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When Black Horror Absorbs Us: from Atlanta to The Last Black Man in San Francisco

When Black Horror Absorbs Us: from Atlanta to The Last Black Man in San Francisco photo

The black horror is the genre that is living the moment. Suddenly it has become wild, infinite, and alive. Although Jordan Peele is considered a Hitchcock`s heir with his «The Twilight Zone», «Get Out» and «Us», Donald Glover still got here first.  What does Black Horror mean for us today? When we hear about it, we think of Glover`s chaos theater in «Atlanta»: during two seasons it has turned into the experiment that was sometimes hard to understand in another way than just straight-up horror. Based on racial problems, this wound would never heal in this one or other movies.

Black people in a white world

In 1903 a black historian W.E.B. Du Bois created the term «double consciousness»: it describes a twinned state of black people living in a white world and social problems they experience to survive.  This is what Glover tried to show in Atlanta with such brilliance and fury: how quickly life can become horrifically absurd (a parade in a parking lot scene). City`s backwoods symbolize familial trauma and Glover`s mission was to demonstrate scary episodes with mental problems and slow terror of everyday life. Atlanta raises a genre question of black horror based on race and history.

Blackness in the American opinion is a story of survival, a bad dream of making it through. In 1915 this nightmare was implemented in the saga The Birth of Nation that became the first social thriller in cinema history and also a work of horror. In fact, the movie was real racist propaganda considering whiteness good and blackness a stain on the U.S body. Griffith tried to promote a belief that black men, specifically black, were dangerous for the country`s life. The term social thriller was not formally used until the 1970s and Peele implemented it again in Get Out. It reflects the social transformation of who we are in society even if the evil is hidden behind the virtue.

Black history episodes

There can be specified two epochs of black horror: the 1970s and 90s. They were recognized for its bold topics of sex and race and impacted all the black movies released within the following decade. The Marshall`s «Blacula» (1972) made filmmakers more focused on black women within the black horror genre and awakened the movement followed by «Blackenstein», «Sugar Hill», «Abby» and others. Gunn`s «Ganja and Hess» was a standout that demonstrated the virtuosity and style of the director and became one of the most original black projects of the era. Glover also shared Gunn`s ideas and implemented some of them in his movies sometime later.

The 90s became famous as the time of cultural restoration: the release of «Boomerang», «Poetic Justice» and others was considered a renaissance of black rom-com and was followed by the cult trilogy «Candyman» (1992-1999). They raised such problems as domestic abuse, racism, mental health and gang influence. Black life was demonstrated as emotionally thorny and vast, and this is still relevant today. Victor LaValle considers a genre flexible: it gets fresh relevance every year and can adapt to the times better than anything else. That is why it never dies, he thinks.

Black horror in real life

As the genre developed, it started to look within becoming a real-life mosaic. Now stories were based on existential horrors and described internal battle led with monsters like class, poverty and education system. Atlanta describes such topics as loss, violence, mental health, and how the one finds a way to survive it. Peele shows all the muddiness and dives deeply into people`s souls: as a result, he became one of the brightest Hollywood movie makers and this status gives black horror genre credibility and potency that it lacked during a lot of years.

However, this status also requires reconsidering of expectations. From its first steps, black horror presented socially engaging ideas and was a genre of deep revelation. Although horrors described in Birth of Nation are already gone from real life, there is still invisible pain and fear that surrounds us. Across the U.S. black boys are arrested by the police and accused of crimes they never committed. Elite public schools deny black students entry despite their high grades. Most of the homeless people are black – and this is a new bloody wound that never heals.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco centers around a black man`s story: he is trying to get back his great house owned now by a white couple. It is definitely not a horror movie, but like many contemporary black horror products, it raises questions. Such films hide the traditional elements of the black horror like a melodrama with vampires and werewolves. They provide something more real in exchange like people challenging themselves, love, redemption, torment, the ability to withstand. This is Peele`s favorite piece: the self and how deep we can go for our restoration and survival.

Nowadays reality and fiction are divided by a small line. Atlanta and Get Out are good examples of internal neurosis illustration which a black man goes through. They also prove how America tries to squash them. Black horror`s purpose is to shock, awaken minds, raise beliefs and demonstrate that you are not as crazy as the world tries to convince you are. Even in the darkness, you can see yourself and this is your comfort.

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