. We are the leaders.
These films paved the way for the revival of modern black horror led by Jordan Peele, who directed hits such as “Get Out” and “Us.” Davenport specifically pointed to “Get Out” and said Peele used elements of the film such as the auction scene and the maid character to criticize the company.
“What’s going on with black filmmakers, and I’m very clear about black filmmakers, because there are other filmmakers who do horror who may not have that social commentary, but with filmmakers black people who are doing horror movies now, they’re using it to talk about what’s going on in this world,” Davenport said.
Both Byers and Kraus were impressed with the discussion. Kraus said it was very illuminating and even more insightful than she expected. Byers agreed.
“I think it was an amazing presentation,” Byers said. “I really liked that people could come and hear all of the aspects and nuances that come with black people being in the horror genre. Social commentary is essential. People see horror as blood, guts and gore, but sometimes it can be so much more than that.
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=92373