Black History Month : The State of Speculative Fiction: Why Race Matters

The State of Speculative Fiction: Why Race Matters

by Valjeanne Jeffers

Why is race, why is diversity, important in speculative fiction? Why is it important, why should it matter, what race one’s characters are?

As a child, I devoured YA fiction, filled with ghosts and goblins. My TV interests were the same: I gravitated toward the weird, the fantastic, so much so I often had to look under my bed to make sure Dracula hadn’t found his new resting place there.

But there were, with few exceptions, no characters who looked like me. There were no characters from neighborhoods like mine. What was far worse was that many of the characters who later came, and are still around today, didn’t act like me or anyone else I knew. I wonder if my life would have been more enriched if there’d been a brown-skinned girl or boy who starred in the fiction I so greedily devoured? If he or she had walked across the TV screen of my youth? Of this I’m sure.

Diversity is important because we, people of color, need heroines and heroes to people the landscape of our imagination … to point the way, to help us dream, to help us see something better in our tomorrows. We need characters to help make us proud of who we are and where we came from. In short, we need characters to identify with. Characters who are coming from the same space. We need role models, most especially ones who don’t die in the first fifteen minutes of the story, ones who aren’t caricatures and stereotypes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I continue to enjoy literature and films created by white authors. But I still need, I’d venture to say we still need stories that emerge from the Black experience. And we aren’t the only ones who need this. Diversity in speculative fiction is important for folks of all races.

If you want to know what’s going on in my neighborhood, if you want to know what moves me politically, and socially, if you want to know what I dream, who better to ask than me? In other words, SF/fantasy/horror written not just by Black folks, but by Native Americans, peoples of Latin descent, written by the full racial spectrum, goes a long way toward making folks more intelligent, more tolerant … to moving our world a little bit closer to global humanity and understanding.

Racial inclusiveness, diversity, is just as important in speculative fiction as it is in every other aspect of our lives. And in 2019 it is becoming an everpresent reality. 

I’ve always hated it when folks overgeneralize and paint everyone with the same broad brush. So here’s what I have to say: to those white creators who are trying so hard to be racially sensitive and accurate. We are not talking about you. I myself, create Native American, Asian, Spanish and White characters based on folks I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in my lifetime. As I’ve said before, I hope that I do a decent job. Only my readers can answer that.

The authors and screenwriters we’re trying to move forward are those who have no idea how to create a nonwhite character and don’t even try to learn. Who just dig in their bag of stereotypes and throw something together. Personally, I’d rather be portrayed as a White woman with a deep tan, not perfect mind you, but better, rather than a “Yuk, yuk missus … I’s a-comin’” myth.

As writers, we’ve all heard of publishing companies that strong-arm authors into making their characters white or racially ambiguous, so they can attract white readers. Again, all publishing companies are not equal. But these stories have made me glad I decided to self-publish. I’d also like to say, since I have white readers, to these companies (you know who you are): you aren’t giving your readers enough credit. You should stop treating them like children. Folks will read good writing, no matter where it comes from, and who writes it.

And now to Hollywood. Oh man, don’t get me started!  On the stereotypical characters that make us all cringe, the people of color (yes, not just black folks) who die fifteen to thirty minutes into the film, to the scores and scores of films made with no people of color at all.

So what do we do? We keep on keeping on. In 2019, the speculative fiction landscape is filled with more films, books and animation created by folks of color than I have ever seen in my lifetime.

Our numbers will continue to grow. We are coming. We have arrived. We are here. 

And we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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Valjeanne Jeffers is a science fiction writer and the author of Immortal, Immortal 2: The Time of Legend and Immortal 3: Stealer of Souls. She is a graduate of Spelman College, NCCU and a member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective (CAAWC).

Black History Month : Black Devil From Hell / a Review

     Black Devil Doll From Hell or Chester Turners Revenge

  A Review by James Goodridge

“This is bad, very bad … but I love it,” I say to myself while clicking through a cornucopia of videos, reviews, soundtrack music, and other snippets, but not the full-length movie Black Devil Doll From Hell or BDDFH. Now I have a macabre love for B movies be it Sci-Fi or Horror the more absurd (see Scream Baby Scream 1969) or Grind House the better. With some low budget movies watching them you get a sense that they were made for the quick buck, but some have a feel that passion was injected into the movie kind of an Ed Wood radiance.

