Black Comix And Scary Black Folks
Cinema Junkie / February 15, 2019
Cinema Junkie celebrates Black History Month by speaking with Keithan Jones, founder of Black Comix Day, about black comics and movies, and professor John Jennings about a new collective called Scary Black Folks.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema Junkie podcast. I'm Beth Accomando. It's Black History Month and cinema junkie is devoting this podcast to looking at black comics and black horror. I have to confess I was a little concerned about calling the episode scary black folks in case people interpreted that the wrong way. But the title actually comes from professor and comic book artist John Jennings who created a collective called scary black folks.
There is something that is inherently scary about how black men who been constructed and so would like could put it out there and to put it out there in a provocative way.
The name assumes additional meaning now as black filmmakers like Jordan Peele with films such as get out in US have smartly taken control of those images of race and reconstructed them in new terms of their own making. To give a whole new meaning to the notion of scary black folks I'd also like to take this opportunity to recommend the shutter original documentary for noir. It explores black horror on film and it's something worth seeking out. After listening to this podcast.
We've always loved horror. It's just that horror hasn't always loved us.
Black people play a particular role in horror films. First we weren't in it. We were played by white people. Yeah we went from maids to pimps at home. If there was somebody black I would be the first to die.
You can also check out The Book of the same name by Robin R. means Coleman that inspired the documentary. But to start the podcast I talk with black comics creator Keith Ann Jones of kid comics for the second year in a row. He's organizing black comics day in San Diego at the Malcolm X library. The event takes place February 16th and focuses on black comic book artists and creators and black images and comics. Last year the show came just as Black Panther was about to score big at the box office this year.
Black Comics Day arrives as Black Panther scores a notable first as the first comic book movie to garner an Oscar nomination for best picture. Plus Spider-Man into the Spider verse got a surprising but well-deserved nomination for best animated film. This past year was a strong one for African-Americans both behind the camera and on screen with films such as if Beale Street could talk. Sorry to bother you in blind spotting garnering acclaim along with the box office hit of Black Panther since Keith and is a comic book creator. I began by asking him his thoughts about Black Panther and Spider-Man into the Spider verse.
First of all I love both films and I think they work on different levels. Congratulations to everyone involved black panther and the nomination well deserved. I would say spider verses was probably my favorite film of last year. I had not left a theater feeling like that since. Since maybe Star Wars or Indiana Jones or something like that is it left. I left on a high note just feeling inspired not just as an artist but just as a person like I really really really really hope that film wins its Oscar also and I hope that if they can duplicate what they did with the first one I hope there's more films like that.
I think it works on an emotional level where I'll put it this way. It's a Spiderman film but in I'm in comics is Spider-Man is my favorite character. He was my favorite character growing up and he still is.
But that's the first Spider-Man film where I felt that yes that's who he is. That's how he made me feel as a kid and everything he represents. That's that film Hit it.
My name is Peter Parker. I'm pretty sure you know the rest. Are safe the city fell in love. I said the same thing again. And again. And again. I'm a comic book serial. I get a Christmas album and a social popsicle. But this isn't about me.
Not anymore. And people who have not seen the film for whatever reason you really really are missing out.
You get the original Spider-Man and Peter Parker you get the new Spider-Man Miles Morales and in all the ancillary characters like and this never felt crowded and never felt dole.
It felt like you got your full of each character and it made sense and it was just it was so real like I know it's a cartoon but it felt especially Mel's family his family. It felt really real.
I love you guys. I know that.
You got to say that are you serious. I want to hear it. I love you Dad. Good job dad. Look at his dad I love. Dad. I love you. A copy.
The voice acting was excellent. Yeah. Just it was it was just a great experience. It's just a great experience. In a highly highly highly recommend people go see that film and just. And then as saw as an artist I was just like I don't know how many towns and times I sat in a theater and just openly said I hope is somewhat the stuff I was seeing visually like. Oh my God. Who made this so. And that's how I was when I saw Star Wars when I was a kid.
For the very first time another thing my dad surprised me with told the story a million times. But that scroll came up along a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and in and. I don't think I sat back in my seat for the right foot and for the next two hours.
I remember looking around and people next I mean I you seen this. You know that was that was just Max. That's the that's the film that just got me to draw him comics and just totally wanted to find out how this stuff is done. And yeah that was the catalyst for me for sure. But anyway I digress.
Black Panther what Black Panther achieved more than any film I thought was its cultural impact. It actually works beyond entertainment in my opinion. It works as far as I think it changed the industry. I think it changed expectations expectations for black films with a real budget because before it came out I don't even believe Marvel Billy knew what it was going to do far as box office because there was a lot of reports about well my deal okay here in the States but it won't travel and it shattered all of that so that you know that informed the studios that whom there is there there is money in business to be done in the underserved communities of minorities out there in the world who are who are hungry for well-made films.
You know people can say well there's black films out there. So yeah yeah yeah. But it's always you. We can tell it's like and this is a shoestring budget you know. Or you could just tell that the studios aren't always behind it.
There was no real machine behind it. Like that Black Panther had Black Panther did I mean it it benefit off the it benefitted off well the power of Marvel for sure but still it could have flopped if they didn't put any real effort into it. And I'm just glad that it was finally done and it was done the way it was done. And I hope that moving forward where we can get past all of the first stuff like Wonder Woman was another film like people were like me I was like what is taking so long with Wonder Woman.
Did he really think people aren't going to go watch it get a well-made Wonder Woman. And so here we are you know and both of both of those films which had question marks on them are now like major successes and we're all waiting for the sequels now. So I hope moving forward now that we've not had all of this stuff has been proven. You know we can get past the whole first Oh the first of its kind in the first of this. You know first of that and first it doesn't just get into the zone of of less just now start judging these films as films not as black films or or quote unquote women's movement films and things of that nature.
Let's get to the let's get to the art of it.
You know and I see that happening now because you starting to see it's becoming normal to see directors of color women directing films. And I'm not talking about little artsy art films a little sci fi I'm talking about major studios giving the green light to these people for major properties.
And so that's a great thing I have to say I was really upset that the Academy did not nominate Spider-Man into the Spider verse for screenplay because I thought that was a brilliant script. Yes. Michael B Jordan for supporting actor for Black Panther. I mean how they could have he was one of those. No I was so angry.
