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Women Not Shying Away From Horror

original article by Fahima Haque from NY Times

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The filmmaker Jackie Kong directing the 1987 film “Blood Diner.”

We all know the cliché: The teenage girl suffers through a horror movie, while cowering behind her boyfriend. The equally frightened girl onscreen takes a sinister phone call from the slasher who is terrorizing an otherwise bucolic town.

But what about the women who live for horror movies, or wait in line for midnight creature features?

Fans of horror movies are not all white men, and the makeup of the filmmakers working in the genre is starting to reflect that. People of color, especially women of color, are making themselves heard in the industry. Jordan Peele’s sublime “Get Out” is one of the highest-grossing films this year. Critics raved about the Iranian-American director Ana Lila Amirpour’s beautiful vampire western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation” was a tense, uncomfortable delight. Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” was so gory that viewers vomited in theaters. But meaningful change does not happen overnight. There are decades of assumptions about who should be making, and watching, horror films.

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Filmmaker Jackie Kong. Credit -Hedy Hutcheson

I recently spoke with three filmmakers who are women of color: Jackie Kong, the Chinese-American director of the 1987 cult classic “Blood Diner”; Mattie Do, 36, a Vietnamese-Laotian-American filmmaker who directed “Dearest Sister” and was the first woman to direct a feature film made in Laos; Maria Wilson, 28, the daughter of a white Honduran mother and a black father who directed her debut fantasy short “Venefica” on a budget of $1,000. Their comments have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

FH: What is it like for you in the industry?

JK: I don’t see anyone knocking on my door, I still have to bang on the door hard for them [film studios] to pay attention to my ideas. I am absolutely sure of that. This is real life. People ask me: “Have things changed?” I say, not really. You’re still not trusted; you’re still not hired. You can be this icon, this cult figure, but they have to be enlightened already, otherwise you’re fighting an uphill battle.

MD: I was born in the States, a child of refugees, and I’ve experienced a lot of identity crises. Some people say I’m too American, too Vietnamese or not Lao enough. At this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone else thinks about my identity. I guess I’m a really belligerent person. It only makes my storytelling stronger. In the arts, you have to have the tenacity to do it. As the only woman who’s only made a feature film in this country, that has been a roller coaster. Either you can make a film if you’re extremely wealthy, or if a nongovernmental organization backs it. People scoffed, “Oh you’re not a filmmaker, you’ve never even been to university!” I had come to a point that dwelling on that wasn’t adding to my work. So I put my nose to the grindstone to make more content, almost proving I don’t care.

Maria Wilson
Scene from Maria Wilson’s “Venefica.”

MW: On set as a woman, you get this sense that you have to buckle down on emotions, and that way, people take you seriously. You don’t want to be highly emotional. The exclusion comes across so subtly. In between takes, men on set discuss films, and you’re not part of the discussion. Nothing is outright or blatant, and women have to prove themselves, whereas men are given the chance automatically.

Gender, in my own experience, is harder. The P.C. culture around race is so sensitive that even if someone is thinking something, in America it’s so hard to engage about race, whereas passably offensive things to a woman happen all the time. On set, I would say it’s more that I’m a woman, and in discussion with the world, I’m a brown person. It comes down to representation. We see diversity onscreen, and as bad as that diversity is, it doesn’t equate to the diversity as to who’s signing the checks. There’s no diversity in the lenses in which the story is being told.

Ultimately though, this is a liberal, progressive community. The world of horror and genre films is a very warm community; if you love horror, we love you. If the work resonates with them, they 110 percent want to help.

FH: How do you pay it forward when it comes to diversity?

JK: I explore that in front of the camera and behind the camera. My behind-the-camera staff was at least half women; my whole production staff were women; my dolly grip was a woman and my right-hand supervisor was a woman. I never saw that women couldn’t do the job. My set and cast looked like the U.N. I’m trying to now champion female directors of horror as a series. Kind of like how “Masters of Horror” was done with men.

Mattie Do
Filmmaker Mattie Do with Mango. Credit -Matthew Warren

MD: I care a lot about this. In my movie, the sisters look very different. In Laos, we have this ideal of light-skinned beauty. The blind girl in my film has very dark skin and has climbed a mountain of effort, and is now very famous. I wanted to show different kinds of people onscreen. The makeup of Laos is varied, including lots of ethnic indigenous people. I was the first person to make a story about women in the country. Women are usually the one that cries on cue, the one that waits to get rescued, or the one that waits to get proposed to. Women are the main characters in my movie, and people love it.

FH: Why do you think women of color like horror?

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A scene from “Dearest Sister,” by filmmaker Mattie Do.CreditMatthew Warren

JK: Horror captures people’s fears in a way that might be symbolic; it represents some of the fears you have psychologically, and it lets you react to it. Everyone wants to pretend everything is business as usual, but horror lets you scream about it. The vicarious thrill of being scared feels cathartic. That’s why young women today get it and like it.

MW: So many women of color who have had traumatic experiences gravitate toward horror movies and geek out over comic books; it’s kind of a no-brainer to me.

Horror is very therapeutic. When I’m dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety, it helps you get away for a few hours and it’s a great way to be humbled. You realize your troubles could be a lot worse.

FH: What movie resonated with you as a kid, and made you want to make movies?

JK: I usually gravitate toward filmmakers more than movies, but the horror movie that’s viewed more as a documentary — “Freaks” by Tod Browning — left a strong impression. It used to run in the art house circuit, and is about the circus. It was haunting; it was a slice of Americana that you didn’t see. Real freaks.