BDDFH was written, directed, music scored and produced by Chester Turner. Starring Shirley Jones, it was filmed in 1984 in Chicago for under $10,000 using a video camera, a VCR and a Casio organ for soundtrack music.

The ’80s were an era of mobile video freedom for people to create, a challenge to would-be amateur filmmakers. Mr. Turner took up the challenge. The plot surrounds Helen Black(Jones) a God-fearing woman who buys a three-foot doll with Rick James corn rolls from a strange gift shop, not aware that the doll is possessed by the devil. Later in the slow-paced movie, the doll comes to life and attacks her in the shower. For the rest of the movie, we’re tormented by devil doll’s old hustler voice harassing Helen as she has succumbed to his power, going on the prowl to pick up men for sexual gratification. Obie Dunson plays the Preacher in some scenes.

Years later, Turner said he stayed up three days and nights writing the script. Maybe I’m wrong because I had a hard time following parts of the movie and there is barely a plot. Now I must say that the doll itself is creepy, one of those old ventriloquist dummies with the huge eyes and to Turner’s credit you do get a visceral sense of unease.

The Casio droning on in the background makes you wish it would stop. Scenes lingering too long, stiff acting and bad lighting doom this labor of love Chester Turner produced. Selling the movie on VHS from the trunk of his car then making sales pitches in-person to video store owners generated limited profits for Turner and Jones (they were in a relationship at the time) and soon the movie was forgotten with Turner and Jones moving on to create Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987).

Over the decades,  social media has not been kind to BDDFH with would-be reviewers piling on with bad reviews. I came across one reviewer on YouTube using a racial slur when talking about Ms. Jones’s looks. But a documentary Adjust Your Tracking (2013) and a Daily Grind House article in 2013 revived interest in BDDFH. It is now the holy grail when it comes to VHS tape collectors with a tape selling between $ 419 to $1,000 online.  

Internet detective work helped me come across a Q & A segment at the 2013 Austin Film Society Festival featuring Turner and Jones. The movie now in cult status, Turner answered questions with humbleness and grace while Jones is reserved and matter of fact. Both feel vindicated, Turner still has the master copy and was redistributing it on DVD. In 2001

A non-related remake of BDDFH was released on DVD. A soft porn splatter movie mess, the best I can say about it is that… I’ll get back to you a few years from now maybe with some kind words.

At the end of the day Turner and Jones chased their dream with passion.

Black History Month : Ganja and Hess v. Da Sweet

Ganja and Hess v. Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus: A Review

By Eden Royce

Both Ganja and Hess (1973) and Spike Lee’s remake Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) feature Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist who from an encounter with a cursed knife, develops a thirst for blood. Soon after, he meets Ganja Hightower and shares his curse of immortality with her to ensure they will be together forever. They begin a dangerous romance that strikes at the heart of what we know as love and addiction.

When you look up cult films, as I do, the list inevitably includes at least one Blaxploitation horror movie. The one I see mentioned most often and the one listed on Halliwell’s Film Guide is Blacula. It deserves its place and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do so. 

One deserving black horror flick that doesn’t get such love is Ganga and Hess

I have a hard time placing this movie with other films in the Blaxploitation horror genre like J.D.’s Revenge, and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde because Ganja and Hess stands alone as almost a genre within itself.  Some may find this movie difficult to watch as it drags its feet in some places, and in others rushes through, skipping niftily past plot and minor details like why did getting stabbed with this ancient knife give Dr. Hess a form of vampirism? 

Even so, William Gunn’s directorial choices are resonant. G&H is artsy and full of symbolism. In addition, he plays Lafayette Hightower in the film, Ganja’s husband and Hess’s disturbed assistant who stabs him with the aforementioned knife. While I don’t always need or want to be spoon-fed all of the details in a movie, I found Ganja’s throwaway attitude of yes, my husband’s body is in your wine cellar, but do you wanna get together? mystifying.

I appreciated that the characters were not portrayed as stereotypically Black; their roles could be played successfully by any race. Hess, played by Duane Jones of Night of the Living Dead fame, is an anthropologist and is obviously wealthy if his home and the Rolls Royce his driver carts him around in are any indication. Ganja’s tone is acerbic and cutting at first, but Hess is too cool and comfortable in his own skin to rise to the challenge. Eventually, she mellows into a thoughtful, introspective character, assessing her plight, then accepting, and finally reveling in it. 

