During the decade of Purple Rain and my perplexed thoughts on shoulder pads in women’s business suits, I was the cute little brown-skinned kid with two, long ponytails in a plaid dress; quiet, polite, and generally pleasant. Therefore, I was consistently addressed as if I was unassuming of the tumultuous and traumatically unkind society I was being raised in. While The Cosby Show brought comfort to many and Eddie Murphy showered laughs on diverse faces, I was riddled with indifference (except towards The Golden Child which is the best film ever!). There was neither a challenge nor excitement to find in what many of the kids and adults talked endlessly about.
Navigating my not-too-strict upbringing, I was able to battle my anxiety about the world through those weekend network runs of edited, R-rated horror films. I had a keen awareness that the perception of me watching Freddy Krueger kill a bunch of teenagers was bizarre. But my quiet takeaway was one of those female teenagers took Krueger to task and the credits rolled not long after. And with the memories of slaying the monster, even for a little while, I could face those monstrous days of banality mixed in with a bit of some outcast social angst, especially in regards to liking those scary movies.
Now much older than my face reads, there are monsters I’m still facing to defeat. Monsters that at once make me hyper-aware of how my Blackness, my womanhood, and how those tenets combined already come with a set of defaulted traits, sealing my convictions before I even enter a film screening or a convention hall. And none of those tenets say anything about being a lover of the horror genre. Those monsters; the sneaky, soft-spoken micro-aggressions and the not-so subtle dismissive attitudes have been more about other’s discomfort of my defiance of whatever they believe ‘A Black Woman’ is supposed to be. My opinions on horror films have been nastily discredited, people’s reactions to my expressions of horror fandom have been responses of disbelief, disinterest, or disgust, and the catalyst kicker; I’ve been invisible in large horror fandom spaces. Like, literally treated as if I’m not even there. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that that hasn’t been discouraging. Wondering why, as a natural introvert, do I even bother to expend precious energy on effort and time where, because I’d rather not perform a Kool-Aid man approach to social endeavors, I matter little and less than my lighter complexioned patrons.
But these particular circumstances stand out as affirmations. That may sound odd. In retrospect, I understand that my internal compulsion to produce a solution to this ever-persistent issue of not only how the horror genre is often narrowly defined as pure nihilistic blood, guts, and violence, the end, but who can take part in its participatory nature on all fronts. I created the building blocks of my visibility through the images of Black women I saw on screen in horror films, often the victims, sometimes heroines, maybe even both through the overlooked history of their active productivity within the genre as far back as the 1920’s. Research and writing have been my weapons of choice, the figurative B-Girl stance in opposition to those experiences and future encounters I’m sure will surface. With a massive amount of other Black women who have added their creative mark to the online scholarship and communal efforts of Black women in horror, we are adding new meanings and dismantling the horror canon to challenge and assert its popularized construction of the place where the misunderstood dwell and dare to be unabashedly imaginative.
Sitting legs folded too close to a floor model TV screen before remote controls were even really a thing, watching the endless range of horror films as a child helped me find a way to survive as a Black girl and a woman on this globe. The monsters almost always had a will to destroy, and the meekest of characters found themselves with no choice but to fight, to face those shadows the moon cast. And in a world that I knew and know instinctively cares little for those who are Black and female, horror movies provided a model that I’ve been carrying for a lifetime to affirm for myself and others that we are not only visible but valuable.