I'm OK with it. I mean I'm surprised I'm honestly surprised Black Panther got the nod for Oscar. I didn't see it that I didn't see that coming. I thought it was a great film. But you know it wasn't on my radar as far as. Oh yeah.
That's going to be an Oscar film because it's the first superhero film to reach that level like wow what a superhero film.
And I then I built and I believe that the Academy Award wants to show that they've turned a new leaf. Also like they want to show that yeah we're diverse we don't have a problem with nominating these type of films or we're not. So that's great and all but like I said moving forward and the black community I want to put this out there the black community is not looking for handouts. What we're looking for is fair treatment a fair shake if it's a five mile race that that everyone started at mile 1.
You know and then we'll see who wins. If we're still going to be dealing with well you can enter the race but you can only wear one shoe. That's what the struggles. That's what the whole struggles about. Something has to change. I mean someone has to. Someone has to what power has to force this change because otherwise it's not going to happen. It's like the civil rights movement is like people whose you know you got people out in the world who actually think that once the flames are freed the the battle was over.
Are you kidding. Have you heard of. Have you heard of Jim Crow. That was another battle. You know not not not only that the whole the whole reason that the black community and I can only speak for the black community cause I'm black.
But the whole reason that the large parts of the black community is in destitute situations is because when the slaves were freed they were. They were literally just freed and literally left there with nothing to support themselves. So in essence they were forced to go back in to go back to work for the quote unquote masters or take your chances out in the world with no education no funding whatsoever so it's like there's a byproduct to all of that in that's basically where we are now. We're still like climbing out of that mess and it's like two steps forward one step back two steps forward one step back.
So it's a process. We'll get there because you can't stop change. You know you can try to get in the way but you're going to end up getting run over because that's what history has shown. Like no one's stopping change no one.
Now we've talked about comic book movies in the past and I just wanted to talk a little bit about the difference between Black Panther and Spider-Man in terms of Black Panther serves up an African character as your superhero and Spider-Man Miles is right.
Africa had an African-American kid. And for you the fact that Black Panther was an African character versus African-American made a difference for you as a kid. So you talk a little bit about the difference.
Yeah but Joe Munger would represent the African-American. Yeah. And you heard there was a lot of buzz after the people saw the film that they identified the identified with kill movie at least as far as what he was signing about. What do you want. I want to throw.
A few. The. I'm. Sitting up here comfortable. Must feel good.
It's about two billion people all over the world. It looks like us but their lives are a lot harder. What Canada has the tools to liberate them all. And what taught us those by burning your weapons our weapons will not be used to wage war on the world.
It is not our way to be judge jury and executioner for people who are not our own. Lots wrong. In life start right here on this continent. So in all people your people. I am not king of all people. I am king of Wakanda. And it is my responsibility to make sure our people are safe and that if I put any harm does not fall into the hands of a person like your son we have entertained a charlatan for too long.
I reject his request or I request and nothing ask why you Eric Stephens an American Black operative a mercenary nicknamed kill monger that's who you are.
It's not my name Princess asked me.
No. Ask me.
It's a far more interesting character it is because it is different. I believe in that. I thought that was the point that people might may have missed in that film. How how great that was about about that movie was too shallow. He represents what we aspire to be. He had both parents he had. He knew who he was. He knew his own language he knew where he was born. He knew his culture. Therefore his viewpoint on the world was to a was a more confident positive outlook.
And those are the things he had. How do you. A man who has not prepared his children for his own death. Has Failed as a father. Have I. Ever failed you. Tell me how to best protect what kinda. I want to be a great king above. Tested IQ. And came to struggle. So you need to surround yourself with people you trust. You're a good man. With a good heart.
And it's hard for a good man to be king.
He didn't you know he was not necessarily worried about the strife that the blacks in the Diaspora were going through here in America. You know they our stories is although we share the same skin color and the same same heritage we're still different because we're still we're we're Americans. We grow up here in America. We have American tastes we have America we know we have American values but we're not necessarily. We came from a place where we weren't necessarily treated like Americans. Even though this is our home. So we we're dealing with a lot of baggage that to Charla for them.
You know that I think obviously Africa has its problems too but the African American owns nothing. There's nothing to fight on. But what was handed down to us and that's where we get into a lot of trouble because we get distracted by that the whole barrels crabs in the bucket mentalities is what the black Americans are constantly dealing with where we have a sector we have us. We have a part of us a group of us who want to move on with our lives and be prosperous and be productive citizens but then we have are we had a group that's very disenfranchised and very angry.
You have people in different stages of their lives you know some people you have by people who just can't deal with the whole the whole grind of living in America and they either completely erase run away from what they are or who they are and try to assimilate to the point where they don't even want to identify with being black. Which which is problematic. And then you have the pro black Americans. Black black mayors who are so far so pro that they don't even accept their own kind if they're not if they're quote unquote not black enough.
That causes problems. And then you have like you know I would say people like myself who understand the struggle but at the same time feel that you got a car can't compartmentalize this stuff like there's days that I'm angry about what's going on. And there's days where I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just living my life but it all it all happens simultaneously. You know and I just think some of us handle it better than others. But ultimately I think that if we don't get a financial hold in this country we're doomed to to this cycle of just getting the short end of the stick.
So to answer your point from earlier I think a film like Black Panther represents a movement a giant leap forward even though we don't own that character. You know the character was created by Jack Kirby the white guy right. Jewish dude and but still the film itself was was directed acted and I believe written by a black person so whatever Wright Coogler does next he has he has more power at its disposal because of that film. Same with the comics industry like there are more and more folks like David Walker John Jennings who are out there knocking those barriers down and starting to build platforms where people like myself can come in and do our thing without compromise.
You mentioned kill monger his character. He is African-American but he's also the villain in Black Panther although he's a very kind of identifiable villain in the sense that you know we can have a lot of empathy with him for for where he's come here.
I think it was Ryan Coogler says he he let he rather call him the antagonist than the villain.
Well I just wanted to compare that to Miles character in Spider-Man because he is the hero in that.
And my mouse is just a regular kid. He just happens to be black. You know he's just a regular kid who just suddenly he's that Spider verse story is where we were.
To me that's the goal. That's where we want to. That's where we want to ultimately get to as far as storytelling where we're not it's not people who think that spider versus some is a quote unquote. Oh is the black Spider-Man movie. They just you know. And that's where it ends. It's like no not at all.
