Gender and Witchcraft through the Ages

On Halloween (10/31/2017), I gave a talk: “Witches and Other Magical Creatures: Gender and Witchcraft through the Ages.” We covered a lot of ground but couldn’t cover it all.  I realized after the talk that I missed talking about Eve’s Bayou and the exploration of prophesy and magic that Kasi Lemmons creates in one of my favorite Southern Gothic Horror films.

Note there was an audience in the room.

 

Bibliography

Ankarloo, Brent and Stuart Clark, eds. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe (5 book series). 1999-2002.
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. 1994.
Chéroux, Clément, et al. The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult. 2005.
Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. 1987.
Magliocco, Sabina. Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. 2004.
Myrone, Martin. Gothic Nightmares: Füseli, Blake, and the Romantic Imagination. 2006.
Petherbridge, Deanna. Witches & Wicked Bodies. 2013. (National Galleries of Scotland)
Russell, Jeffrey and Brooks Alexander. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans. 2nd Ed. 2006.
Sollée, Kristen. Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. 2017.
Starhawk, The Spirit Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, 20th Anniversary Edition, 1999.

 

Halloween Horror Recommendations

In addition to my focus on feminist horror films for my 31 Days of Horror film watching (which you can find here), I thought I’d offer some other recommendations in honor of the best month of the year, October, and my favorite holiday, Halloween. October is the month when everyone is a horror fan (for some of us it’s a year-round thing). If you’re looking for some must read or watch, check out the list below. (Note: None of the films I’m featuring in my Feminist Horror #31DaysOfHorror will be on the below list.)

First, I’d be a bad scholar if I didn’t recommend my own book, so check out Gender in the Vampire Narrative (2016) edited by U. Melissa Anyiwo and me.

To Read
Non-Fiction

Histories of Haunts and Halloween

Fiction, Comics, and Graphic Novels

To Watch
Must Watch Contemporary Horror Films

  • Get Out (2017, director Jordan Peele), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu
  • Train to Busan (2016, director Sang-ho Yeon), available on Netflix
  • The Devil’s Candy (2015, director Sean Byrne), available on Netflix
  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016, director André Øvredal), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu
  • The Purge: Election Year (2016, director James DeMonaco), I would recommend the entire series but Election Year was particularly poignant in light of our current political climate, available to rent on Amazon and Vudu
  • The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), director Adam Robitel), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu
  • The Innkeepers (2012, director Ti West), available on Amazon Prime and Shudder
  • Stake Land (2010, director Jim Mickle), available on Netflix

Must Watch Classic Horror Films

31 Days of Feminist Horror

It’s that time of the year…my favorite month…my favorite holiday. Happy Samhain month everyone!  It means #31daysofHalloween. As a horror film scholar, it also means #31DaysofHorror, which is a yearly challenge to watch a horror film a day.  This year I’m doing 31 horror films but with my twist: 31 feminist horror films.  In brief, feminist horror films examine elements of gender and sexuality and also explore the cultural systems that build and buttress those gender and sexual social boundaries. (Want a longer explanation of feminist horror full with specific film analysis. Well it’s coming soon in the form of my dissertation. Or you can check out my slightly longer explanation here.)

The one very practical criteria for my viewing list was that I had to have easy access to the film, which means it is either streaming somewhere that I subscribe to or I own a copy of the film. Most of the films on the list are full-length feature films, but a few are short films by some great indie filmmakers.  Pre-warning though, a couple I haven’t seen before, but they were recommended as feminist horror films that I might like.

