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An original documentary for the Shudder streaming service, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, is directed by Xavier Burgin based on the book by Robin R. Means Coleman. I had some concerns going into this, I’ll admit it. I was worried it would be preachy or heavy-handed. I shouldn’t have, this is actually a very interesting look at the genre from a perspective we don’t see that often.

Going back to the silent era and the use of an actor in blackface to portray the potential rapist in The Birth Of A Nation and working its way through Night of the Living Dead up to the present and The Girl With All The Gifts and, of course, Get Out.

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Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror gives us a look at the evolution of black characters from stereotypical maids and servants with low IQ and a fear of “spooks and haunts” to the friend who dies first and finally into legitimate leads. There’s also a good portion devoted to Blaxploitation films like Blackula and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, which had black leads but wasn’t meant for mass audiences.

There are some genuine surprises along the way, such as Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams, two black directors who made very realistic films about black life in the 30s and 40s. Sadly, Williams is only remembered now for his role on the infamous The Amos ‘n Andy Show.

It’s also an interesting revelation as to why there were so few blacks in the science fiction horror films that dominated the 1950s. Nobody thought they were smart enough to be the scientists that dominated the casts of these films.

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With a cast that includes Tony Todd (Candyman, West of Hell), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, The Devil’s Rejects) Rusty Cundieff (Tales From The Hood, Tales From The Hood 2), Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Keith David (The Thing, You Might Be The Killer) among many others we get a lot of perspectives. Some of which are interesting, like those who didn’t care if they were getting stereotypical roles, they were just happy to be getting roles. Or the criticism of Candyman for reviving the Black Boogeyman lusts after blonde white woman trope.

It’s also nice to see films like Def By Temptation, Bones and Ganja And Hess get some serious attention. They’re usually just passed over with a mention of their stars. Here they get a much more thorough examination.

Overall, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is an entertaining and informative film. After watching it, I do want to read the book and learn more on the topic.

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is streaming on Shudder.

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