Ganja and Hess is such an unusual movie, part horror, part surreal dream-state montage; it was initially received poorly and almost ended Gunn’s career. The movie was re-released under different titles: Blood Couple, Black Vampire, and Black Evil, which underwhelm and do little to show the true intricate nature of this film. Now it has become a cult favorite that dips and dives, allowing you to observe without explaining much of anything. It’s a lingering movie that taunts you for trying to understand it.

Perhaps that’s why Spike Lee wanted to remake this film. His retelling of these blood-bonded lovers is titled, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, highlighting the original’s footage of African-Americans worshipping and singing gospel hymns, creating a religious tone that echoes throughout both movies. 

Financed via Kickstarter, Lee’s film brings the characters into the modern world but loses some of the allure of the original. The long scenes of church worship are there, as are the overlaid images and the characters’ grudging acceptance of blood as necessity.

However, Stephen Tyrone Williams does not have the easy cool of Jones, instead of giving Dr. Hess a stiff, wooden portrayal. British actress Zaraah Abrahams is marginally better, but still feels awkward as Ganja. Abrahams has several nude scenes in the remake, while the original only featured frontal male nudity. 

For the most part, Lee’s film remains true to Gunn’s version. A notable exception is that Lee is more forthright with explaining plot, which is not a bad thing. He spends more time developing characters and revealing their intentions and motivations. 

 Also, Ganja and Hess is grainy and difficult to hear in places as background noise plagued the filming. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is clear and clean, with high image quality and a sturdy soundtrack. 

I recommend seeing both movies for different reasons. It would be a good fit for lovers of indie films, those interested in seeing Black characters in leading horror roles, and those who just love a good, surreal experience. Both films give a different take on the blood drinker mythos and that in and of itself makes them refreshingly interesting movies. 

BIO:

Eden Royce’s short stories have appeared in various print and online publications including, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror (2018 and 2019), Sycorax’s Daughters (Bram Stoker award finalist), Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fiyah Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, PodCastle, PseudoPod, and Fireside Fiction. She is also a recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds grant.

Her debut middle grade Own Voices historical Southern Gothic novel, TYING THE DEVIL’S SHOESTRINGS, is forthcoming from Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins. More at her website edenroyce.com.

 

Black History Month : Interview with M. Lamar


Interview by Sumiko Saulson

M Lamar (born May 29, 1972) is a New York City-based composer, musician, performer, multimedia artist, and countertenor.[2] The New York Times describes his exhibit ‘Negrogothic’ as “a bracing alternative to the dispiriting traffic in blandly competent art clogging the New York gallery system these days, M. Lamar plumbs the depths of all-American trauma with visionary verve.”[3] Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker of M. Lamar: “he deconstructs the persona of the diva even as he wraps himself in divalike hauteur.”[4]

Lamar was born in Mobile, Alabama, studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, attending Yale for graduate school in sculpture before dropping out to focus on music.[5] M. Lamar continues to train vocally with Ira Siff, founder and lead soprano of La Gran Scena Opera Company, who was also Klaus Nomi‘s trainer.[6]

Lamar is the twin brother of actress Laverne Cox;[7] in two episodes of the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, Lamar played his sister’s character prior to her transition.[8][9] Lamar participated in an open dialogue with authors bell hooks, Marci Blackman, and Samuel R. Delany called Transgressive Sexual Practice as part of hooks’ scholar-in-residence at the New School in October 2014.

tps://soundcloud.com/sumiko-saulson/interview-with-negrogothic-artist-m-lamar

About Afrogothic music, literature and culture for February Black History Horror Month, also we have a show (live music) on February 8 but there is a lot of conversation about Beloved, etc… it’s a really good interview. It’s 40 minutes long.

Interview with M. Lamar about the upcoming Vantablack show with Stagefright (my band), Protea and N-Retrograde. We talk about Afrogothic music and literature, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Gothic horror, American Gothic horror and its relationship to the African American community and slavery and the antebellum south. Losing Toni Morrison in 2019. “The Pieces that I Am” and Toni Morrison refusing white centering in literature. Black horror writers, Afropunk,

Whether or not we saw each other at Death Guild in the 90s and why I asked the club to change its logo. Galaxy Chamber and Omewenne and how Stagefright and Protea used to play with them in the 90s. What is Black Eldergoth? Europeans fetishizing Blackness and how that affects Black people in goth culture. My mother dating Gunther Ethan Palmer, son of Warhol Starlet Ivy Nicholson and Ciao! Manhattan director John Palmer. Martin Gore (of Depeche Mode) finding out that his dad was African American and if he should be invited to the Picnic.