You know that everything a mouse goes through if his family could be applied to any family that has internal problems and issues you know kid going to school in another district how many kids go through that you know where there were there to oddball out. You know they're trying to make new friends they don't necessarily fit in and they want to go back to their neighborhood where whereas more where they're more comfortable around the people they grew up with and so on and so forth. You know and that's why I think the movie's so great.
Anyone can watch that film and leave inspired because there's a piece there's a piece of his story and and Peter Parker who's in the film also this piece of both of those characters you can draw from as far as how it relates to your personal life. Peter Parker being the guy being the odor of going through the midlife crisis and ready to slow down and give it all up and where where Miles is the kid that high school you know whole you know one into the one into the pretty wanting to have the girl and go into the issues with his dad but his but his uncles the cool guy and the dad represents rules and regulations and all that stuff and we all went through it.
I just think I just I just think Spider versus more everyday struggle whereas black panther is politics.
You know the politics of society as well and as a whole a kill monger represents race relations. Like you said he stated in the film like wow you guys have all this technology and you just livin high on the hog and you letting your brothers suffer why you know what why don't you. You know it's like the the Obama effect. You know you got a lot of folks who thought that although they admire Obama they felt that he didn't do enough for the black community. And that narrative is out there and you know although he he was not president of Black United States of America he was president of the United States of America.
He had to be responsible for the entire country. And I'm pretty sure he was I'm pretty sure he went to bed every night feeling man. How do I please everyone. You know everyone's coming up for my neck. How do I do this. You know I'm one man. I'm sure you went to bed every night feeling that way and thinking about those things. And he did what he did. You know like him or hate him whatever. I don't have any. I didn't I personally didn't have a problem with the man.
I was inspired by him I acted in belief I was I was still pretty shocked that we had a black president because I'd never thought I'd see it in my lifetime. So I'm but I'm from an older generation. So people my kids age and my son is 19 now and my daughter's She's eleven. Obama really is the only president they know. And now. TRUMP Right. So to them there was no oh there was no time where there was not a black president or not a possible. It was not possible so that their mentality is completely different from mine.
All things are possible to them. You know there's no they don't have that baggage there. I think people who are deep into this stuff as far as the politics go. I don't think they missed that part as far as I.
Someone like Obama represent like do whether he did he did enough or not he did he did. He had a major impact. I'm sorry. I don't care winning with this. He had a major societal impact on the psyche of this of the people on this planet. You know Spurs especially millennials and younger like they can never say there was there was not a there was. We've never had a black president we will and we won't ever have one. They can never say that and they can never say that they can't become president because they haven't.
I mean there it is. It's on YouTube. I think they're a little more than that generation is a little more liberated.
I do think they're a little more naive than we are speaking of millennials I think millennials need to understand that it just doesn't happen overnight and you can't have everything you want. I'm sorry. You know life just doesn't work that way.
Well as a comic book writer I'm just curious are you looking forward to any comic book movies that are on the horizon.
Yeah I want to find out what happens after Infinity War. Like everyone else I want to know what happens now. I want to see Godzilla. I love guns and I know they're setting it up for him to fight King Kong because they meet later in the last King Kong movie they made him super big. And I think that's so that he can fight Godzilla but I don't know. I never understood how King Kong could. King Kong can beat Godzilla.
Yeah right. Know. We'll find out won't wait it out. Stay tuned that.
Yeah that film and Captain Marvel coming and a reboot of Hellboy. I don't know if Captain Marvel is a film I have to let you go first.
Because the trailers aren't doing a thing for me right now.
Well I think I think Spiderman and the Spider verse sets the bar pretty high for comic book movies to come.
I think. I think that movie reminded it just reminded me of what a real film can be like. Like a real entertaining the levels that you can take it to. I think we were like I think we've lowered the bar in recent times and we think that we're watching great films and we've forgotten what great films really can do to us emotionally.
You know because like you said there is I mean there's some in spite of us you really felt oh no I don't want do spoilers on this show but.
But you know characters vie for the character when a character died. You were like Oh you feel a sense of loss.
Yeah yeah I was really surprised by I guess when I went in to see it I didn't really I hadn't read anything up about it or anything and I was expecting to be entertained and I was expecting to have some dazzling animation but I was not expecting to have to see a film with so much heart in it and get real character down and you could just tell that these people who are the people that worked on me and they really cared about it's like I could just see the passion on the screen behind that movie.
Yeah you deleted from that film. Yeah yeah yeah I was.
You know it you know what you remind me of when I watched soup the very first soup. Richard Donner Superman Oh yeah.
When I was a kid I left that theater wanting to sticking my arms out and throw a towel around my neck. That type of feeling you know like Superman was Superman. He did his job as being a symbol of hope and the symbol of positivity positivity and you know it wasn't a whole bunch you'd like the modern version whereas a whole bunch of action to cover up the thinness of the whole of the story.
Christopher Reeve Superman was taking literally took a cat out of the tree and gave it to a kid and there was cool you know and he will say a little stuff like just him saying bye now before he takes off. You know like the good ol good ole boy by now or statistically speaking flying is still the safest yeah no form of transportation even though he just he just saved a crashing plane. You know just stuff like that. You know that's Superman to me Superman is not Mr. Angry guy in that Batman do that.
That's Batman's job. You know he's the Bruder.
Well and Christopher Reeve just was perfect. He was so charming and genuine and sincere and you just believed him in a way that I brought that out because last night in my bedtime viewing because I'll put something on when I go to bed.
I watched the making of Superman like on YouTube and it mind. It brought all that emotion back into how it reminded me of how great that film was.
So they just had a fathom event where they showed it in the theater. So I got to see it again on a big screen. The first Superman the first Superman into the Donner one and it really had a quality to it that was unique. And I came out of it just feeling really good.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.
And I hope and I know people were like Well I like man is still in the whole of. That's fine that's fine.
But I'm telling you guys I'm telling you there is another level the Superman that you're not experiencing that's not all like you guys are used to this whole this whole going back and forth of Marvel and DC and who's got the better films who's got who's the dark is who's the most funny. That's not how you approach this stuff. That's the wrong way to approach it. You have to be true to the character. Don't try to make him what he's not. And if you do that you're going to see that you're going to see Superman really shine like when they really really do him right.
