Normally a genre dominated by white men, Horror is finding itself in the hands of more diverse creators, adding new dimensions of terror. This year, Amazon Prime’s Welcome to Blumhouse anthology series features three female directors and a Latina writer. I had a chance to talk with them about their experiences and why they feel that women of color know what’s really scary.
Take note; this is Part 1 of the interview. So, stay tuned for Part 2!Part 2!
Maritte Lee Go – Director of Black As Night
Written by Sherman Payne (Charm City Kings), Black As Night is a vampire film set in modern-day New Orleans. 15 years after Katrina, we see families struggling to create homes and take care of their families in the still impoverished ghettos of the city. A young girl, Shawna (Asjha Cooper) is caught between trying to live a normal teenage life and dealing with some very big family issues. Then she discovers the city is becoming infested with vampires!
It’s questionable what’s scarier, the threat of battling vampires, or living as a dark-skinned teenage Black girl in the south.
“I am such a huge fan of horror films, but I’ve never seen a horror film with protagonists that I felt like could be me.”
Maritte Lee Go explains why she felt so connected to the screenplay. “I immediately felt like Shawna was a representation of all the women who’d never been seen before. She dealt with all of these issues I was dealing with growing up of not accepting myself, feeling that I wasn’t beautiful, etc. So having this voice representing me and being such a badass and slaying vampires was a completely new story!”
Although Lee Go is not African American, she is Filipina and many of the same colorism issues that are in the movie resonated with her.
“I was the only Asian in my school and I wasn’t considered beautiful.” Even later when Lee Go came to LA to further her acting career she started getting typecast in roles like “the geisha” and “nail technician”. She knew in order to make the type of content she wanted to see, she’d had to command change behind the camera.
“I find that when you have female lead characters, especially in a male-dominated genre, they tend to make the female characters more masculine. They’re shredded up, very angry and antagonistic. What I loved about Shawna in this role is that she’s very feminine and her strength is part of that. She had her insecurities and vulnerabilities along with being a hero.”
I said this to Lee Go as an intro to asking how she crafted the character of Shawna with Cooper, and Lee Go had a very interesting addition.
“I feel like I’ve been doing that my whole life as a female in filmmaking. When I first started, I was one or two of all the set. So I found myself postulating, how can I speak deeper and be more aggressive? Because I felt like I didn’t belong.” Lee Go is thoughtful as she explains what turns out to be a common feeling among women and people of color in production. “Then I came to this kind of realization of – embrace who I am! I am a woman! And it was the same thing with this film, we needed to embrace what she is, a woman, and you can find strength in the feminine.”
Gigi Guerrero – Director/Writer of Bingo Hell
In behind-the-scenes photos of Bingo Hell, Gigi Guerrero is wearing a hat that says “Chingona” This loosely translates to “badass bitch” and Guerrero is that in spades. She’s worked with Blumhouse before presenting her feature debut Culture Shock for Huluween.
“I’m just so happy they came to me like, so what you got next?!” Around the time Guerrero spoke to her co-writer Shane McKenzie and he mentioned he was at a Bingo hall with his wife’s relatives. “He was so impressed and a little scared of how intense they were, he said, ‘I have never seen seniors be so crazy’! And I thought of my abuela playing Bingo!” Called lotteria in Mexico, Guerrero’s grandmother played religiously and was devout.
“I begin to wonder what it would be like if we took Bingo away from them? And it all started from that!” At the core of the movie is the protagonist Lupita (Adriana Barraza), an aged community activist who is trying to keep from losing control of the place she calls home. A mysterious interloper arrives one day and buys out the Bingo hall, revamping it completely and promising nearly impossible-sized wins. Mr. Big (Richard Brake) seems to be fueled by something nefarious and otherworldly and Lupita along with the help of her neighbors sacrifice everything to fight for what is theirs.
“It’s funny to me, because you’re a female director and you’re a director of color – that is someone who is instantly primed for the horror genre!” Guerrero laughs as I state something that is obvious, but also has been hidden for a long time, “The experiences that we go through just being women of color are sometimes very horror fodder worthy. We’ve been tricked into thinking this is a space for white men. So when you’re pitching your scripts how do you sell them on, hey I know what I’m doing, I’m not out of place and I know this is good?”
“You know, I always tell myself like, sure, I’m a woman, I’m Latina, I am female and it’s not a disadvantage at all. God blessed me with this and it’s a card that I’m very, very proud to show. I may have to work a bit harder, but working hard is not a bad thing, it keeps me on my toes. It also helps me to grow a thick skin. I’ve been in situations where I push myself further and I find myself. Maybe they think I’m difficult because I defend myself, but at the end of the day if you’re honest with who you are, you’re doing the right thing.”
The movie serves as an homage to Guerrero’s abuela. Barraza watched a video to prepare her character and took notes of the fiery woman’s ticks and habits. Many of which can be seen in Guerrero.
“I think we need to keep encouraging [finding yourself]. Confidence is okay to have and sometimes we can take for granted who we are and where we come from and we shouldn’t.”
We here at The Geekiary love our Blumhouse and Bingo Hell and Black As Night are pretty exceptional entries. Both are available now on Amazon Prime Video.
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