What is it about the Black woman that evokes so much annoyance, bitterness, and rage?
Recently, I saw the new Purge film, ‘Election Year’ and, while the franchise is obviously hokey, it held a different perspective for me. (Potential Spoiler Alert) I found myself completely in awe of a character – a dark skinned, Afro-puffed out, modern day ‘Sapphire’ who graced the screen with glorious villainy. She was a ring leader of murder, sparkling in tulle and blood and armed with a solid gold automatic rifle. My mind was blown – I could not believe that a horror movie had given such a powerful platform to such a character. My disbelief was proven warranted in the end when, as to be expected, the character received the ‘money shot’ kill – her face blown off with a shotgun, much to the delight of the audience.
There was also a Black radical group (in the image of BLM) who plan to overthrow the government, by any means necessary. The group’s charismatic leader, a Black man, dies an ‘honorable’ death in order to save a pretty, thin white woman running for President. This narrative plays upon the psyche of those who are more comfortable with ineffective white saviors than Black revolutionaries attempting to overthrow a corrupt system as a whole. With a screenplay like this, my favorite character didn’t stand a chance!
Needless to say, I couldn’t help but think about Black reality versus Black representation in film– our deaths, our stories, our characters, our typecasts, and specifically, Black women who reject respectability politics, subjugation and silence. I found myself wondering about a Black woman’s worth within horror.
Not long after I saw this film, Korryn Gaines, the 23 year old mother, warrior and activist was killed by Baltimore police. She was a Black woman armed, protecting herself against a Police State entrenched in white supremacy. With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining ground, and the spotlight fixed on reforming Policing, I expected for her to be revered and celebrated in the tradition of recent martyrs. Instead, I found that most people were espousing beliefs that she brought her murder upon herself, that she had deserved it, that she willingly put herself in harm’s way. Never mind the fact that when Black men such as Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police, they too were armed, legally and illegally. Misogynoir leached its way onto my news feed every second her story was shared. I found myself wondering about a Black woman’s worth.
Art imitates life after all, so in regards to my first feature short, titled ‘FLESH’, it was easy for me to begin to draw parallels. ‘FLESH’ tells the story of Rae, a Black, queer woman who has spent her existence attempting to lead a care-free artist’s life, while still striving for social equality. In this context, equality means the aversion of the anti-Black eye, and the violence we face because of who we are, VISIBLY. In a moment of anger, dissatisfaction and apathy, Rae decides that the cure for her pain is to kill. ‘Destroy what destroys you’ becomes her new mantra, one that is frowned on when felt and conveyed by Black women. Respectability politics don’t fly with her – she grew up resisting every facet of it. Whether the expectation came from Black traditionalism or the white, hipster/artist realm she willingly navigates – she actively tries to destroy every aggressor, psychologically and physically.
This is not your average horror film with a Black lead.
The film explores eurocentric beauty standards, PTSD, and covert Anti-Blackness. An often overlooked form of oppression, anti-Blackness is misunderstood as not being its own distinct concept. While it is common knowledge that racism is a systemic institution, anti-blackness is exclusive to any Black person who embraces Black culture, choosing not to assimilate into the dominant, white cultural narrative. It is a learned behavior, and has its roots in the normalization and eventual justification of enslavement of Africans. It subjugates, and can be passive or blatant. It can be in the form of being served last in a restaurant, or having the cops called on you for being suspicious. It is not a figment of our imaginations. It is transparent in the media we absorb everyday, including film and music. With ‘FLESH’, I seek to create a niche for the exact opposite, as intellectual and socially conscious media becomes less obscure.
In many forms of popular media, representation and visibility that flip the stereotypical roles and cliché storytelling are on the rise. Audre’s Revenge Film was created in order to carve out a space for Black women, as well as queer and trans folks who want to see genre specific films catered to our own realities and life experiences. Of course we love the 80’s classic horror films, the cult and C grade films which resonate DIY culture and exaggerated fears. We also love the idea of seeing a film where queer coding, tokenism and misogynoir are left behind.
With Ashlee of Graveyard Shift Sisters documenting Women of Color in horror, and multiple films starring lead Black women and Black themed science fiction/fantasy taking a turn, Audre’s Revenge and ‘FLESH’ are just in time to claim space for the rest of us, those who live and die in the margins. Intersectionality is omnipresent, and these worlds must remain relevant in our creativity. Even the tiniest mark can have an profound impact on those who are told ‘they cannot’.
We need Rae and Korryn to become valid expressions of the many facets of Black womanhood, in horror, fantasy, and reality.
Monika Estrella Negra is a horror fanatic and appreciates all things gory, ridiculous and macabre. She is also the founder of Black and Brown Punk Show Chicago and Audre’s Revenge Film Production. A true nerd at heart, she also dedicates her time to uplifting and celebrating radical queer black womyn in all areas of the diaspora. In her spare time she enjoys creating special FX makeup, reading and watching B grade horror flicks.