Once they do that then you'll see what we're as old heads are complaining about well on the high note of Spider-Man and Superman let's end this here.
But I wish you the best of luck for by comics day last year was a great success and I hope you can repeat that again.
Thank you. Thank you. That was Keith and Jones founder of kid comics and author of the power nights his black comics day is Saturday February 16th at the Malcolm X library in San Diego. One of the panelists from Black Comics Day last year was UC Riverside professor John Jennings. I also had the pleasure of listening to his insights at his scary black folks panel at horrible imaginings film festival last September. I was so impressed with his presentation that I wanted to invite him on the podcast for Black History Month. I wanted to address a lot of the ideas he brought up and horrible imaginings and we started by talking about the work he's been doing that led to him creating the scary black folks collective well last over a decade now.
I've been working on speculative fiction pieces that and graphic novels and art shows black specks of art a black set of cultural production a lot of people just call it afro futurism as a kind of an overview of you know just kind of black speck of narrative. But really we're talking about Afrocentric narratives that deal in like fantasy horror science fiction magical realism that are kind of you know being broadly discussed as output futurism and the term and actually was kind of coined in the early 90s. But there's been a resurgence of interest in black sci fi or like liquid fiction from Afrocentric perspective matters in our country but globally.
And what's really interesting is that there's been like a really big push for the Academy and people to critique criticism that I think kind of coincided with probably the right not a zenith of the interest that like Black Panther. You know the Marvel movie is a really really prime example of what stylistically and narratively what people have call an afro futurism and you know one thing that I thought thinking about though along with my friend Stanford Carpenter who is co-chair corporate parties who studies comics is you know do you do you couch every thing that black people are doing it is speculative under this umbrella of Afro futurism.
And if so do you discount you know stuff like genre tropes for instance. You know so forensic is one of the things I was one of my clients the same sort of because I was the artist on the Kindred at the station as I talked about with Kendrick graphic novel and if you look at Kindred you know a lot people thought of Afro futurism like well it actually has the tropes of something that would actually be something more like the gothic gothic horror you know it is about a black woman in the 1970s who was transported inexplicably back to Maryland during slavery time and this happened to her quite a bit.
And so there is not as soon as you realize this happening. You know that becomes a horror story. And so you're like Well the there's a disruption or a tension between the kind of politics of say a future you know an afro future and then this kind of dealing with the past. And so when Stanford and I came up with this term called ethno Gothic we were looking at like well you have to unpack these terrors these mostly racialized terrors that plague us and unpack them and then then you can move to the future maybe looked like the current politicking and you see that there's still like a lot of racial but way more racial divide in the country than people would have imagined.
Now for the most part like black people have always said that. Oh yeah that's yeah America is a racist country. But you know almost you know it's in the DNA of the country because you know what to believe that because you live here. But it's like it's you know up came from that I was born a raisin in the Deep South in Mississippi and so you know I know that there is these that there are these like really really serious racial divides and that a lot of times we don't talk about them and they manifest that manifest itself in a different way of time in popular culture.
And so that's kind of where I started going into this thing with scary black folks was like there is a contingent of black creators primarily black creators and scholars who started looking at constructions of race through the lens of horror. So like me myself that connected books by David Brame an artist you know coming. Martin and other folk like Susanna Morris who's a scholar down at Georgia Tech started thinking about we've been kind of writing about this stuff and thinking about it you know and so that's kind of how the inkling for scary black folk are the collective is very loose and is still at its beginning.
But I think that there is a lot of really interesting things you can you can look at through horror and race so that's kind of the background how we got to the point we are now that currently all of us are super busy but we still want to do more things with the scary black folks. So that's kind of where we are. What made you decide to call it scary black folks because that kind of grab people's attention and that is the mode that I think most people project upon a black body. You know.
It's a projection. I mean first of all like you have to think about the constructions races or construction as a social construction primarily and blackness was constructed to kind of be the foil of whiteness to a certain degree but the shadow of it. And so everything that isn't white is bad evil hypersexual savage all the different you know everything is coming from the African diaspora is dark and scary you know. And you know these these types of connotations around like how the black body is read the text so to speak really really changes how people react to Blackness in public.
So put you know public policy and how police react to the black body and there's so many different kind of how black hair is demonized like oh you can't wear your hair natural because that's not professional. So you know there is something that is inherently scary about how blackness has been constructed. And so we just have like just put it out there is you know it really does describe how people react to blackness. You know as being aberrant or matters good or low even you know and that is so who will like.
Oh you know you see someone like Barack Obama or you see excellence or someone like Beyonce. And you think of that as being you know abnormal or like you know or not the norm but I know so many people of color who are just straight up brilliant that haven't had a chance to actually be in a space to do to put their work out there because of the fear of you know black culture and black skin and black desire. Even you know and so you know I think that's kind of where we got the idea from.
And so I teach a class on race and horror right now too at the University of California Riverside. It's called Afro futurism and the visual culture's of horror of teaching it right now as I teach three classes on Afro futurism that I've designed as I've been here over the last two and a half years or so. And one of the visual culture one just on comics and then everyone just on horror you know and what we try to do is unpack a lot of things we want to do is get black folks with the kind of really like Shana limb I'd like the construction of the race and the really really the level of tension around how races is seen.
That that's kind of where we were the the idea came from.
Well it also seems like it has additional meaning now because with someone like Jordan Peele doing get out. I mean it's basically kind of referencing to that black filmmakers are kind of taking control of that. JOHN RAU A little more directly than they have been. And it seems like that's pointing to that as well.
I totally agree with that. I mean you seem like this transition from black folk being most talked about in a symbolic fashion like like a movie like King Kong or something like that or you and then Venus then like the innovation of a black culture or something like White Zombie or walk with a zombie and then you see this transition into these really more progressive notions of blackness and horror felt like stuff like ganja has or like candy man. And it starts to go into these other spaces and appeals movie Get out. It's just it really give out at a lot of black fears.
And so I think that what I've been trying to do with my whole work who is in the comics arena is to not simply like take a more known trope like say a vampire. No not get me wrong I love black yeller and I love you know stuff like that. You know with Grace Jones but there are like you know they're African diasporic creatures. And and also like really really particular fears that are generated and you know from what it means to be black in America that actually generate these types if we don't have to go that far to actually be terrified you know.
