Dark Discourse

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.

Filmmaker maria wilson
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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Dark Discourse

Characters’ Recipes: Sam’s Fiery Chili

If you’re an avid reader, you want authors to show you what the characters are feeling, You want emotions to drip off the pages. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Checkhov
If you’re a writer you understand how hard it is to accomplish this.
Fellow writer Charles French takes “show not tell” seriously. Below he shares a fiery chili recipe that one of his characters would cook:

charles french words reading and writing

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(https://pixabay.com)

In my horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I, one of the main characters is Sam, a retired homicide detective.  In his spare time, he fancies himself a good cook of basic foods, and one of his favorites to cook and eat is spicy chili.

I was thinking about what some of my characters like to eat and cook, not necessarily because this information appears in the novel, but because the more I know about the idiosyncrasies of the characters I write, the better I can show them. This idea is similar to actors creating biography sheets for roles they are playing.

So, what is this recipe?

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(https://pixabay.com)

Sam’s Fiery Bowl of Red Goodness

Ingredients:

One pound chuck roast,
One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes,
One Spanish onion,
One sweet green pepper,
One poblano pepper,
Four habanero peppers,
Two chipotle peppers,
Two jalapeno peppers,
One can dark…

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Dark Discourse

Graveyardshiftsisters: 5 Questions with Horror/Sci-Fi Author V. H. Galloway

From her roots in Brooklyn, New York to Austin, Texas, I.T. authorveteran and author V.H. Galloway has had a fruitful existence with plenty of tales to share. Her work crosses oceans and time in settings, demonstrating her interest in multiple cultures as well as the fantastic. Her latest horror/sci-fi hybrid, The Un-United States Of Z is a trilogy series that even for non-zombie fans has been described as “tasteful insanity” in a most delightful manner:

In a near-future Los Angeles, Dr. Zen Marley is torn between two conflicting realities: his buried southern roots and his preppy west coast professor persona. He must travel home to face the reality of his mother’s failing mental health. But he finds an aberration: a monstrous imposter wearing the rotted shell of his mother’s skin. In a twisted case of self-defense, he kills her, but not before he is also infected.

With his humanity eroding, Zen sets off on cross-country quest through a racially divided America to rescue his sister, find a cure, and stop the advance of the sentient flesh-eating army led by his highly intelligent, but psychotic former student. 

Continuing our 5 Questions series below, Galloway talks horror favorites, why race plays a significant factor in The Un-United States Of Z and important steps to becoming a successful writer.

You describe a lot of things you love to be considered “geeky”. What are some of your geeky horror favorites?

I’m embarrassed to admit exactly how many vampire movies I’ve watched. Some better than others, of course. But it wasn’t until recently that I read Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula. Though the book was written at a time that yielded some definitive politically incorrect notions, I still very much enjoyed the book, from the journal style of the narrative to the language. And I think it was important to understand where it all began. 

Another geeky favorite is John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of  The Thing. So what if there were no Oscar worthy performances. It was good old-fashioned scary. If I flick on the TV today and see it on, I’d be totally in. Just add the popcorn. 

How much did you know, then learn along the way about genre fiction before writing your own work?

I’m a life-long reader and lover of the written word. Though I read widely, genre fiction has always been my favorite. My genre roots are steeped in science fiction and fantasy, horror coming into focus later. Like many, I’m a Stephen King fan, both of his novels and films based on his work. 

More recently, I discovered Tananarive Due and Linda Addison’s work. I’m also becoming a huge fan of writer of color, Usman Malik‘s short stories.

In The Un-United States of Z, even amidst the nationwide turmoil, the country remains “racially divided”. Why was it important for you to implement the significance of how the issue of race affects people in your story?

As much as I would wish otherwise, race matters. Social media is bringing light to just how deep the racial rabbit hole goes – for those outside the black community. For those of us who are a part of that group, it has always been an ugly part of our daily existence – whether it touched us directly, our friends, or relations. 

Reflecting this reality in my work is important because I think that its is only through ongoing dialogue that we can effect change. Now getting people to actually listen, well that’s another story all together.

Additionally, your characters are very transient in their goal to reach Los Angeles for a cure. As a transient person yourself having the experience of living in various states, did you view this narrative practice as another way to demonstrate a culturally diverse world?

I’ve lived many places and travelled a good deal. It was through these travels that I developed a sense of my own personal lens. We all have a lens through which we see the world, shaped by our experiences.

Coverage bias in the American news media became even more apparent when I visited, read, and watched the news in other countries. Cultural and societal norms often differ as much from one neighborhood to the next in the same city, as it does from state to state and country to country.

And I’m not saying that being unable to travel should restrict that lens. Reading has taken me many places (on-world and off) that I may never get a chance to visit. One need only avail themselves of your local library to experience the same. It is . . . illuminating.

What advice would you give to a Black teen-aged girl who loves and wants to make a career out of speculative storytelling?

The most important thing that I could tell anyone would be that if you desire it, and I mean really want something with all your heart, anything is possible. I think far too many children grow up hearing more about what their limitations are versus the infinite possibilities that arise with a little hard work.

As to writing specifically, it’s simple. Read widely (novels, essays, non-fiction), write, rewrite, study the craft, and repeat. 

Find more of V.H.’s work at http://vhgalloway.com/

Buy The Un-United States Of Z now!

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Book 1

Book 2

Book 3 – Coming Soon!

originally posted on Graveyardshiftsisters.com