Author Archives: amandajohobson

About amandajohobson

Amanda Hobson is the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Women’s Resource Center at Indiana State University. In her role as a student affairs administrator, her work focuses on issues of social justice and equity in higher education, and she regularly presents about a wide-range of diversity issues, including gender justice, bystander intervention, and sexual violence. Her doctoral work at Ohio University’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts centers on issues of intersectionality of identity using sexuality and the erotic within feminist film with a specific emphasis on horror films and pornography. She presents on the construction and portrayal of gender, sexuality, and race within contemporary popular culture and art, such as Sex Magic: Witchcraft, Gender, and Sexuality in Paranormal Fiction and Gender Blending and Genre Bending in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Series. Additionally, her work on the vampire narrative covers topics including Apocalyptic Vampires and Vampiric Icons: Visions of Vampires from Dirty to Debonair in Less than 200 Years. She has been invited to deliver lectures on the topic of vampires in popular culture, including one for the BalletMet of Columbus, Ohio, for their production of Dracula. She is the co-editor with U. Melissa Anyiwo of Gender in the Vampire Narrative (Sense, 2016). Her published work includes “‘We Don’t Do History’: Constructing Masculinity in a World of Blood” in Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Post-Apocalyptic TV and Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and “Brothers Under Covers: Race and the Paranormal Romance Novel” in Race in the Vampire Narrative (Sense, 2015). When she is not writing about films and books, she can be found reading or watching movies. She loves to spend time with her adorable dog, Beaker, who can be found either ignoring her completely or cuddled with her on the couch.

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.”

What is Feminist Horror?

On February 2, 2017, I gave a brief lecture and held a discussion with 25 students, faculty, and staff at Indiana State University on the question of What is Feminist Horror in honor of Women in Horror Month. As many of you know, horror films are one of my passions and one of the chapters of my dissertation is on this topic of feminist horror films.

I covered a brief definition of the horror genre as well as the idea of women in horror films before diving into discussing feminist film generally and feminist films specifically.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a challenge with technology for podcasting that day, but I recovered my notes in the below video for anyone interested. I do apologize for the poor image quality.

Talking Vampires…

Last week, I had an excellent experience of getting to talk vampires on “Journey into the Paranormal with Ron Mills” via WCJV Digital Radio.

I talk with Ron about the history and folklore of the vampire from Lilith to Eastern European Vampire “outbreaks” of the 15th century to Vlad the Impaler and Erzébet Báthory. We also discussed Blade and other vampire hunters.

If you’d like to give me a listen, check it out here.

Historical Research and a Creepy Edge

I’ve been looking forward to The Witch, since the moment it premiered at Sundance in 2015.  That’s when the buzz began in horror movie circles for this film.  As the date of the wide-theatrical release grew closer, the anticipation only increased.  This feeling grew at an exponential rate this week because the internet seemed to begin losing its mind about this movie, for instance Stephen King’s tweet that it “scared the hell out of [him]” and was “visceral.” I was all the more eager to see it–to the point where I worked a full-day, taught an hour-and-a-half class, and then went to see it. (Do I get horror fan dedication points for this?) [This post shall remain as spoiler-free as possible, but as always, readers beware.]

Set in 1603 American colonies, the film follows a family’s self-imposed exile to the untamed wilds outside of their settlement due to a disagreement between the family patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson),  and the plantation’s religious elders/church doctrine.  As the family tries to establish themselves alone, they are beset with misfortune, even though their devotion to their faith is clear and present throughout the film.

First, the cast of this film was absolutely fantastic.  Ineson’s portrayal of William exuded a morass of failure, doubt, and pride that mirrored the tone of the film.  Kate Dickie’s Katherine was flawless in her devoutness, especially as she and the film descend a bit into madness. Anna Taylor-Joy as Thomasin walked the line throughout the film of innocence and temptation, showing the audience just how dangerous that line is particularly in an esoteric life devoid of joy and playfulness.  Harvey Scrimshaw was phenomenal as Caleb, the oldest of son and younger brother to Thomasin, and his interaction with Anna Taylor-Joy showed depth and compassion.  He also had one of the most difficult scenes to act in the film, in my opinion, and did so with a compelling screen presence.  Also the two little ones, playing twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), were great and played annoying younger siblings quite well.

What was most impressive was the utterly mind-blowing attention to detail and historical research so prominently displayed in the film.  It was clearly heavily embedded in a desire to present a narrative that was based in historical documents and through that research demonstrate how frightening our history truly is even on its surface.  As an audience member, I tend to eschew simple distillations of the image of witch as shortcut for evil or Satan worshipper.  This stereotype and trope typically raises my ire and turns me off.  Here, though, writer and director Robert Eggers establishes not the normal witch = evil reductive plot.  Instead, this film demonstrates the fear that the idea of witchcraft evoked in the cultural imagination of the historical period in which it is set, showing the idea of the witch as a product of religious zeal and isolation.  Whether real phenomenon or product of cultural imagination (or economic opportunists), the [Satanic] witch was both feared and reviled as harbingers of destruction.

Eggers’s screenplay is subtle in its creepiness. My one issue was that I just didn’t find it scary…not at all.  Eggers creates tension and plot climaxes throughout the film, and Mark Korven’s music built that tension in spectacular and creepy ways, particularly with his discordant sounds. Even Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography continually underscores the ominous feel of this film.  It just did not frighten me at all, so sadly I must disagree with Stephen King on that one. The film is immensely watchable though, and I do recommend it.  Check out the trailer on YouTube and check out the film in theatres.