chapter  5
27 Pages

Scream, Whitey, Scream — Retribution, Enduring Women, and Carnality: 1970s

To be sure, “Black horror” fi lms were not the fi rst to present well-trodden movie themes. Early silent (horror) fi lm scavenged to the point of plagiarism “preexisting formats for lucrative plots and styles of presentation that could be feasibly adopted for the moving camera” while often only minimally altering the pilfered stories with new details. 6 While Black horror fi lmmakers did some poaching, the genre should be credited not only with dramatically reshaping the narratives, in some cases, but also with reappropriating “generic forms for more overtly political goals [such as] to critique the white power structure.” 7

The fi lms were emboldened by Black Power ideologies — a range of belief systems espousing an awakening of Black pride, self-suffi ciency, and empowerment which were prominent during the decade. The imagistic result was “screen images of black life refl ect[ing] the new confi dence of black people” 8 and a “veritable avalanche” of Black super-heroes and anti-heroes found their way to the big screen. 9 However, the infl ux was followed by a fresh assortment of problems, as Gary Null, in Black Hollywood , explains:

What emerges, in fact is an altogether new set of black stereotypes. Perhaps derived from the movement toward black power, the cool, effi cient black hero seems to have more in common with James Bond than with the political ideals of any black movement. Some of these movies pay lip service to black separatism, Afro-American culture, and local control. 10

The Horrors of Blaxploitation

Lamenting the representations in and quality of 1970s fi lm featuring Blacks, Ellen Holly of the New York Times wrote in 1974, “one of the penalties of being black and having limited money is that we seldom control our own image. We seldom appear in media as who we say we are, but rather, as who whites say we are.” 11 The economic conditions under which Black fi lms were made gave rise to the moniker “Blaxploitation” — a portmanteau uniting the concepts of “Black” and “exploitation” 12 — to defi ne the decade’s Black fi lms, horror and non-horror

alike. Blaxploitation describes an era of Black fi lm offerings which often drew their inspiration from Black Power ideologies while presenting themes of empowerment, self-suffi ciency (though not always through legal means), and consciousness-raising. In “Black horror” specifi cally, mainstream or White monsters, such as Dracula or Frankenstein’s the Monster, were purposefully transformed into “agents” of Black Power. 13 Blaxploitation fi lms also often had an anti-establishment message, challenging “the Man’s” or “Whitey’s” exploitation of Black communities (e.g. importing drugs, running prostitution rings, rogue cops), though the critique rarely rose beyond indicting a few wicked individuals.