restricted access 4. Folkloric Horror: A New Way of Reading Black Women’s Creative Horror
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  Folkloric Horror A New Way of Reading Black Women’s Creative Horror Critiques originating in black feminist thought, then, have had a sure effect on the restructuring of traditional disciplines. —Barbara Christian A lot of my work begins in horror. —Nnedi Okorafor The dead are not dead. —Dr. Bonnie Barthold At the climax of Bree Newsome’s short film Wake (2010), the black woman protagonist, Charmaine, rushes through the woods in her nightgown, hair unbound with harried, furtive glances behind her in the morning light. Charmaine’s world has crumbled around her—her father is dead,and she suspects her recent husband to be a special kind of evil and possibly inhuman—so she runs to what she believes is the source of her problems,the death spirit in the woods. Charmaine’s current temperament is markedly different from the cool confidence she possessed when she first met the otherworldly  Searching for Sycorax death dealer. Days earlier, Charmaine strolled determinedly single-minded in her purpose to conjure a man. Charmaine was calm, collected, and prepared. She carried a conjure box, filled with the likeness of the man of her dreams—deep mahogany skin, a handsome figure in a sharp white suit, and piercing green eyes—as well as trinkets of affection and a few bones signifying the sacrifice of small animals for the exchange of ashe, or life spirit, a necessary element to bring forth life in root work.1 So far, the narrative had only hinted at the largest sacrifice Charmaine has given to become a wife and mother, “A man? Well, you gotta give one to get one!” the ghede embodied in a honey-colored woman dressed in a voluminous red and black dress from a previous century.2 Charmaine eagerly proffers a handkerchief full of dirt from her father’s fresh grave. “How’d your Daddy die?” the woman-spirit slyly inquires. Wake demonstrates the rich potential for the horror genre to successfully examine the social anxieties that often plague contemporary middle-class black women. The twin forces of respectability politics and a supposed dearth of ideal black men have contributed to working single black professional women into a frenzy of spinsterhood or worse, single motherhood with little to no hope of love and wedlock—the only avenue to happiness if black middle-class values can be believed. Such fears occasionally Fig. 8. Buena Batiste Webber as The Demon, Wake (2010). Folkloric Horror  spike into the cultural consciousness, with its last peak seen in the early 2010s characterized by such titles as Ralph Richard Banks’s Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (2011). Charmaine has been pushed to act because she fears the social consequences of becoming an old maid as articulated by the trio of older women gossiping about her life at her father’s burial: “Charmaine passed the old maid mark a while ago if you ask me. She’s just lucky her Daddy died when he did . . . while there’s still time to get married over his dead body.” Charmaine has, unfortunately, bought into the problematic belief that black women are incomplete without a socially approved marital partner. Charmaine sees conjure as her only option, “if’n you want something bad enough that praying takes too long,” because she longs to be whole, a wholeness that can only be fulfilled by a husband. As the trio of gossips proclaim: “All she needs is a good, solid man!”Charmaine fails to recognize that she was never bereft because her community will not allow it. Newsome deftly offers a racially gendered revision of the horror genre by focusing on the rich folklore of the African diaspora, specifically the practice of conjure. And it is conjure and similar tools of West African mystical agency that provide a central foundation for black women creators ’ transformation of the horror genre explored in this chapter. Throughout this project, I have explored the presence of the black woman in horror—whom I earlier named Sycorax—and how her presence complicates mainstream horror theory, black feminist theory, and genre writing as a whole. The previous chapter used my critical framework—fluid fiction—to demonstrate how black women writers redefine genre literature by purposely conflating and separating genres by redefining them within an Africanized feminist context. This chapter builds upon the concept of fluid fiction—accepting that black women’s creative works flow between the definitions of genre—but the women I analyze in this...


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