And so that that's that's what I think the power of like get out is and his upcoming film just looks phenomenal too because again he's saying that the enemy is also internal. These ideas around you know identity politics and the way we see blackness was actually internalized to build some really smart horror about the things that we talk about when we're behind closed doors. He just kind of opened the door but we're going to ask as a really cool movie. I mean you know in that class that we just green from the hood that a really great conversation about demonization of African passport religion via something like You know Angel Heart which is a great film but super problematic as far as like how blackness is handled and black religions are handled you know.
But anyway movie the kind of questions that we have and a course that we can't open our eyes about representation and context of things to this past year there seemed to be a really strong crop of films created by African-American filmmakers and a couple of films like sorry to bother you and blind spotting which are not overtly horror but have like horrific elements that are just you know I mean they seemed great not only in terms of like really being fresh filmmaking but also bringing a fresh perspective to the screen.
We're not really love sorry to bother you. It definitely has elements of horror and because it has body horror in it. But I would almost like to make it far more and feel like the apple for real which is also a mode of making that I think closely connected to Apple futurism we look like these got Miller's Apple surrealist manifesto he does a great job of kind of like dealing with those issues. I mean we we have some really great conversations about the differences in genre and that kind of thing too. So there's this notion of like horror to deal with like a particular level of threat that I think that.
Sorry to bother you doesn't necessarily push and it's more like using Apple surrealism ideas to kind of like talk about these very political emotions and is in some ways extremely absurd. You know as far as comedic and absurd it reminds me of like some of the black art black eyes little bit writer's work. The other thing about blondes in a blast but I haven't seen actually there's so many so many stories about police brutality. And it's really hard for me to watch those things because you write those are horrific elements and very real horrors too.
And in some ways I think I'm more interested in like ha that is cathartic hardest escapist heart it even doesn't necessarily rely upon racism as the underlying thing even though it's very difficult to not talk about otherness when you're dealing with monsters because the monster is the other you know let's be real about the construction of various types of other ideas. So I think race and other ideas of identity can easily be mapped onto the grotesque or to the monstrous.
Now when you talked about this ethno Gothic idea what kind of things fall into that category. Because you talked about things like body whore and haunted spaces and in Hungary go so what kind of things represent that ethno gothic horror for you.
Well you see that's a good question.
So for us it's like the look of the aforementioned Kindred is a good exactly what they call the ethnographic because it really is taken gothic tropes that then bending them around ideas around effect. In fact I really want to call the effort about it first but my friend Stanford was like well you know we didn't construct we didn't create race we were just kind of inherited it as an aspect of our lives. So it's not really fair to say something like about blackness. It's about race as an object. And I have like these these these qualities to it that I like an artifact and their stories around it as a kind of boundary object the kind of shift from one space to the other.
So I think those are really interesting ideas around it.
They are kindred is a good good example of something like Sankofa I think falls in that too. Are you familiar with that film at all.
I have not seen that. Yeah yeah.
So it's about it came out in the late 90s.
It's about a young black woman who is a black supermodel and she goes to like one of those slave castle. You know she's doing like this photo shoot. And so what happens is she.
She actually has like a bite out of body experience where the ancestral spirit but presents her body and she time travel. That kindred. And she experiences things too like a possession like like something that would happen like a voodoo ceremony like that. 0. Along the. Y. Y.
She comes out of the castle until totally change because she's actually had this real life experience but through the eyes of the ancestral connection of stigmata there's some of that too by Phyllis.
Phyllis Alicia Kerry.
It was a really great book and it's kind of like sampled the idea of you know the Catholic notions of stigmata but she maps it on to like idea around matrilineal trauma in her and her you know in the story where she's kind of like you get the marks of the slaves that are part of the slave women that are part of her lineage. You know I can't say for the photos and prime examples I was thinking about Daughters of the dust even by Julie Dash I think have this idea that it's either because the garbage this overnight around ideas around like terrorists is extension of like change you know but that is kind of a push back against the hyper industrial ization of our lives.
You know the modernization of our lives which is why you see things like Frankenstein and Dracula falling into those spaces because it was really about like the tension between the mechanization of humanity and also the ideas around these old ways of thinking that our intention with your ways of thinking you know and the way you map an intersection intersectional reading around gender and race onto those those ideas you get a really really interesting. Really really really interesting things happening. So I would even like to posit that we do make a lot of Henry Damascus work falls into that range too.
And I think it's the aspect that we're looking at forever. How is the emotional aspect of being applied to those stories that I think make something kind of gothic but really I'm looking at a trope you know like the idea that the doppelganger thing is the body horror haunted faces the same things that we get to do the Gothic sound artifact crisis you know a lot of Gothic stories we have like these fictitious artifacts that actually change someone's life. And I think in this particular case that artifact is the thing that we find that we don't understand that actually shifts how we view the world versus magical weird thing that doesn't really exist that actually has so much weight in your life.
These do the things we're talking about.
Part of what these tropes in the ethno Gothic genre do is you talk about how it's like memory and history and the present and the self all kind of affect each other.
Yeah yeah. This is just the confluence and there's a lot of tension around like that and a lot of borrowing from you know much more being told to myself you know like someone like Dubois.
RAZ You're talking about what it means to simultaneously be American but also be black you know the idea of a double consciousness. I mean you almost become your own doppelganger. You're walking around the bullet like we have to carry black history and American history simultaneously in order to survive in this country. You never really whole. And so this idea like blackness being like a wound or like it being like this kind of like precarious treasure you know that you know that we that we carry around with us. But we have someone like the likes of you that talks about blackness this ethereal thing to say that you know black is and it also ain't like it's like this both simultaneously.
I think it's the intersection of all those ideas that makes what it means to be alive and to be black and in the space so speculative it really is very speculative you know and I think that it's hard to explain that feeling and I think the boy did it so well with the soul of the black vote. And so that for now France not what he talked about like how how blackness is constructed. And it was a white black skin white man. The fact of blackness that that's the idea of it is like it's this weird very very strange construction that we you inherit when you you know it's you socialized into being and it's in direct conversation with whiteness.
And James Baldwin said it was you think you're white. I have to be black. So he really could see through the subterfuge because he talks about constructions of blackness to like you know. I don't know why you need a Negro in the first place. You know I'm not that person you know has nothing to do with me. And so those are some of the things that you're there were kind of getting at with these narratives. Very little to do with how black people see themselves more so to do with how other people see us.
