original article by Fahima Haque from NY Times
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.
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.
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.