  1. XX (Anthology directors: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, 2017), if you’d like to read my initial reaction you can find it here, available on Netflix.
  2. Dead Hooker in a Trunk (Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2009), available on Hulu.
  3. The Babadook (Director Jennifer Kent, 2014), for more analysis on this film from me, you can find it here, available on Netflix
  4. Venefica (Director Maria Wilson, 2016), available on Shudder.
  5. Jennifer’s Body (Director Karyn Kusama, 2009), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu.
  6. Slumber Party Massacre (Director Amy Holden Jones, 1982), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  7. Raw (Director Julia Ducournau, 2016), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu.
  8. We Need to Talk about Kevin (Director Lynne Ramsay, 2011), available on Netflix and Shudder.
  9. The Witch (Director Robert Eggers, 2015), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  10. The Countess (Director Julie Delpy, 2009), if you are interested in in-depth analysis of this film, see my chapter in Gender in the Vampire Narrativenot currently available to stream.
  11. Honeymoon (Director Leigh Janiak, 2014), available on Netflix.
  12. Prevenge (Director Alice Lowe, 2016), available on Shudder.
  13. Dark Touch (Director Marina de Van, 2013), available on Shudder.
  14. The Midnight Swim (Director Sarah Adina Smith, 2014), available on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Shudder.
  15. Office Killer (Director Cindy Sherman, 1997), not currently available to stream.
  16. Byzantium (Director Neil Jordan, 2012), if you are interested in in-depth analysis of this film, see my chapter in Gender in the Vampire Narrativeavailable on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu.
  17. Blood Hunters (Director Tricia Lee, 2016), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  18. The Love Witch (Director Anna Biller, 2016), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  19. Chained (Director Jennifer Lynch, 2012), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu.
  20. Scream (Director Wes Craven, 1996), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  21. The Captured Bird (Director Jovanka Vuckovic, 2012), available on Vimeo.
  22. Consummé (Director Catherine Fordham, 2015)
  23. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Director Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014), available to rent on Amazon and Vudu.
  24. Eve’s Bayou (Director Kasi Lemmons, 1997), available on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.
  25. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Director Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  26. The Invitation (Director Karyn Kusama, 2015), available on Netflix.
  27. The Stylist (Director Jill Gevargizian, 2016), available on Shudder.
  28. The Girl with All the Gifts (Director Colm McCarthy, 2016), available on Amazon Prime Video.
  29. Soulmate (Director Axelle Carolyn, 2013), available on Shudder.
  30. Paralysis (Director R. Shanae Williams, 2015), available on Vimeo.
  31. American Mary (Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2012), for my more in-depth look see here, available to rent on Amazon.

Why Representation in Popular Culture Matters: Summer 2017 Edition

I feel as if I could write a post on issues surrounding representation in popular culture at least weekly. This isn’t too shocking given that I spend most of my time thinking, writing, and presenting/teaching on this topic.  We’ll call this post the early summer 2017 edition of why we need to see more representation of diverse identities in popular culture.   There are a few catalysts that keep sparking this for me: Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, Marvel’s Black Panther, and Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Each has generated a plethora of think-pieces, social media reactions, and criticism (some incredibly fair and some downright bizarre).

Even before Wonder Woman came out there was a ton of buzz from excitement to controversy.  For this film scholar, the weirdest and most infuriating were the pieces that said what a big gamble the studio was taken on Patty Jenkins as a director.  Jenkins directed the film Monster (2003) for which Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Oscar, so it is not at all a gamble, which to be clear many studios have taken on a hell of a lot of male directors without ever actually calling that a game. Given that DC seemed to put absolutely no marketing behind Wonder Woman, it left a lot of me very worried about how well the film would do overall but also that the film would be bad, which would mean we’d not see a woman-directed superhero movie again for a long time.  Many fans (mostly women) had a great deal of [guarded] optimism and a large amount of hope riding on this film.

The experience of watching Wonder Woman was absolute joy. I, like many women film-goers, cried throughout the film, especially during the battle on the beach watching the spectacular real-life superhero women playing Amazons and during Diana’s solo stride across No Man’s Land.  After I left the theatre I have spent a lot of time thinking about those tears.  As many have argued, those tears were, first, a reaction to seeing strong and brilliant women on screen and not framed by the male gaze but framed as subjects…as heroes.  I have seen the movie a few more times in the theatre and have thought a great deal about those tears as they have rolled down my cheeks each time I have seen the film.  What I realized is that the tears I was shedding grew out of the power of representation.  The film highlights women being powerful, flawed, covered in scars and wrinkles, while their thighs jiggled visibly on screen, which is a stunning departure from the air-brushed perfection of most celluloid women.

