Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
What do you get when you put Jordan Peele, Keith David, Ken Foree, and Rachel True together discussing their experiences making horror films in Hollywood? I’ll tell you what you get… one badass documentary.
Using Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning film Get Out as a wrap around, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror takes us on a journey through film history and looks at the way Hollywood has portrayed Black Americans. For years, Black characters in horror films were little more than fodder for whatever monster was going around killing people if they were even on screen at all.
The experts that guide us through the films are Robin R. Means Coleman, PhD, whose book “Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present” is the basis of this movie, creator of GraveyardShiftSisters.com Ashlee Blackwell, and author/educator Tananarive Due. They tackle Hollywood’s portrayal of Black Americans going all the way back to 1915’s extremely racist Birth of a Nation to Blaxploitation and then right up through Get Out. They cover many of the tropes associated with Black characters in horror films; from the fact that they are often the first to die to the one where the black character sacrifices themselves in order for the white main character to survive. These women provide tons of insight into the movies they discuss. There’s a lot of ground to cover here and, for the run time, the doc does a fine job touching on many classic films.
The film also pairs up several beloved figures in horror including directors Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight) and Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood), and many actors including Tony Todd (Candyman), and the aforementioned Foree (Dawn of the Dead), True (The Craft), and David (The Thing). I could watch an entire film of just Foree and David shooting the shit about their experiences in Hollywood. The pairings were another way to provide more discussion and insight into their experience making horror films.
Director Xavier Burgin’s Horror Noire is a must see for all film fans, but especially for white folks. As noted in the film, Black Americans have had to go over a hundred years with watching themselves be portrayed as everything from a menace to a magical guide. It’s only very recently that things have begun to change. It’s time we take a look back at these movies we love from another perspective. With the success of Get Out, it looks like Hollywood might finally be taking a step in the right direction but there’s still a long, long way to go. Before you press play on Horror Noire, make sure you’ve got pen and paper ready because you’re going to want to take notes.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror premieres February 7th on Shudder.