The Female Horror Renaissance: Is it a White only revolution?

“Horror reflects society- what we probably need are more thoughtful horror films that speak directly to female experiences.”– Professor Barbara Creed

Throughout its years, the BFI London Film Festival has showcased some of the most innovative and creative women in horror. From this year’s must-see horror film St Maud (Rose Glass) to The Babadook (Jennifer Kent), it has been a turning point in the conversation surrounding female horror directors. However, the film industry has historically not extended the same hand. The Female Horror Renaissance discussion as part of this year’s festival was an insightful and interesting look at the female experience within horror.

Anna Bogutskaya, the co-founder of the horror film collective The Final Girls, lead an online panel conversation exploring ‘The Female Horror Renaissance’ with some of the most exciting women working in horror today – Prano Bailey Bond (Man vs Sand – 2012) and Jennifer Sheridan (Rose – 2020, Acoustic Kitty – 2015).

Ibrahima Traoré as ‘Souleiman‘ and Mame Bineta Sane as ‘Ada‘ in Mati Diop’s Atlantics, 2019.

The use of the word ‘renaissance’ to describe the increasing prominence of female directors in ‘mainstream’ film still highlights an inequality within the industry. Rather than equate the two on a level playing field, female directors that rise to ‘mainstream’ fame are seen as the minority and rarity. The gatekeeping of horror by white men has for many years prevented many female directors from receiving the same opportunities and budgets.

Jennifer Handorf describes her budget for the 2016 British comedy slasher ‘Prevenge ’ (Alice Lowe’s directorial debut), as ‘pocket change for an experiment’. As one of the producers on the film, Handorf describes working with a minimal budget of £60,000 for a feature in comparison to the budget of Joel Egerton’s directorial debut ‘The Gift’ where he received $5 million.

However, what the panel, of all white women, failed to acknowledge was the large inconsistencies between white and Black horror directors. The exclusion of Black women directors from panels such as these further contributing to the erasure of Black women in horror. Black women directors and writers such as Misha Green (Lovecraft Country) and Nia Dacosta (Candyman) are leading the way in reclaiming space within the mainstream horror genre. The exploration of Black history within this medium provides an explosive and innovative look at trauma. Mati Diop’s Atlantics (2019), a supernatural horror story set in Senegal is the perfect example of trauma reimagined within the genre. The film authentically captures life in Senegal whilst adding local stories and understandings of the supernatural. With a plethora of experiences available across the globe, it’s frustrating a large majority of the films in mainstream cinema feature white faces telling the same stories.

Lovecraft Country, HBO Courtney B. Vance as ‘Uncle George‘, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as ‘Letitia Lewis‘ and Jonathan Majors as ‘Atticus Freeman‘.

Although white female directors face discrimination based on their gender, the discrimination faced by Black women directors is incomparable. There is the added element of race that comes into play in restricting their access within the film industry. These directors are often viewed as unmarketable and therefore unlikely to make a profit. Black art faces more criticism and is often seen as less marketable than white art.

One topic of conversation was the image of what a trusted director looks like according to the panel: ‘older, grey-haired and white’. There was a disconnect from their whiteness as they attempted to ‘other’ themselves rather than acknowledging the privilege they hold. There is a growing disconnect and manipulation of discourse concerning the role white women have played in racism. It is dangerous to forget privilege and influence white women have, not just in the film industry but in society. There were brief discussions of Get Out (2017) but, they completely disregarded its importance as a piece of Black art and the exclusion black directors face especially within the horror genre.

Overall, the panel provided a well-needed conversation about the female experience in horror and how sexism prevents many female directors from accessing the same opportunities as men. However, the absence of Black women on the panel and discussion halted a more inclusive dialogue.

By Audrey Owusu-Frempong. Follow Audrey on Twitter @kyrewaah95

Lovecraft Country is available to watch now on Sky Atlantic and Now TV. Candyman will be released in 2021. Atlantics is available to watch now on Netflix.


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