But more than that literal visible representation of complex and complicated women, these two moments felt like stunning metaphors to the life of a feminist scholar/activist.  For me and many of the strong feminist scholars I know, we work in isolation on our campuses, communities, and workplaces because a great deal of American culture is hostile to feminism and social justice activism.  When we are very lucky, we find feminist and social justice oriented communities in which we can work.  In my experiences those communities are built online, at conferences, and at conventions, where we discover other folks who “get” our work—who challenge us to strengthen that work and our commitment to it. When we can be with our community of Amazons, we are stronger, more powerful, and unbeatable, but we often must leave that supportive intellectual environment to return to our day-to-day worlds, in which we are Diana “going first” on our campuses/workplaces often understanding that we will have to dodge the proverbial bombs and bullets of making our campuses/workplaces safer, more open environments.  There’s a moment when Diana is charging across No Man’s Land alone because no one else will take the risk and Steve Trevor exclaims to the others “She’s drawing all their fire.” It is only after this that the men spring in to battle.  This line could be utter in so much of the social justice work that I see happening.   Certain folks on our campuses/in our workplaces draw all the fire, as they push for equity and justice.  In my experience, this burden falls predominantly to marginalized groups of people, especially Black women, Latina women, people of color, queer folks.  As I have thought about the film, I continue to be struck by how important this film is at the surface representation on screen level and these deeper philosophical levels.  Wonder Woman has flaws, especially in how it dealt with race and the erasure of Black women and women of color.  A brilliant conversation between Valerie Complex and Robert A. Jones, from Son of Baldwin, maps out this erasure, which I would encourage everyone to read. I hope that any sequel that is made will redress that lack of racial representation and be more explicit in representing queerness, which is a key aspect of the Amazonian culture and of Diana’s character. The film though was a powerful example for me of why we need more complicated and nuanced women in our media.

Just as Wonder Woman was about to hit the theatres, Marvel announced (May 17, 2017) that it would be ending its Black Panther comic book series. This move was utterly baffling, as it is a great series, which has not had enough of a run yet and is penned by the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Black Panther/T’Challa has long been one of my favorite comic book characters and the entire country of Wakanda is fascinating with all the scientific and technological innovations.  For me, the most intriguing part of the Wakandan world is the Dora Milaje, an all-female group of warriors who act as protection and advisors to the Wakandan leaders.  We briefly had the ability to dive deeper into the world of the Dora Milaje in the World of Wakandawritten by Coates and Roxane Gay—but in an infuriating move, Marvel announced on June 12 that it would end after only six issues. The timing of these two cancellations is bizarre, especially knowing that the Black Panther film is set to hit theatres in February 2018.

In the midst of all of this controversy, the first teaser for Black Panther was released (June 9, 2017), and it was amazing.  I’m so excited for this film and had some tears for this as well because seeing bad-ass Black women kick ass is precisely what I need.  This film features some of my favorite actresses, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as just an overall amazing cast. Seeing such a strong cast of Black characters and actors is a revelation for issues of representation. The joy of the Blerd community specifically and the Black community generally over the trailer reminded me yet again how important that representation on screen and in our entertainment is.  With just a one minute and fifty-three second teaser trailer, Black Panther indicated to viewers that they should be prepared for director Ryan Coogler to take them on a thrilling adventure with excellent acting.  Though we know little about the overall plot of the film, we’re in for a really great experience.