And then paring away the lives around race and around how quote unquote different. So yeah I think that's where a lot of the horror of lies because once you start on making those things like what did it say about you you know what does it say about the subject.
What are some films that you might suggest to people to seek out that they might not. Because some of the films you mentioned at this panel you were at were not films that you might immediately think of as fitting into this ethno goth category or even as some stuff that might even make you cry when you think of it.
Oh yeah exactly.
So it might look like used by you or you know or like value of the great one because again we're talking about nobody's external terrorist but these interests these familiar to these the terrors of the family.
You know for instance we look at something like to sleep with anger by oh what's his name. Tell us child yet. BURNETT Exactly.
Well you're talking about like these these really really enter into generational tension but also spatial tension about black upward mobility and you know dealing with these these older practices to me I mean does but anger have similar things of Dracula. Because it has you know these notions of you know historical magics and historical folklore and how it's pushing up against what we're looking at as black respectability politics and a modern black identity you know but then also to us like you know after as I recall after the LA riots. Right. So you know you're dealing with those those kind of like the tragic consequences that really kind of show you that things really haven't changed that much and that's a definite existential dread that happens right.
Like man you know I've worked all this time and still does still feel the same way. And you see that with someone like James Blake the black tennis player being like sprawled across his his car you know in this really beautiful that he has on and he's like No you look like that but I'm a and an athlete known like Kenneth play a guy you know. But to over that though the thing is I'm talking about those the two terrible things that happen for other movies because like you said get out death by temptation for instance which is more obviously horror where branch of the federal government that specialize in murder under strange circumstances.
I don't believe this.
I do not believe supernatural could be responsible for a significant percentage of unsolved murders.
I mean now that along with criminals we get 80s and zombies killing people. About a year ago. I was assigned to investigate the case of a man who had admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital claiming he had slept with the devil.
Said he could feel snakes crawling around in his stomach as he was about to tell me who she was. The snakes began to crawl out of his mouth you bullshit. Cause the hospital swept the incident under the rug and I was assigned to do the follow up. Follow the patients lead and ended up at the bar. I've been watching her ever since. She leaves with a man. You never see them again.
Candy Man Of course Angel Heart. Definitely. I mean so this stuff obviously falls into a more have the tropes of horror that deal with race in a particular way too. Yeah dead birds is pretty cool because it it was interesting because dead birds is a horror movie. It's got a haunted house story that that set during the Civil War. This place is. This many thanks to.
You are not welcome. Open the door on the body.
So obviously it's going to have some.
It should have some issues about how life is constructed. And it's funny to when people have read reviews of it and people who review the movie totally over it they underplay the fact that slaves were being sacrificed in this this plantation to actually open up the door to hell or whatever it took to reactivate this man's family that he lost. You know I know that well this is how come no one mentioned this. It's like you know it's funny because it's like a blast but you know I think that that's something that happens a lot.
This blonde but that the people just don't pay attention to if you don't have to deal with it because at the end of the day I mean it's not a problem and you have to deal with it and it's death. I think of a human being and particularly in a particular position of power of some kind. You know if you don't have to deal with something then you just don't. Now it's not a there's not an epidemic until it's at your doorstep. So yeah I think that's kind of that's kind of how things happen.
I think one of our biggest horrors is just apathy. You know we just don't. And I think that's a human condition. We're very tribal and we like to be at the top of the food chain everybody loves to say that to her biggest fears were that man always could create hierarchies and then we always want to be at the top of the hierarchy and that's that. Kelley one of the biggest things I think are the people on the stairs obviously because that is so so actively with the tensions between you know affluence and blackness and whiteness and also how often do you see a blue black boy as the protagonist in a horror movie.
Shoot me and you die. To me you better believe it can be crazy new. Dana my back did a blow you sky high not the best place to store it in my opinion but there was and just put the gun down.
GANDHI I don't want to kill you but I will because I'll like you much anyway I'm tired of fucking around.
So he put the gun down now. A kiss show as goodbye boy.
That's crazy. I like it better and it's made by what Craven.
You know such a such and such a really like the definitive black horror movie you know in some ways stuff like Jezebel vs. Oh no it was seen Jezebel. When I look at something like a skeleton key like Jezebel is the opposite of get out. Well you know it's this notion that both of those those films deal with this idea when I call them out. I don't I don't think I made up to time I think someone else coined it but it's like Rachel transistors and the idea that you can slip in and out of somebodies race like a suit you know or like a skin you know.
You know Jezebel that also the skeleton key uses hoodoo as the technology for transferring a black spirit into a white body. You know that cancer probably Jezebel does it better. It's more stylish I think a lot more direct government. I really enjoy but it has its issues but those particular films that they deal with a lot. I've seen more representation that ethnographic and like black horror actually in comics. You know that's why they're really interested because it's harder. It's easy to make a comic to get to make a movie.
I think it was like Get it out there immediately. So you have stuff like juke joint by t Franklin and Luther Martinez where like it's using this is using the supernatural as a way to deal with domestic abuse stuff like bone Parish which is kind of a combination between a story around a supernatural story about who of you know and actually who to and like maybe animal kingdom or like the wire because it's like the drug there's the family of drug dealers in New Orleans who actually are selling people's remains as powder and you can actually experience their you know their lives through this kind of goofy dust camp thing is really a cool story but also deals like you know issues around grief and regret and and family ties and it's led by this really powerful kind of matriarch.
So smart comic books would be a part of great TV show like that. So I think people are really pushing the boundaries now with how these particular types of technologies are being deployed and how they're in a sector because race functions and the technology to to borrow from Beth Coleman's work. Whereas like when you when you really get to get away from the ludicrous notion that race is makes us different it does function like this extrapolation I like this prosthetic even if I get it like this this construction that where there were so invested in that that relates to us it really has nothing to do with who we are as people you know.
I mean not really but it does to like like Langston Hughes that black is black. How does that mean. I mean whiter than white. At the same time that he does that that's the underlying conceit of that. And I think that horror the supernatural the ethno Gothic the apple through all these different like terminologies whatever you want to call them they really are trying to get at this with these weird constructions around the things that we think is different or aberrant you know and they make us like they make us uncomfortable they make us really uncomfortable.
