Interview with Black Horror Director Kristina Leath-Malin

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October 10, 2015 by spinechillers

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Kristina is a black female horror filmmaker, she’s also a mother, scholar-in training with her own production company where she spends her time writing, selling short film scripts and shooting content for various organisations. Life couldn’t be more varied for Kristina, if she’s not dressing her daughter and writer husband up in the most garish costumes and involving her family in her local horror community, then she’s informing us on the subjects we ought to know about: feminism, black women in horror and other topics which feel almost too rare to exist but are fascinating nevertheless. Kristina’s personal and professional life evolves around the horror world and she continues to research the history of black horror in the past, present and future.

My Final Girl is Kristina’s new film. It’s a documentary focusing on the depiction of black women heroes in American horror films. The subject of black people in horror is a topic worth exploring further. Films like A Devil’s Daughter and Son of Ingagi are examples of films featuring black heroines which most people probably haven’t heard of.

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Reaching Out

It’s no secret that women working in the horror film industry are deemed as a minority, although things are beginning to change. And there are still not many black women in cinema generally. It isn’t a gender issue, but rather a black/white problem.

“As I get older, I do see it as problematic and it’s harder as a black woman. You have to be a superstar to be on par with a moderately talented white man.”

“I was told by a performer I once interviewed that I should reach out to Oprah Winfrey or Whoopi Goldberg and that it’s not just white men who have the financial means to fund things. It’s just knowing that there are different nationalities out there with money to fund good projects and having the tenacity to find them. We don’t need the white man to steamroll our creativity.”

Oprah and Whoopie

Feminism and Horror

I’m one of a majority of people who simply doesn’t know enough about Blaxploitation horror/sci-fi movies despite being of Black and Indian origin. I feel that in order to understand the subject of black women in horror films, a good place to start would be to look at the history and representation of black women in cinema.

Bell Hooks and her essay The Oppositional Gaze talks about black women as spectators, how ‘gazing’ has been associated with punishment and repression. This dates back to slavery where white slave masters would punish enslaved black people for looking at others, a stigma that still exists today – fear of repercussion for gazing at others even if it’s just looking. She then goes further into the representation of black women in race movies, a quote from her book Black Looks talks about black women in Hollywood:

“Most of the black women I talked with were adamant that they never went to the movies expecting to see compelling representations of black femaleness. They were all acutely aware of cinematic racism – its violent erasure of black womanhood.”

Black women in horror films are a specific topic and, there isn’t a huge collection of resources on the subject. Kristina however, is able to share her favourites.

“I look up to Dr. Robin Means Coleman because she writes about horror films in African American history. I love Simone de Beauvoir (The 2nd Sex) that was really important for me to read, because she really structurally looks at how women are presented, portrayed in society psychologically and historically”

“Other authors I’ve read are Carol Clover, Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, (Powers of Horror) but she really looks at the female body as being this horrific and beautiful vehicle that’s admired and feared at the same time by different cultures. I also like Barbara Creed who wrote The Monstrous Feminine as I like a lot of writers who spend time dissecting why we’re afraid of vaginas and why we want them. Breasts are vehicles of milk that are to be feared of!” we burst into fits of laughter before she continues her trail of thought – “I love that women are alluring but so terrifying at the same time and a lot of feminist writers cover this subject in depth.”

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Getting Noticed

Black history is so rich in supernatural culture that you’d think there would be more films and even television series exploring the occult. Although I have come across a comprehensive list of black female horror fiction writers, mainly from the Internet when I carried out specific searches with the tag words ‘black women in horror,’ ‘black women horror directors,’ and ‘black horror writers,’ it appears that generally, there are not many people of colour producing, writing and directing horror movies.

But we’re emerging from the underground. In 2013 I met Linda Addison who was the first black woman to win a Bram Stoker award at World Horror Con and she made a point about being the first black person to win a Bram Stoker award.

“It’s not about getting noticed,’ Kristina says “It’s more about doing your research and history. I feel like there’s a lot of women who pave the way for us – for example actresses Pam Grier (Foxy Brown), Marki Bey (Sugar Hill) and Marlene Clark (Ganga and Hess) who are all from the 60s, 70s and 80s,” Kristina then advises “Reach out to them, some of these women are tweeting. Beverly Bonner still does shows and she was Casey in the original Basket Case. Keep their stories alive and know your research.”

“I met Dr Robin Means Coleman who wrote Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present and she made a really good point of it comes down to the fact that people will write it if they care about it, so how many black females are there out there to write about other black females?

“I felt bad that the only horror movies I knew about were Friday 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street types. It was up to me, through curiosity, to figure out that there were more movies out there which related to my own culture. Latinos go out there and find women of Latino horror, or if you’re an Asian girl there’s got to be more than Audition. I like Noriko’s Dinner Table, that was great. Find your heroes and interview them right now, ask them what inspired them and start doing sister pieces to that.”

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Still from Ganja and Hess (1973)

Kristina has hit a nerve and I am overwhelmed with what feels like an undiscovered treasure. I have so much to research, questions to ask and material to seek. But it’s not this alone. With my mixed heritage, I feel like I have many facets of cultural horror history to find out and an ignorance to curtail. Kristina feels my angst “I feel the same thing even about my own work and I think, write more about it and let’s turn our findings into a whole section in the bookstore and not one book.”

“You have to keep your history alive like historians. Make sure you know about George Washington and make sure you know more than Pam Grier. It’s really up to us.”

My time with Kristina has been insightful. She’s shared her views on black women in horror, the struggles to get noticed and how we can make changes, for example getting acquainted with our history within the genre, and how the representation of black women in horror is ever changing. Kristina has informed me on the ways in which I can seek more knowledge and begin a path of cultural horror enlightenment.

Kristina’s My Final Girl documentary will be doing the festival circuit in 2016. This Saturday she will be discussing her film at the Ax Wound Festival with the Graveyard Shift Sisters bloggers who specialise in celebrating the creative works of black women across all genres.

Kristina is also finishing two scripts. One is a Stephen King Dollar Baby project which is a scheme where film students can adapt one of Stephen King’s stories for the screen.

Kristina is building a database of black women in American horror pre 1980s which will be available in the future on her My Final Girl website here. In the meanwhile you can check out her trailer below.

Thank you Kristina for your time and advice!

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