Ashlee Blackwell is on a quest. Like many horror fans, she has been disturbed by the lack of positive images of women in horror films, especially women of color. It’s an old sin we know horror to be guilty of: the Black Guy always dies first (or, the Black Girl), women of color are often far more sexualized than their caucasian counterparts, and if by some miracle a Black character makes it to the last quarter of running time, he or she is usually either comic relief or a sacrifice conveniently placed to save the all important, lily-white Final Girl. Instead of turning away from the genre she loves, though, Ashlee Blackwell uses her talents as a writer and scholar to reclaim and recast the role of Black women in horror art and literature.
She’s the founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters, a website filled with smart critical looks at some of the genre’s mainstays as well as a networking hub for women of color interested in writing, directing, or producing horror cinema. Over the course of Women in Horror Month (which she helps organize), Graveyard Shift Sisters is featuring a Black Woman in Horror each day, giving visibility to the many women of color who contribute to the world of the macabre. Additionally, she writes for Black Girl Nerds, a spiritual home for female nerds everywhere, as well as Rue Morgue magazine. Blackwell has used her talent and passion to advocate for more equality and empowerment in horror as well as simply producing some great examinations and critical interpretations.
When I was sending out queries for Women in Horror Month, I was waiting in anticipation for Ashlee Blackwell’s response. Not only am I a fan of her writing, but her cause is very close to me personally. I work at a very poor, dangerously underfunded school teaching English. The majority of my students are Black or Hispanic. I base my classes around horror literature, clips of horror movies, and examining what horror can teach us about the “real world.” My students are all avid fans of horror and have so much fun discussing and reading about the genre. However, the lack of positive heros or heroines of color, plus the tendency to always associate dark colors with evil, has been something that has bothered my students. On behalf of a lot of young genre fans out there, thank you, Ashlee Blackwell! Your work is very needed and very appreciated.
Pennie Sublime: What inspired the creation of Graveyard Shift Sisters?
Ashlee Blackwell: The simple question of 'how many women of color do you see as leads or significant, well-rounded supportive roles in horror films?' and the answer that follows: too few.
PS: How has the representation of women of color in horror films changed in the past ten years?
AB: I think the only real change is in the no-budget/independent circuit with Black women in particular creating genre films with women of color as main characters. They're fully developed and thoughtful characters who are vulnerable and steadfast in dealing with supernatural or genre elements threatening their lives. It's best to keep an eye out on these filmmakers who are pushing their work on social media.
PS: I love the "Take Action" tab on your site. Tell us more about what Graveyard Shift Sisters does to educate the world about Black horror.
AB: Twitter has been a great vehicle for chat sessions, live tweets, and sharing other sites and work by people who put in similar efforts in discussion Black people and their contributions to the horror genre.
PS: How do you hope to impact the horror world?
AB: I just want to make a living doing what you see on the site as a writer and educator. Wherever it flows from there, I'm happily open to.
PS: What was your favorite horror book/movie of 2016?
AB: My movie was The Invitation. Karyn Kusama came out and gave us optics in representation of LGBTQI and people of color as well as with her writing partners craft this phenomenal look at grief, anxiety, and overall human frailty, clumped it in isolation in a house with so many different people which made the tension even thicker. And, spoiler alert, the Black girl makes it, balancing being chill amidst the madness and a fighter when necessary. We need to see more of this!