And so I think symbolically we use stuff like body horror or the idea of a ghost you know I mean the reason why they say like oh the specter of slavery have you ever heard that term. But like I've heard that a lot coming through the academy over the specter of slavery for instance you know because it haunts the south it haunts America you know and we don't want to deal with it you know because we couldn't construct it as a nation constructed this idea around us being like saviors and good guys and you know you know might is right and how these different things and we're saving the countries and you know where it will be the moral majority.
You know none of that is obviously none of that is true. You know especially these days I mean like this current administration is totally undermined by any kind of credibility in those spaces. And to me it's really like OK this is what black documents say another time. But there you go. You know. Yeah. But like I was telling a friend the other day so you know we all live in Mississippi now so like Welcome to the south.
It's like you know at your panel that you did you had sadly because we're in radio we can't use a lot of visuals at all but one of the things that was quite striking was that you showed some imagery from some comics.
I think that you had done and that others had done and linked them to images of real slavery and things that it devices that had been used on slaves. Oh yeah. And yeah that was I mean that was really impactful seeing those kind of artistic renderings of it like how they filtered those kind of things into these storylines and these kind of like new myths or you know new variations on them.
Yeah yeah I think you're referring to I think I showed the flash on a lot of comics but but I think you're a poor find a box of bones which is that I created with his age am my ever really talented writer.
And so that was an example of where he really wanted to create like what is black terror and how did that manifest itself. So yeah we borrowed directly from you know Lynching Photography slave slavery images around slavery and bondage and actually turned them into these these terrible machines of punishment you know. And so it's a box of balls is about this young woman black queer woman from the south actually named Lindsay Lindsay forward. And she's working on a speech at UC Berkeley and like American studies and like folklore that kind of thing.
And so she comes across these stories around this box that she'd been hearing about since her childhood. Is she proud of her grandmother her grandfather was making up but it turns out that this shadow box is black box this box of bones. They call it is throughout the dark but she starts to find you know stories about it throughout the entire diaspora. And so she starts to research it and she starts to find out that there's not just a story she's thinking it is a manifestation of life black trauma. That is a spook story you know but then little by little she starts to realize this thing is real and in some ways she's connected to it so really Catholic about again you know these tensions around the past you know history the memory and so you know that's it's a very it's constructed to be a ethnographic comic book.
And it also is so it's a real terror you know like one of the one of the Masters that lives in a box because the idea that the box punishes those who who hurt black people throughout the Diaspora and it could be black could be white or whatever you can call it and it'll punish the person that has hurt you. So the revenge fantasy. But then it's Kelly the monkey's power or with something in order for it and you don't know what you owe it until the deed is done. So it might take a it might take a child it might take your leg it might kill you and you may have to live in the box a little bit you know that kind of stuff.
So it just kind of picks and chooses according to what it feels like it's do call for doing it and doing the deed so to speak but all the creatures that live in the box are there based off of actual like terrorists that are connected to like blackface minstrelsy. You know the the lynching and destruction of black men you know the there's one character that's so powerful that she can't even live in the box. She's called the Wailing and she represents like the tears of like black mothers who've lost funds to different modes of violence.
You know that can't be because she's almost a look at a black church lady you know what these crazy like bone wings and you know this church fan that she speaks with us. So we're just kind of like went off into these different tangents to really make something that was authentically black and American but also something that was truly terrifying on a different level. Yeah. Yep. There's enough there's enough in our history that we can write about this totally terrifying.
Yeah. And that brings up kind of another aspect of the black horror ideas in that films like Rosewood or twelve years a slave are not what you would call traditional horror but they are dealing with stuff that's you know real world horrors. Yeah.
And and it was commonplace exactly commonplace. I think if all roles were I mean Rosewood as it is is just one of many black towns that were destroyed. So before I realized like you know doing you know the Red Summer and other other you know rashes of black towns being destroyed that was commonplace it would be you know white mobs of you know racist angry white people who had some type of vendetta against the town destroying an entire town is burning it down you know killing people burying them in a common grave and just moving on and then probably reclaiming the land to other things like you know really trying to get more property to because you were seeing like black folk were not able to.
They were you know we weren't able to to settle in spaces where white people were and so it decide it's okay to start a black town and you know we'll do our thing. You feel it. I would feel here any black town a very prosperous actually were very successful clearly look at felt like the town that was close to Tulsa Oklahoma which is probably one of the most notorious you know where you know they bombed that black town from the sky with like bombs and stuff. It was it was a mill it was almost like a military exercise.
And I'm Colin Graves and you know the whole the Holocaust you know and it was like thick the kind of Black Wall Street because there were like six black millionaires that lived there I think you know the very very prosperous black town and basically the same thing happens as well. Supposedly a white woman was raped by a black man and they wanted to get that dude in a tie. And so there was a huge riot but back in the day a race riot would be usually white people attacking a black town. That was how race riots used to jump off.
So but something like you know twelve years a slave. First of all it's horrific to just vanish but a lot of people forget that Solomon Northup after he got back from being a slave he lived with his daughter I think for like maybe eight years and I think that's what happened. And then he vanishes again. He totally disappears again and it's like we don't know what he he actually ended up. Maybe he gets killed or stolen back into slavery we have no idea what happened to him. That's scary you know.
Totally terrified. Even after twelve years of being a slave he's still he's still he's still on the Warriors. We always the berry and so that's the kind of terror that we're talking about where you know you could be a black mother in Mississippi and your son could leave and not come home you know that was a very real terror particularly like in the post civil rights era we are dealing with like something like what happened to Emmett Till for instance you know these are the real terrorists that manifest themselves now and these kind of Black Lives Matter moments that are you know thank God for like video cameras and the Internet.
So these think about them you we wouldn't even be able to know anything about how these these these kids are being killed. You know we still have young black woman a woman of color disappearing you know trans women of color that are being attacked and stolen and killed. There's a lot of that a lot of really you don't have to really go too far into that yourself.
And I think that's what horror noir brings up to that documentary. Ashley Blackwell internal review co-produced the shutter. It's like they're saying that yeah you know these are real black terrorists that are that are very they sit with you. So how do you how do you get those across to people and that's why I think these these these notions are the ethnographic go black horror of the AFL serial the Afro futurist whatever you want to call it speculations around race and horror. I think a lot of potent conversations that I think we're finally having.
