LET’S THINK TWICE BEFORE ABOLISHING THE HORROR COMMUNITY: A REBUTTAL

The very question “should we abolish the Horror Community?” asked in our last editorial continues to elicit the best and worst reactions from all of us. In the interest of open dialogue and fair criticism, our own Nick Spacek offers this rebuttal.

Two weeks ago, Nathan Smith wrote an editorial entitled “Should We Abolish the Horror Community?” here at Grumpire. While the overall tenor of the piece has its merits, in that “the people who often channel positive energy into the Horror Community are not immune to the poisons that the writers, fans, and filmmakers exude when they get together in this batch of bad, creating a cycle of unreasonable negativity even for those who are trying their hardest to conquer it,” I feel that the way in which Nathan approached the piece is flawed.

The thrust of the argument is that Nathan equates the flaws to gatekeeping and tone policing, thus contributing to a negative atmosphere. Given the current political climate and tenor of conversation regarding race and gender, to claim that pointing out what are at best tone-deaf statements, and at worst, outright racism and homophobia is “vitriol […] steered toward issues that really just matter to the Horror Community” is on its face, absurd.

On Nathan’s first point, regarding longtime genre enthusiast and horror host, Joe Bob Briggs, here’s the deal: Joe Bob Briggs made some jokes that were in really poor taste. Let’s be fair – the whole “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it” thing is hackneyed and tired. Lord knows, there are ways to push the envelope without having to go to sad old gags.

Nathan’s point was this: “Later, when he tweeted about donating to important causes such as Black Lives Matter with consideration that he’s an older gentleman and can’t really get to marching, those who had previously fanned their faces and yanked out their fainting couches said nothing. Clearly it wasn’t that they needed him to grow from his mistakes or make amends, they wanted to him to know they had a problem without really posing a solution, or perhaps were willing to settle for the artifice of a solution.”

We don’t get points for doing what’s right. When we mess up, it’s nobody’s responsibility to pat us on the back and say, “good job, fella,” when we turn around and do what’s right. As Mary McNamara wrote in a Los Angeles Times piece entitled “White celebs rush to amplify Black Lives Matter, the results are mixed to embarrassing“: “you cannot expect emoji hearts and applause whenever you speak out against a system from which you have benefited, unintentionally or not.”

Onto the 2019 Black Christmas remake. People weren’t so much piling upon people who had the nerve to speak out of turn regarding the remake of Black Christmas, so much as they were going after people whose critiques were without merit. Numerous instances of “this sucks,” or “it’s an insult to memory of the original,” without any substantive criticism of what exactly made the film shoddy, were the majority of the complaints regarding the film.

I spoke by phone with the writer of Black Christmas, April Wolfe, and her perspective was that she appreciates both the positive and negative reviews, because she enjoys reading pieces that are actually engaging with the movie. However, she says, the difference between written critiques and social media criticism was very marked.

“People were angry about it before it even came out,” Wolfe explains. “Really, truly angry. People were like calling us bitches even before that, just when the trailer came out. I think that anyone who ignores that aspect of it is living in a fantasy world where there’s objective criticism.”

The same morning that Wolfe and I spoke, she’d done another interview, for a Slovenian magazine, touching on the very same theme we were discussing. To the writer, it’s frustrating for her, because she’s been asked more about the backlash from the men who who hate her movie than she has been asked about how they made the movie.

“From the beginning of when we started doing press and all the way to now, a good 10-20% of the questions are about how we made the movie,” Wolfe says, sounding more than a little bewildered. “Then the rest is the cultural backlash and and what it’s like to be the first woman, and that’s a tough spot to be in.”

Wolfe feels it’s important to name women who work in cinema, because representation is important. She goes on to say that it”s like a case of a snake eating its tail – if you don’t point out that a woman worked on something, nobody’s going to notice, but if you point it out, then that seems to be only what folks focus on, so you keep mentioning it, in the hope that it becomes normalized.

“I mean that’s the thing – I didn’t know when I was a kid that the movie that I went to the theater to see three times, Clueless, was directed by a woman,” Wolfe continues. “I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that Wayne’s World – the movie that I went to see two times in the theaters – was directed by a woman. When I did find that out later on in my life, it was like, ‘Oh, shit – that would’ve changed a lot of things.”

Look at the simple case of what’s happening regarding the upcoming Candyman remake. Director Nia DaCosta is frequently left out of headlines, in favor of mentioning producer Jordan Peele, indicative of the fact that even when black people manage to get credited for their work, black women still get pushed aside. Using the argument that it’s a “comparative trifle of a situation” or that “to outsiders, none of this actually makes too much of a difference” doesn’t work, because that argument is flawed.

The statement “to some 12-year old kid in Chicago, he’s not going to care who really directed Candyman” is true, but to another 12-year old kid in Chicago, she’s going to care about who directed it. In addition to what April Wolfe said, there are any number of pieces – up to and including the recent Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara – wherein representation matters.

As O’Meara states in the introduction to her book, discovering the story of Milicent Patrick’s role in the creation of the titular Creature from the Black Lagoon led to a revelation for the writer and filmmaker: “Milicent was holding a door open for me that I never realized I had considered closes. Come on, she said. We belong here, too.”

Dr. Robin R. Mean Coleman is the author of the 2011 book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films From the 1890s to Present, upon which the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror is based. In an interview for Vulture, said of Get Out and its Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, “That’s important when you’re talking about going mainstream, right? That’s kind of the litmus test. For those of us who have been paying attention to the narratives of the genre, we’re a century in now, but that is a key marker. An Academy Award is the most important award. So yes. This is a renaissance period for horror, particularly for black horror. Absolutely. We haven’t seen it before.”

The entirety of the Horror Noire documentary can be seen to stem from that idea of representation and how important it is for those who don’t often feel seen by the entertainment which they enjoy. In the early minutes of the film, the film’s co-writer and producer, Ashlee Blackwell states, “We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that unfortunately, horror hasn’t always loved us.”

A recent Twitter trope is the fact that there seems to be a bunch of people who are complaining regarding the things they like turning “too political” or “bringing up race.” Many, many, many films exist wherein those topics aren’t even subtext. They’re just text. Candyman is explicitly about gentrification and building on the grounds of racial hatred, and the sequel makes that as obvious as possible without changing its subtitle from “Farewell to the Flesh” to “Revenant Black Man.”

The entire point of pushback is to make people evaluate what they’re watching. Maybe take a read-through of The Dread of Difference to get an idea of how gendered tropes can affect what we’re taking in. Rewatch Horror Noire and listen to the voices of the people in the film, explaining in clear, uncertain terms, what some of these problems are. Nobody’s saying these movies need to be banned, or that anyone else is not allowed to have an opinion, but rather that we should maybe take a minute to think about what we say, regarding what we see.