One of the earliest known portrayals of Blackness in horror came in the form of a French film called “Off to Bloomingdale’s Asylum,” in 1901, according to “Horror Noire,” a book by scholar Robin R. Means Coleman. White actors in blackface played the Black characters in the film and were meant to portray the horrors of crossing racial boundaries. For generations, films like these early Black horror movies marginalized Black folks in mainstream horror, who were depicted largely as villainous monsters or unsubstantial victims.
Although their contributions to horror have largely been ignored, Black folks have, in fact, been pioneers of the genre since the very beginning. Though non-fiction, texts including “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” published in 1845, and Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” published in 1861, illustrated the realities and horrors of American slavery. In 1930, evangelist couple James and Eloyce Gist released one of the earliest Black-directed horror films, “Hellbound Train,” which explored the religion and the effects of sin through railroad cars populated by sinister characters. Since then, Black creatives have used the genre to explore the complexities of Black identity, our struggles, and our triumphs.
From recent, widely successful releases like the hit TV show “LoveCraft Country” (2020) and Zakiya Dalila Harris’ 2021 New York Times bestselling novel “The Other Black Girl,” we are now living in a time that many have called the ‘golden age’ of Black horror.
Horror director Jordan Peele, who won an Oscar for his film “Get Out” (2017), said, “Horror has an ability to provoke thought and further the conversation on real social issues in a very powerful way.” Indeed, Black creatives are bringing us terror and chills while highlighting some of the most pressing issues of our time. Here are five Black folks in horror you should know about.
1. Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due is an educator, award-winning author, and producer. She has been a leading voice in Black horror for over 20 years, and she teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. Due is the recipient of an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a British Fantasy Award. She executive produced Shudder’s groundbreaking documentary, “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.” Some of her written works include “Ghost Summer: Stories,” “My Soul to Keep,” and “The Good House.” Learn more about Due in her interview with Word In Black.
2. Angela Bassett
You probably remember her from “Boyz N the Hood” (1991) and “Waiting to Exhale” (1995), but actor Angela Bassett has also been taking over horror movies and shows for decades. She starred as detective Rita Veder in “Vampire In Brooklyn” (1995), voiced Sister Helley in Jordan Peele’s horror/fantasy animated film, “Wendell & Wild” (2022), and was a recurring face in “American Horror Story” for three seasons.
3. J.D. Dillard
Director, producer, and screenwriter J.D. Dillard made his mark in the horror genre with the release of “Sweetheart” in 2019. The survival horror film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 and quickly gained popularity after being distributed by Universal Pictures that same year. Dillard has also worked on “The Twilight Zone” remake and Netflix’s hit horror show “The Outsider.”
4. Chesya Burke
Self-proclaimed Afrofuturist Chesya Burke is an editor, educator, and author of horror and dark fantasy. Known for her comic “Hero Me Not” and her novel “Let’s Play White,” Burke’s evocative work has garnered praise from renowned poet Nikki Giovanni. She currently serves as assistant professor of English and U.S. Literature at Stetson University.
5. Xero Gravity
Xero Gravity is a media personality and the founder of Blerdy Massacre, a Black-led podcast that discusses all things horror, sci-fi, and dark fantasy. Known as New York City’s spookiest emcee, you can find her hosting horror conventions and celebrations like Till Death Do Us Party and Salem Horror Fest.
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