This summer has been a bit of a revelation about the importance of representation across a broad spectrum of identities for me.  With the release of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, a plethora of commentary has been whizzing about, covering topics of sexual violence, bodies, and fatness/obesity.  I was struck reading Hunger by how frequently I found myself wanting to just write the word yes with a lot of exclamation points after it.  This book was strikingly personal and all too familiar.  Though I often think about the lack of representation of women of size in media, I hadn’t really realized how much this erasure really impacted me until I was reading the book.  Many folks have pointed me toward This is Us as a positive representation of a woman of size (character of Kate Pearson).  I will admit that I could not stick with that show after a few episodes because of the storyline of Kate.  I absolutely stand behind the spectacular Chrissy Metz, who is a beautiful and wonderful actress playing that role with a lot of heart, but the writers did the character a disservice, meaning that I only made it through three episodes.  Gay’s exploration of her challenges of being a woman of size, the struggle to lose weight, and her on-going battle to accept and love herself is profound and necessary.  I needed this conversation, but I also discovered that I want more of this conversation and more representation of people of size and not in the exploitative Biggest Loser way.

Moreover, reading Gay’s narrative of the aftermath of sexual violence was stunning for me.  We see sexual violence used as a plot tool in media all the time, but we never see the core ways that it impacts a life forever after the assault.  We see fiction and film writers taking the easy way out all the time of using weaponized sexual violence of women to give male characters “development” or female characters a reason to be violent, but we rarely see someone struggling with the trauma in ways that alter the very make up of their being.   How many times have survivors, violence prevention experts, fans, and scholars asked for media to stop using sexual violence as a plot device? I have lost count at this point, and yet, it continues with new examples all the time (I’m looking at you new The Mist adaptation on Spike). Gay’s book is a memoir and, therefore, compels a deep exploration, but it also reminded me precisely why I need media portrayals of sexual violence to be more nuanced.

These three examples of media from this summer remind me just how crucial representations of all identities are.  To see oneself reflected through media is to see that you can…you can survive…you can be successful…you can be a hero, a scientist, a leader, a badass-ass-kicking-warrior woman, a scholar, and so much more.  That is what representation does.  This is why art and media matter.

CFP: Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy

U. Melissa Anyiwo and I are issuing a call for chapters for a text, Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy, that has been accepted for publication with Sense Publishers as a part of their Teaching Gender series.

Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy
Editors U. Melissa Anyiwo and Amanda Hobson

Call for Chapters
Urban fantasy, a genre that draws from high fantasy, horror, and romance, came into its own in the mid-1980s, but critical work on the topic has been sadly lacking, found scattered throughout texts on related genres. In addressing issues of urban fantasy, there is a recurring theme: the problem of gender. Issues of gender have always permeated the reception of authorship and the definition of genre itself; in this case, it is not enough to just read urban fantasy in opposition to high fantasy but to denote it in contrast to its sister genres of paranormal romance, alternate histories, and steampunk literature. Moreover, the concepts and complications of urban fantasy continue when the genre moves from page to screen. This collection will, thus, examine and clarify several questions: What is urban fantasy? How does the genre complicate the performance and portrayals of gender? How do these discussions translate across page, stage, and screen?

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Black Widow in the Avengers series and beyond, urban fantasy introduces audiences to female protagonists who appear as independent action heroes freed from the constraints of traditional patriarchy, fighting in traditionally male worlds against uber-masculine foes. In conjunction with the rise of urban fantasy, the twenty-first century has witnessed an explosion of tough, physically strong, supernaturally enhanced women in the popular media—including films, television shows, comic books, and video games making this text a vital addition to a Popular Culture Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Contemporary Culture, Sociology, Political Science, Queer Studies, Communications and more.

Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy, under contract with Sense Publishers as part of their Teaching Gender Series, seeks classroom ready original essays from scholars with PhDs, which explicitly explore the world of urban fantasy. The volume aims to emphasize the constructions of gender and the way these interpretations reify our images of human beings and the ways in which we identify and manufacture the gendered and sexualized Other. We hope to open doorways to discussions about Otherness at the college level, serving as an alternative way to explore marginality through a framework that welcomes all students into the conversation. Thus, we ask that all chapters include a set of Discussion Questions and suggestions for further reading.

 Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Presentations of gender and the performance of femininity and masculinity in the Urban Fantasy Universe
  • Presentations of gender in the worlds of Marvel and DC Comics
  • Reinforcement or subversion of gendered norms
  • Female authorship/readership as genre-defying feminist texts
  • The limits of feminist expression in urban fantasy film (i.e. Underworld Series)
  • Problematizing “the strong female character.”
  • Urban Fantasy as female preserve
  • Liberating or fetishicizing: the warrior woman image on TV (i.e. Alias, La Femme Nikita, Lost Girl, Blade)
  • Girl fighting & social disempowerment: the impact of performing violence in Urban Fantasy (i.e. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kim Harrison’s Hollows Series, Blade)
  • Hyper-masculinity in Urban Fantasy (i.e. Underworld Series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Gender blending and the Urban Fantasy heroine (i.e. Underworld Series, Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days Series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Sexual violence or threat of sexual violence as a plot device: the shifting use and portrayal of sexual violence, particularly the rape narrative within Urban Fantasy (i.e. Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson Series, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series, Kim Harrison’s Hallows Series, Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Male voices in Urban Fantasy: the limits of representation in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles)
  • Gendering fans and fandom in urban fantasy (i.e. Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  • The use of gender throughout the history of the genre
  • The gendering of authorship as a function of genre’s reception
  • How gender portrayal in urban fantasy varies between films, television series, and novels.

Timetable:

  • April 30th – Proposals due
  • June 30th – 1st drafts due
  • August 30th – 2nd drafts due
  • 1st – Final Drafts
  • 30th – text due at Publisher

Please email proposals and inquiries to Melissa Anyiwo (manyiwo@curry.edu) and Amanda Hobson (amanda.hobson@indstate.edu) by April 30, 2017.

About the Teaching Gender series from Sense Publishers

The Teaching Gender series publishes monographs, anthologies and reference books that deal centrally with gender and/or sexuality. The books are intended to be used in undergraduate and graduate classes across the disciplines. The series aims to promote social justice with an emphasis on feminist, multicultural and critical perspectives.

Please email series queries to the series editor at pleavy7@aol.com

Series Editor
Patricia Leavy
USA

International Editorial Board
Tony E. Adams, Northeastern Illinois University, USA
Paula Banerjee, University of Calcutta, India
Nitza Berkovitch, Ben Gurion University, Israel
Robin Boylorn, University of Alabama, USA
Máiréad Dunne, University of Sussex, UK
Mary Holmes, The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Laurel Richardson, Ohio State University, Emerita, USA
Sophie Tamas, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Get Out and the Importance of Addressing Contemporary Racism

Now that I have had the opportunity to see Get Out a few times, I feel better equipped to write about it. I will begin by saying that everyone should see this film. (Watch the trailer.) It is an incredibly important commentary on contemporary racism in the United States and it does this through wit, compassion, humor, and a refusal to look away. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, likely best known for his comedy work on Key and Peele, Get Out is a horror film that taps into the psychological thriller/horror genre traditions but does so with some blurring into the realm of comedy. Peele worked with the horror juggernaut Blumhouse Productions. The performances of the actors are truly sublime, especially Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington (our protagonist), Betty Gabriel as Georgina, Lakeith Standfield as Andrew Logan King, and Milton “Lil Rel” Howery as Rod Williams. Get Out has exceeded the $100 million mark, which is brilliant given its production budget was $5 million. This film has had me thinking about it from the first trailer I saw and now having seen it a few times I’m thinking about it even more.