Race as a social construct, and what that means? Interracial Blackness, white passingness, our historical relationship to the trans-Atlantic trade route. My mother, Carolyn Saulson, Black Eldergoth and singer of Stagefright. Black centering during and outside of Black History Month.

M Lamar’s relationship to queerness, gender and his identical twin Laverne Cox (he acted as her preop in the series Orange is the New Black).

Loving Blackness and Political Race Theory. Who has the right to claim Blackness?

 

Intro to Celebrating Black Horror History

HorrorAddicts Black History Month

Intro to Celebrating Black Horror History

By Sumiko Saulson

60-black-women-in-horrorI’m proud to be the host of “Celebrating Black Horror History” during the month of February 2016. I would like to invite you, dear reader, to join us for an entire month of guest blogs, interviews, and offerings from the usual delightful staff here at HorrorAddicts.net that honor, highlight and celebrate the current and historical contributions members of the African Diaspora have made to the horror genre. I am excited to have so many talented guest contributors who are themselves, quite accomplished.  They include bestselling author Balogun Ojetade, Bram Stoker award winner Linda D. Addison, the prolific Crystal Connor and Kai Leaks, award-winning author Valjeanne Jeffers,  and many others.

As the author of 60 Black Women in Horror, I am no stranger to the subject of where black people stand in relation to the horror genre.  In fact, I first came into contact with HorrorAddicts back in 2013, when I was working on that very project as an ambassador for Women in Horror Month. David Watson’s 2012 article on African American horror writers was one of my reference materials when I was doing research for 60 Black Women in Horror.

This month, we will be looking at not only at authors, but black contributors to all aspects of the horror genre. We will cover topics as diverse as Lori Titus’ exploration of Black Women in Horror Comics, Eden Royce’s look at Southern Conjure Magic’s Contribution to Horror – the Realities versus the Fictitious, and James Goodridge’s  take on Real World Zombies.

We will look at the black presence (and sometimes, lack thereof) in horror films with Balogun Ojetade’s article on Early Black Horror Films of the 40s and 50s, Alicia McCalla’s perspective on Sembene in Penny Dreadful, Joslyn Corvis’s treatise on Tales from the Hood, James Goodridge’s personal perspective essay On the Dearth of Black Characters in Horror Movies, my piece From Producer to Actor: Wesley Snipes’ contribution to the Blade Franchise, Paula Ashe’s Sister My Sister: An Open Love Letter to Abby and Jenny Mills from Sleepy Hollow, and my look at Horror Legend Tony Todd.

The black presence in horror writing will also be a topic of discussion from both the author and the sumiko-blog-photocharacter points of view, with Linda D Addison’s Genesis: The First Black Horror Writers,  Kai Leaks’ essay on Author L.A. Banks’ Contribution to Horror, Bret Alexander Sweet’s Magical Realism in Toni Morrison (Beloved, Sulu, Song of Solomon), Kenesha Williams’s piece on Author Tananarive Due’s Contribution to Horror, Valjeanne Jeffers’s piece on Author Octavia Butler’s Contribution to Horror, Crystal Connor’s piece on The Inclusion of Black History in Speculative Fiction, and Nicole Kurtz ‘s article on The Representation of Black Women in The Dark Tower.

I hope you will enjoy the upcoming month of black history in horror features. Thank you for joining us.

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Sumiko Saulson’s blog “Things That Go Bump In My Head” focuses on horror fiction writing and features author interviews, writing advice, short stories and editorial pieces. She is the author of two novels in the science fiction and horror genres, “Solitude,” and “Warmth”, and a Young Adult dark fantasy series, “The Moon Cried Blood”, which was originally a novel.  Her fourth novel “Happiness and Other Diseases” will be released October 18, 2014.  She is also the author of a short story anthology “Things That Go Bump In My Head”.  She writes for the Oakland Art Scene for the Examiner.com. A published poet and writer of short stories and editorials, she was once profiled in a San Francisco Chronicle article about up-and-coming poets in the beatnik tradition. The child of African American and Russian-Jewish American parents, she is a native Californian, and was born and spent her early childhood in Los Angeles, moving to Hawaii, where she spent her teen years, at the age of 12. She has spent most of her adult life living in the San Francisco Bay Area. http://sumikosaulson.com/