So because when you speculate about something like that it distances you in a particular way so you can actually talk about it more readily then instead of like doing a documentary about it you can actually make a film like a fictional piece about it that people are more at ease about. That's what that's the beauty of looking like Get out. It's like oh well this is this is actually dealing with these particular things that I don't necessarily feel comfortable with but I feel like we're not directly talking about it.
It's kind of like when was happening with the Perseus to kill Medusa where he didn't look directly at her he can't look at any reflection either. Yeah and then he was able to defeat her with how it is. I mean film and other places did they give us a space where we can deposit our fears comfortably without having to deal with these things so readily. So yep.
Well I mean that's one thing that's always fascinated me about pop culture and especially genre films like horror is it. It does seem to be looked at as entertainment and with horror especially it's sometimes looked at very low entertainment whether it is or not. But it's you know horror doesn't always get a lot of respect and it just seems like it's a way to bring up things that is on a certain level less confrontational than an overtly like political statement. And if these pop culture films always seem to like be able to reach into things and grab them in interesting ways.
Yeah yeah yeah I think you're right. You know and sometimes you don't watch you can watch things very passively. I try to teach my students to be active watchers and consumers of culture particularly in the media studies professor that these things have meaning outside of what you think you know and if you really if you're really gifted at storytelling and you understand that then you can craft really powerful narrative that I think are palpable and powerful and can change things. You know they really like you know a lot of times people might not go and read a book in a library about these things or they might not go to these films but a lot of times they'll find a way to consume the story.
And I think you know race is a story the way that we treat each other. These are like stories that are real powers to try to change a narrative to disrupt how these narratives have affected us throughout history and to kind of replace them with other ones upgrade them so to speak. I want to read this Why don't my remake you know my why. Let's see what you see with this generation can do with the same stuff because that's how history is. It's kind of regurgitate is kind of cyclical and sometimes sometimes the movie is better than the book nine times out of ten it's not but sometimes it is.
And sometimes the remake is better than the original. And sometimes if you change perspective you change the director you change like the main character. People get really upset in comics about race and gender bending for us is all that well if for us is what a superhero you know the first like legacy character to be a part of the flash. You know very Allen flash. So what was they ended like instead of just updating it with you know the same person you just updated with another which is someone who's just a regular person who just happens to be a woman.
What has happens to be Latina. You know that kind of thing.
So I think I'm not sure if you ended your panel with this or if it was just towards the end of it but you had a quote from Ogden Nash about where there is a monster there is a miracle. Yeah. You mentioned the medium is the monster.
So what do you mean by that for you never the class. I thought I thought this of course about monstrosity as a language or like a a mode of discourse you know and some of his ideas come from I guess it's way more ways smarter scholars than myself. Like I do Habbush from book. So that is about the technology of this. So I'm just thinking more broadly about the fact that the monster has existed you know since mankind exists that we use the monster as the mediation of our own fears and the things that make us uncomfortable and we give it form and sometimes we just live with a monster like a film like The Baba Duke which I thought was brilliant.
You know I had a big fight with my students about that because they they don't understand sometimes about like what fear really is like or how to monstrous becomes a tool for you to deal with something like guilt or like you know laugh you know you have one of the things that why the monster live in a living with them. I think yeah because you never get really grief. You know you never get rid of loss. You know it's a really great metaphor. I know that okay. They were the scary of a yeah because you have got you know obviously you know you haven't gone that I can't I don't want to be.
They want to get the jump scares you know. And I think that the monstrous is a really great mediation for these these really darker aspects of life that we're very terrified about of horror at the end of the day really about our are and we are dealing with the fact that one day we will die you know which is one of most terrifying things that people just cannot don't think about. We all live with. And so if that ennui or the dread of that that we can manipulate other mediums so that's what I meant by that.
But yeah we actually had a whole class when I was in Buffalo there was a studio class about the monstrous. So I tried a class called Applied semiotics you know basically it was just a class around symbolism in how how graphic designers use symbols but I would always change the theme and so that year I talked about monstrosity and you know how huge a huge portion of that was just about demonization of female sexuality. So we looked at characters like lilies and you know suck you by and you know sirens and mermaids you know kind of like weird very very misogynist strange you know constructions of male female sexuality that are terrifying to men you know and they are present in every culture right.
But they have and go story in every culture. We all have monsters and dragons in every culture. So we are using it to mediate those types of fear something we know very very big cultural ideas around the things that affect us as people you know that we're just afraid to talk about. And I think one of the big monsters in our country is just like the fact that you know we don't live in a democracy with an oligarchy you know or that race is still a really really big part of how we see each other because it's divisive and it's profitable.
It really is demographics. The only demographic you know but you know it's profitable like having divisions and segments and you know this stuff is actually very very profitable to people who have way more money than enough and control of the world and we do coming up on tangents.
That's all right. But you know talking to you really makes me want to go back to school if I can take classes like what you're offering because it was good. They sound great.
We have always always. What we talked about in my classes on my Facebook and stuff like. Tomorrow we're gonna be discussing to have some trust. And then there's often this book called Black Monday murder black when they murder one of my favorite comics.
You know I kind of pushed a little bit it has a black protagonist and it's not necessarily just it's not about race it's actually more about class it's about you know it's about wealth and you know greed actually. So but his main character who is a detective is a black character. So it's like okay I'm white he's just got like this book. So so he has some of the stuff that we talk about tomorrow.
And yeah I really I have the best job in the world. You know making these things and talking about these things on a regular basis.
Yeah well I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk about them here and I know that people who went to your panel that horrible imaginings came away just amazed by your presentation and kind of some people I think we really changed in terms of how they looked at stuff.
Well I hope though you know that that's that's good. In fact I'm glad you mentioned it. I need to reach out to someone else who reached out to me that makes it hard to keep up contact.
That was John Jennings professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside and founder of the still evolving scary black folks collective. Thanks for listening to cinema junkies Black History Month podcast. I also suggest checking out some archive episodes specifically episode 58 an underappreciated black filmmakers an episode 60 with David Walker talking about blaxploitation cinema. Thanks to everyone who's posted reviews and subscribe to the podcast. Your recommendations are the best way to grow the audience for the show so please consider leaving a review on iTunes till our next film fix. I'm Beth Accomando UF resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place