February is a bit of a chameleon of a month. It is a month of love, a celebration of women in horror and Black History Month. I am so pleased to have a guest post by Jessica Guess.
If you identify as a woman and love horror, then February is your time to shine. As a black woman who loves horror, this month is especially significant because February has the distinguished honor of being both Black History Month and Women in Horror Month. Though this may seem like Christmas for black girl horror junkies like me, for a long time it was only a reminder that though I loved horror, horror didn’t necessarily love me back.
I grew up watching Freddy Krueger and reading R.L. Stine and Stephen King. I loved stories about slashers, haunted houses, and possessed cars, but I’d be lying if I said reading and watching stories that rarely had a black character stick around past the first victim stage didn’t have a negative effect on my writing. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but for a long time, most of the characters in my stories were white. Not because I didn’t want them to be black or any other race, but because horror felt like such a white thing. It didn’t feel like it belonged to anyone else.
My love for horror felt one-sided. Like if I wrote it a note during lunch asking if it wanted to be mine, it would check “No.”
It took years of working on my craft and a quote from Toni Morrison to undo what decades of single stories had told me about people of color and horror. “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
My interpretation of what the late Ms. Morrison said is, “Write what you want to see.” I want to see black final girls. I want to see black female villains. I want to see black women who are vulnerable and selfish and make huge, murderous mistakes. I want it to check “Yes.” When I was growing up, there wasn’t much hope for this, but now the tide is shifting.
What I’d give to be a young black girl growing up in this era of horror. Granted, it’s not perfect. The genre has quite a way to go in terms of diversity. But if we take this past year as an indication of horror’s trajectory, it’s becoming a place where black women won’t have to struggle to see themselves.
In 2019, we had movies like Us, Sweetheart, Little Monsters, Escape Room, Doctor Sleep, and Ma, which all had black women as lead characters. That’s seven horror movies in one year where we got to see ourselves as villains, final girls, and powerful little bad-asses. And that’s not even counting Tananarive Due and Ashley Blackwell’s Shudder documentary, Horror Noire.
It feels like horror is starting to check “Yes.” But what about all the other little girls writing notes during lunch and recess?
I fully intend to keep writing what I want to see, but I know that some of what I want to see is up to someone else to write. I want to see more horror on the page and on the screen by women of all races and ethnicities. I want more movies like Tigers Are Not Afraid and Verónica. I want more books like Maria the Wanted and Her Body and Other Parties. I want, I want, I want…
Really, what I want is for the genre that so many women of color love to finally love us all back.
Jessica Guess is a writer and English teacher who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She earned her Creative Writing MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2018 and is the founder of the website Black Girl’s Guide to Horrorwhere she examines horror movies in terms of quality and intersectionality. Her creative work has been featured in Luna Station Quarterly and Mused BellaOnline Literary Review. Her debut novella, Cirque Berserk, will be available for purchase February 20th 2020.