‘Horror Noire’: A Crash Course In Genre, History, and Where The Two Meet

By Jordan Gerdes

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, directed by Xavier Burgin, is about to become the talk of the genre. Based off a book sharing the same title by Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, this documentary examines over 100 years of genre films predicated on black bodies. What follows is essentially a crash course in horror history, black history, and the intersections between the two.

There is a massive amount of African American directors, writers, actors, and actresses in this, in fact too many to even name accurately. There is a laundry list of movies featured, from The Birth of a Nation (1915 – D.W. Griffith) to Get Out (2018 – Jordan Peele), spanning the horror of black bodies to what horrifies those same bodies. The format plays out as a history course, showing parts of a film, discussing the relevance, and offering individual commentaries on what these moments meant to them. From black face to the first black representation, from slaves to scientists, from the first to die to the final survivors, every evolution of black representation is discussed in detail, citing film as examples.

It is hilarious, and it is tragic. It is poignant and it is insightful. Hearing one of the commentators describe “Black history is black horror” really brings home the point of this documentary, that once again, horror is used as a mechanism to confront and rationalize the complex and horrible history of a section of civilization. In the same way that German horror attempts to make sense of the horrible legacy of the Third Reich, black horror attempts to make sense of centuries of subjugation and exploitation, the most exceptional of these films presented in such a way that most audiences are tricked into confronting historical and societal demons that they are a party to.

This film should be required viewing for all fans of the genre, as it truly lays out just how important these films were to shaping the horror culture that we currently find ourselves in. This film is the poster child for why we need more genre documentaries that are made with such love and care for the source material. For some, this is a look back at some great films with some great cast members. But for most of us, if we really let ourselves absorb the material presented, this film will change the way most of us look at horror in the last hundred years.

To say I loved this film would be an understatement. I cannot wait to watch it again soon.


Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is currently available to stream exclusively on Shudder.com or the Shudder app.
If you don’t have Shudder (it’s like 4 bucks), grab a trial and prepare to cancel your weekend plans.

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