There’s a school of thought (or, non-thought, as it were) that says you should just turn your brain off and enjoy movies. If it’s not “high-brow” entertainment, then it’s not worthy of exploration. Certainly, horror films, with their low production values and cheap thrills meant for teenagers aren’t worthy of serious study. But as seen in Xavier Burgin’s excellent documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, analyzing the horror genre is perhaps most worthy of study because of how it shows us how black people are depicted in American popular cinema. Although the documentary is primarily just movie clips and interviews with black scholars, filmmakers, and actors, Burgin weaves it all together into an engrossing story of American cinema. Horror Noire never professes to be a complete history of black cinema, but it does show how certain tropes appear in horror films with regards to black characters. By analyzing these tropes, Burgin, along with writers Ashlee Blackwell and Danielle Burrows, emphasizes not only a lesson in black representation, but the importance of analysis in making sure that representation is accurate and equitable.
Horror has always had a heavy constituency made up of youth. In the 21st century as a generation matures into adulthood and has essentially lived in a world where there always has been access to hip hop culture, the horror market developed ways in which to capitalize on this. Many of us have seen rappers in genre films. It has even been said that one of Halloween producers, Moustapha Akkad’s sons enthusiastically encouraged him to cast Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). Moustapha then used Google to find out who Busta Rhymes was.
Rapper/actor lead and major supporting role horror films have been a trend. In the direct-to-DVD, independent market, they were a saturation; “over 100 hip-hop inspired ‘Black horror’ films were released in the first decade of the twenty-first century alone.” Mostly known for their (much) lower budgets and putting z’s at the end of titles (Vampiyaz, Zombiez, Cryptz, and overall abuse of the English language) these films were ruled by a marketing target set in the 1980’s: the profitability of “youth, hip hop, and the home video market”.
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