I do want to address the folks who are insisting that this film is a thriller, which is in part the distribution company’s marketing choices (I’m looking at you Universal). But this is largely because there is such a denigration and dismissal of the horror genre as a whole. This is my soapbox moment as a horror scholar, yes. Horror films are not all torture porn and gruesome deaths—though there is nothing wrong with those horror films, I know they aren’t for everyone. Horror films are complex and diverse group of genre traditions that disrupts the everyday and are recognizable as “horrifying” and relying upon physical and emotional violence (see the scholarship of Robin Means-Coleman, Kendall Phillips, and Isabel Pinedo). Additionally, the horror genre has a long history of being subversive and addressing social issues, calling attention to a myriad of cultural problems including racism and sexism.  So I’ll say even if you don’t like horror films, please give this film a chance and please don’t re-genre it as a thriller when you do.

If you have not seen this film, I implore you to go see it and to stop reading this post right now because I’m going to talk plot pieces and I don’t want to spoil the film.

Again…stop reading if you haven’t seen it because spoilers are coming.

One of the key features of the film’s address of contemporary racism is the way Rose (Allison Williams) continually dismisses and deflects Chris’s (Daniel Kaluuya) concerns about race and their interracial relationship. Rose speaks for Chris and places him in danger through her actions when they are interacting with a white police officer without realizing the potential for harm that her behavior establishes. She refuses to listen to his concerns about her family’s reaction to his race because her family can’t possibly be racist…they’re liberals for goodness sake…they voted for Obama and would have done so for “a third time.” I have heard people say this statement (along with I date Black people or I have a Black friend) to disavow the racism and microaggressions they are perpetuating. Rose is the epitome of the white feminist, who refuses to see the need for intersectionality or the long-term issues with racism in the feminist movement. Aisha Harris keenly points out how dangerous white womanhood continues to be in her piece “The Most Terrifying Villain in Get Out is White Womanhood.”

Get Out addresses the insidiousness of liberal racism, specifically the ways in which white liberal folks have created self-replicating racist systems that shut Black folks out of them all while espousing supposedly calls for equality. In Get Out, this takes the form of rich white people literally stealing the bodies of Black people, which the white folks seem to believe is some sort of compliment about the physical superiority of the Black body. It is Hudson wanting to co-opt Chris Black gaze (his photography skills and his “eye” for reality in his art) and supplant his white sensibility and gaze for Chris’s racialized vision (by the nature of his existence as a Black man). This enslavement of the Black body also demonstrates the way in which slavery also crushes the spirit of the individual, living in the “Sunken Place” of degradation and invisibility. In his piece “Why Get Out Is the Best Movie Ever Made about Slavery,” Steven Thrasher writes, “It shows the intimate ways whiteness uses—indeed, the ways in which whiteness needs to use and use up—Black bodies for its continued existence.”

Throughout the film, Peele uses super-focused close up shots of Black faces (only Black faces). Often, in these shots, the faces are off-center in the frame and set at angles to the lens but these extreme close ups of these Black faces center the experiences of the Black folks in the film. One of the moments I was most struck by in this film is the moment Missy (Catherine Keener) hypnotizes Chris, and he is paralyzed (See below). In this moment in Missy’s study, Peele uses this close up on Chris frozen face to emphasize Chris’s humanity and Missy’s monstrosity. The only movement in the frame comes from the tears streaking down Chris’s cheeks, his eyes and mouth frozen open in fear. This is a classic horror film tactic to show terror but also the horrific nature of the monsters our hero is facing…the monster in this moment is the white woman wielding her power and training as a therapist as a weapon. Chris’s face is so compelling and Peele’s emphasis on Chris’s horror while discovering that he was right to be concerned about this visit to Rose’s family. Missy’s monstrosity, her villain status, is established while our audience identification with Chris is solidified.

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Get Out is an amazing film that reifies our need to identify and dismantle the insidious nature of contemporary racism—racism that pretends it no longer exists and/or is a “conservative” and “rural” issue. It reminds us that we live in a racist culture that white folks have a responsibility to admit, address, and disassemble. Moreover, it’s a spectacular horror film that is creepy and atmospheric.