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Filmmaker Maria Wilson. Credit-Hannah Whitney

MD: One of the films that affected me the most was “The Killing Fields.” My Dad said: “I want to give you a lesson in life. While this is about Cambodia, I want you to see what a lot of us in Southeast Asia had to escape, the kind of life we left to rebuild a new one for you.” It tore me apart, and I can’t even watch it now without sobbing. It was a harrowing, amazing film. I think it scarred me completely, even into adulthood. To capture that kind of desperation and emotion that [the film’s producer,] David Puttnam had, I don’t know if I can ever achieve that. You feel all the pain and suffering these characters are experiencing.

MW: “Jurassic Park.” It’s horror when you start dissecting it that way. Bloody dinosaurs rip apart human beings and rip them around? Kids trapped in a car? It’s funny how it was classified as action. It packages so much in an enjoyable, terrifying film: the exploration of morality, mankind’s greed and our relationship with the natural world and technology. As a kid, seeing Laura Dern kicking ass, she showed me beauty and brains, and that as a woman you can do it all. It’s never left me.

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A Day In the Life of a Writer

Online Writing Courses: Are They Beneficial?

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To the point:

Will an online writing course hurt you? No. Most of the time they are taught by experienced professionals. Will an online writing course help your writing? In most cases, it will. Is it better than a face to face writing course taught by a professional? No. It is better than an amateur writers group? Yes.

All about the point:

I’m writing this article from 3 standpoints. First as a writer who has needed help in writing, taken workshops at a university, online courses, and workshops in non-formal settings like writers groups. Second as an editor who has taken submissions of fiction and poetry for various magazines and online publications for the last 14 years, and as an educator who teaches writing.

There are really two problems writers will have in their writing. The first is flow, and the second is control. These are the two problems that are always being addressed as a teacher and a writer. The questions here are: How you get the words out, and when it comes out how well is it controlled? If you write enough for an assignment or “how much the story demands” your control is okay. If you have a good handle on grammar and diction, you’ve got your control under, well, control.

University writing courses

What does a university writing course look like? Well, it looks like any other writer’s workshop, for the most part. Everyone hands in a piece of writing, everyone comments on the writing, and a moderator (Prof) looks after what people are saying. He or she also gives assignments that might help the group’s writing. For instance, “Read this story on page 72. It’s flash fiction. We are going to look at why the author picked certain words in the story to cause this reaction in the reader” so on and so forth. That’s all it is.

ONLINE WRITING COURSES

You are given assignments. You hand in writing. People critique it. It is essentially the same as an in-person workshop course at a university. What’s missing? Face to face interaction. Do you need it? Well that depends.

Will taking an online writing course hurt your writing?

NO! You’re not going to hurt your writing. A lot of people think if you get bad advice, it will ruin your writing. Nonsense. As a writer you already have writing in you. You might write poetry, fiction, novels, whatever, but you also have a built in: “what I like what I don’t like detector.” If a literary writer tells you, “You can’t have a character say that. It sounds fake!” You might have read that same line in a dozen scifi novels (you’re a scifi writer in this scenario), and you’ll take the advice, think about it, and probably throw it out. Nothing is going to hurt your writing. If you really want to be safe with your writing, read a lot. That will shape what you write much more than what anyone tells you.

In most cases, writing genre or literary translates just fine where advice is concerned. For instance, action defines character. This is a piece of advice I got 15 years ago. It stuck with me, and I believe it to be very true. What a character does will define him or her better than all the thoughts that come out on the page. If he is not a killer, but he goes around killing people, the action will define him as a killer. This piece of advice really translates to just about any genre you write in.

Your writing will be fine, you can take a course, you’re not going to damage your writing.

DO I THINK YOU SHOULD TAKE AN ONLINE WRITING COURSE?

Control Problems

Should you take an online writing course? That depends on what problems you have in your writing, and what you want to accomplish. If you have a control problem, grammar, making decisions for your word choice, getting kinks out, stuff like that then yes, an online writing course can help you.

If the Prof makes changes and sends those changes back saying, “When you write ‘should have went’ make sure it is in a dialect and not in your narration. The correct usage is ‘Should have gone,’” it will help you. If you’ve never taken a writing course, and you’ve only had the traditional high school courses, you most-likely have some dialect or some gap in your grammar that needs be dealt with. Can you write in a dialect and be successful? Certainly. But you need to make sure that you know what you are doing when you are doing it. If you don’t, it will look like a grammatical error and an editor will throw it out!

The number 1 reason I have tossed submissions in all my time as an editor is grammar errors. They will kill a piece in the eyes of your editor. If you don’t know they are there, you can’t fix them. Even the best of the best have editors that help them with this.

Flow problems

If you have a flow problem in your writing that means, usually, you have writers block, or you’ve run into an inspirational wall. Will an online writing course help? It might, and it might not. Assignments might be given to you, that you are forced to write, that you find knocks the flow problem free, and the next thing you know you are writing like crazy. This has happened to me a couple times. The cure for writers block, many times is more writing, on subjects you didn’t think about before.

If your problem is in inspiration, a writing course will be hit and miss. You might find that someone in the course writes something that really inspires you to write This happens to me all the time in my writers group, but it is not a sure thing. It might be better for you to go on a walk, see some trees, go to a lake or somewhere you are inspired, and that might help.

SO TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: SHOULD YOU TAKE AN ONLINE WRITING COURSE?

Should you take an online writing course? I would say in most cases it will be beneficial. It can help. It might not solve all your problems, but I believe over all it will make you a better writer. Is it better than taking a face to face writing course? Most of the time no. If you have the time to physically go to a room, with some people and take a course with a professional, do it.

One warning: Make sure if you are taking a COURSE for help, to improve your writing that the person teaching it is a professional with experience in writing. Their experience in writing will help them understand where you are coming from. If you are in a writers group, and the people are amateurs, I would advise that you double check any control problems (like grammar and the like) that they give you advice on.

This article is originally from Every Writer