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THE HORROR EVOLUTION WILL BE COLORIZED: An Introspective of Tropes, Trauma and Triumph
Part 1: Golden Age

By Mo Moshaty, February 1, 2024

For these next few weeks, I'm going to trace Black and Brown horror through the Golden Age of Hollywood, through a global landscape and by the end, we’ll land somewhere inside of Jordan Peele village. From a US standpoint, Black representation roughly reflects the demographic makeup of the U.S. (13.4% Black), but Black representation on film only makes up 11% of leading movie roles and is often limited to projects related to their race, which aren’t seen as huge sellers. Forbes magazine recently shared The McKinsey report stating that “When [studios are] looking for Black content, they’re looking for Wakanda or poverty, with no in-between,” and you’ll see here in the horror genre that there are literal decades where there are no horror films featuring Black leads. But America’s most powerful cinematic genre still struggles under the massive weight of tropes, trauma, and racism and we’ll wade through stereotypical and denigrating jaunts to sociopolitical terror. So let’s get into the 40s through the 60s.

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Son of Ingagi – (1940)

A newlywed couple is visited by a strange old woman who harbors a secret about the young girl's father.

Written and directed by Black screenwriter, Spencer Williams, for Sack Amusement Enterprises, was Son of Ingagi, based on Williams’ own story titled "House of Horror". Within the first twenty years of producing "race films" or films produced for Black audiences, and featuring Black casts that term expanded into the Golden Age to encompass what was listed as "minority audiences".

Showcasing a broad-reaching transformation story regarding a doctor bringing an ape man from Europe who drinks a newly crafted potion that makes him homicidal.

Even though this film was written and directed by a Black filmmaker, its marketing imagery needed to rely heavily upon the falsely ethnocentric film, Ingagi, which claimed African women are given over to gorillas as sex slaves. Now, the creature in Son of Ingagi looks radically different than the actors in gorilla costumes in Ingagi to try to hold its own.

Lucky Ghost – (1942)  

Two down-on-their luck friends suddenly hit the "jackpot" when they win the clothes, car and chauffeur of a rich man in a game of dice.

 

 This horror-comedy is the sequel to Mr. Washington Goes to Town, released earlier in ’42.

On the flipside of Son of Ingagi, lead actor Mantan Moreland, who is an incredible performer, really has a lot of fun here and it’s a glimpse into the gambling culture of the 30s and 40s. We’re exercising a bit more of our true personalities and realities here, no caricatures, which is important because we’ll see that ebb in due time.

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Four Shall Die – (1942) 

Heiress Helen Fielding has dumped the shady Lew Covey for reporter Bill Summers. Chomping at the bit to get his hands on Helen's inheritance, Covey comes up with a scheme to do just that, involving spiritualists, fortune tellers and "visits" from Helen's dead father. 

This was Dorothy Dandridge’s first credited role. This is a really solid whodunnit, with strong performances throughout and you’ve got Mantan Moreland playing it straight here for the most part. And it’s enriching to see a dramatic crime thriller like this with a Black cast.

Why is that important? This might be the last of the great horror/thrillers of the era because we inch towards the early to mid-fifties, the monsters seem to be a mirror of ethnic society at large and placed to represent any minority, but predominantly the Black and Asian communities. If you look at the marketing for a lot of the films from this era you’ll see, its pretty apparent who they’re pointing the finger at when they say “Them” or “Black Sleep”  or "It" and all of the visual seem to have this monster overpowering a meek White woman into submission or harm, which definitely helped to feed the Black men are aggressive and ruthless stereotype of the day.​

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What’s a bit of a reprieve are two movies that cap each end of the 60s, the first being -

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Voodoo Woman (1957)

Deep in the jungles a mad scientist is using the natives' voodoo for his experiments to create an indestructible being to serve his will. When a party of gold seekers stumbles upon his village, the scientist realizes that Marilyn the expedition's evil leader is the perfect subject for his work.

 

This film is a chin-scratcher for me because it’s so thin in terms of story and it places the three main Black actors Martin Wilkins, Emmett Smith, and Otis Greene in an archaic stereotype of Africans as mumblecore savages.

And we start to see how interesting religious or core belief systems of African, Haitian, and Afro-Cuban cultures and their “power” and deities become to screenwriters of this era and how they seep into this decade’s horror films. As the old adage says, “They want our rhythm but not our blues”.

 

Redeeming that blatant overstep, is

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A ragtag group of Pennsylvanians barricade themselves in an old farmhouse to remain safe from a horde of flesh-eating ghouls that are ravaging the Northeast of the United States.

George A. Romero, who’s very deft at blending social commentary into his horror much like Rod Serling, gives us a great lead in Ben played by Duane Jones. He’s level-headed and takes charge and to the other characters in the film, he’s looked to as a leader, but as the ending shows us, the echo of real stock society at that time still breathes heavily down our necks and Ben is snuffed out regardless of the heroic work he’s done. Which leads me to -

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The Black Guy Dies First 

 

An incredible book by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris who is a long-time movie critic really breaks down the disparity of Black Death on film. They state in the book that Samuel L. Jackson has died a shocking 8 times, and Tony Todd coming in hot with 24 deaths, absolutely maddening.

There is a theory that I’ve always had, that as a marginalized person walking around in society, which is very tender and always has been as we’ve had to be hyper-aware of our surroundings at all times. 

I’ve always felt that as a villain I would not want someone who is that hyperaware, that heavy in boundary setting to be hanging around to thwart my plan – also there’s a lot of Black death for the greater good – which is a big red flag – seeing a Black body disposable which can be infuriating and even more infuriating at times in the next decade we really lean into stereotype.

Feb 9th we dive into the Blaxpoitation horror of the 70s and the sociopolitical treasure trove of the 90s.

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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