I would encourage folks to check out the following pieces if you’re interested in reading more about this film: Graveyard Shift Sisters’ “Get Out: Crafting a Masterpiece from the Horror of Racism,” B. Willis’s “The Most Overlooked and Underrated Characters in ‘Get Out’ Are Black Women,” and Bilge Ebiri’s “Critic’s Notebook: Why ‘Get Out’ and ‘Moonlight’ Are Breakthroughs in Black Filmmaking.” Also check out the Girl’s Will Be Ghouls review of the film in Episode 23 of their podcast.

Thoughts on XX

As almost everyone knows, I have been (not-so-patiently) waiting for XX to come out for several years. The first released all-women directed horror anthology is of course something that I would be anticipating given my passion for horror films and my scholarship on feminist film. I’m going to try very hard not to spoil any of the shorts here and these are just initial cursory thoughts. The themes of social connections, particularly motherhood and family, ran throughout all of the pieces. The familial tension that runs throughout the film is palpable and speaks to the ways in which women’s storytelling often addresses the anxieties of contemporary women attempting to deal with struggle between feminism and conservative American social norms.

First, I do think everyone should see this film for several reasons, including of course that it is the first all-women directed horror anthology but also because there is some really great camera work and story-telling in parts. There were some very strong cinematographic moments, specifically in Benjamin and Kusama’s shorts. I know that some folks are expressing disappointment in the film. Unlike most horror anthologies, XX did not have a broader narrative tying the pieces together, being drawn together only by thematic similarities. The acting in all of the pieces was excellent overall.

As with all anthologies, some of the vignettes were stronger than others, with my favorites being Vuckovic and Kusama’s. I felt the mix of humor and exasperation in Clark’s piece was fun and interesting, but the piece suffered a bit from lack of overall narrative explanation, which is also my critique of Benjamin’s piece. Both Clark and Benjamin’s have a great deal of potential, though they needed more time and exploration. Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” was the only film the invoked the horror trope of the monster, which led to some amazing creature effects. It is the short though that left me most perplexed because it was the least fleshed out narrative, with a lot of narrative holes. Vuckovic’s “The Box” was quiet and menacing, a type of familial drama that feels simultaneously real and horrific. In this short, the not-knowing heightens the fear for the audience. Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” was a beautiful vignette of a mother’s battle to save her son; at moments subtle and at others overtly questioning the idea of nature and nurture. Finally, Sofia Carrillo’s animation for the credit sequence and the intertitles was darkly fascinating.

Since I just re-read Isabel Pinedo’s Recreational Terror, I was also struck by how much these shorts felt like the post-modern horror films Pindeo discusses, particularly in her assertion that they resist narrative closure. Three of the four pieces in XX do not come to any true type of narrative conclusion—having somewhat open-ended constructions—leaving the audience to ponder what comes next for the characters. While I can see why some people were left unimpressed with the film, the film offered a good foray into feminist horror and to the more subdued horror that is more cerebral and emotional than shocking and terror-fueled. I hope to see additionally feature length films by these directors, which would offer them the ability to articulate more fully constructed narratives.

I do wish that there had been a more concerted effort to include more women techs and behind camera roles in the making of the film. I understand that the state of filmmaking is dismal for women producers, directors, cinematographers (the exception is Tarin Anderson, who did work on “The Birthday Cake” and “Don’t Fall”), and such, but I would have liked to have seen more women behind the scene and more diversity overall. The best part of this film in many ways is the culturally impact of having these strong women directors talking to the media and horror fans about the state of horror but also the representation of women directors in Hollywood and beyond.

I would very much recommend that folks watch XX, but also go look at Vuckovic’s The Captured Bird (which I love and regularly teach) and Kusama’s The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body.  I also liked Benjamin’s Southbound piece “Siren.”