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Black Artists Contributions to Horror

Black Artists

A Celebration of Those Whose Impact Does Not go Unnoticed

The world is full of those who can tell and frame stories in indescribable ways that move people to laugh, cry, love, rage, and even shiver. While each artist is worth their due, there is a place and time when the spotlight swings in a specific direction. This piece shines a spotlight on the Black creatives, the artists who have harnessed their creativity and contributed works of art that have inspired shock, fear, dread, and terror. This is a nod to those who have struck out to make a name for themselves in the horror genre. 

Specific categorizations have defined entertainment for years. And these categorizations are what one defines as genres. Each genre contains elements and material that cater to specific audiences, with horror being one of the nine most recognized. However, compared to other genres, horror is considered one of the “youngest.” But as Premium Beat notes, “While the horror genre is sometimes considered a younger film genre, horror elements have long been a bedrock of classic cinema, dating back to some of the earliest — and eeriest — days of filmmaking,” as early as the late 1800s. 

Despite the humble start dating back as early as 1898, hundreds of years would pass before a Black creative would rise as a contributor. The first horror film noted to result from a Black creative did not appear until 1940. Son of Ingagi, the story of a freshly married couple and the revelation of some nightmarish secrets, was written by Spencer Williams, a Black director, actor, and writer. According to Chalk Magazine, “At the beginning of the 1940s, Spencer Williams made the first Black horror film; however, another two decades would pass before Black people would see themselves on screen in that way again.” But while Williams is credited as one of the first to contribute his talents to the genre, he would not be the last. Many more talented artists would rise to shape the genre with their pens and perspectives. And here are nine prolific artists who have made their mark. 

9. William Crain 

William Crain

Crain was quite the creative in the 70s, with writing and directing credits from some of the most well-beloved series of the time. Two in particular, Mod Squad and Starsky and Hutch, to which he contributed, serve as popular markers of the period. However, in 1972 Crain exercised his creativity in a different direction with the horror, romance, and fantasy feature Blacula. Crain attributes his break with Blacula to being at the right place at the right time. In the 70s, such a feature was avant-garde. However, it has become historically relevant, a marker, and prototype. While Williams preceded Crain, Crain bears greater recognition as one of the first.  Not only is Blacula hailed as one of the first horror films to be presented to audiences under the direction of a black creative, but according to Farout Magazine, Blacula is also recognized as one of the most iconic films of the Blaxploitation era. As of 2021, Crain was still celebrating the success of the horror rendering via invitations to film festivals. At its core, Blacula is a traditional tale of horror, borrowing from more traditional fare in its approach to the theme of vampirism using an urban context.

8. Rusty Cundieff

Rusty Cundieff

Rusty Cundieff is another Black director who has been a major contributor to the horror genre. Cundieff credits his entrance into the industry with a rap mockumentary entitled Fear of a Black Hat. However, it would not be long before he dipped his toes into horror. His second feature would be none other than the 1995 horror film Tales from the Hood, a collection of terrifying tales which later expanded into a trilogy. Besides his work on Tales from the Hood, Cundieff would go on to direct the 2018 feature American Nightmares, another horror anthology of sorts. He would also contribute his artistry to episodes of the 2021 series Creepshow based on the iconic works of Stephen King. 

7. Ernest Dickerson

Ernest Dickerson

TCM extols Ernest Dickerson as “the Gifted African American cinematographer who established himself on financially modest but artistically ambitious independent features before shifting to major motion pictures.”

Dickerson’s filmography is impressive, boasting credits from various genres. And one of the genres in which Dickerson has made an imprint is the horror genre. He is known for the 1995 feature Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight and the 2001 horror film Bones starring Snoop Dogg. However, his work in horror would not be relegated to only film. Dickerson would contribute to such series’ as Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, Vampire Diaries, and The Walking Dead

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6. Spike Lee

Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s body of work is extensive. He has over three decades in the film industry and, for sure, has affixed his imprint, forging a lasting legacy. Moreover, the genres he has lent his artistic touch are vast. But in 2014, Lee contributed his talents to the horror genre as a writer and director of the movie Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, a piece tackling the theme of vampirism in a modern and cultural context. 

5. Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele has risen to stand out in the horror genre. Peele began his career in the industry as a performer. He gained notoriety as half of the comedy-sketch duo Key & Peele, a Mad tv feature. However, in 2017, Peele broke from his comedic roots. He stepped out, revealing another side of his creative nature. And he hit a home run when he took on horror with his directorial debut, Get Out. Following the success of Get Out, Peele began to garner comparisons to the great Alfred Hitchcock. Since the debut of Get Out, it’s been full steam ahead for Peele. His contributions to horror through producing, writing and directing on projects such as Us, Candy Man, The Twilight Zone, Nope, and Wendell and Wild have solidified him as a talent to watch in the horror genre.

4.  Remi Weekes 

Remi Weekes

Weekes is a new creative in the industry. However, with his 2020 horror rendering His House he has established himself as a powerhouse. This film takes the traditional story of a haunted house, adds cultural context, and elevates it. The reception of Weeke’s offering was phenomenal. In 2021, Weeke’s film received massive critical acclaim. According to a 2021 article in the Guardian, “the writer-director of the horror film was up for 16 awards, nominated in four categories for directing and screenwriting.” Impressively, he won four British Independent Film Awards for his work.

3. Emmanuel Osei-Kuffor

Emmanuel Osei-Kuffor

Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, a native of Houston, Texas, started his film career in Japan. According to his official website, “Japan is where he developed a passion for telling authentic, sensitive human-centered stories. While Osei-Kuffor spent his time on several short films outside of the horror genre, in 2020 he took a nosedive into the genre of terror with the feature film Black Box, an interesting look at tragedy, the mindscape, technology, and terror of all three combined. Black Box showcased Osei-Koffur’s explosive talent as a credit to the genre. In addition, it exhibited his general talent to tell stories and highlighted his ability to tell groundbreaking and unique nightmarish tales, something much needed.

2. Nia Dacosta

Nia Dacosta 

Nia Dacosta’s introduction to the world of film was at the Tribeca Film Festival. Her debut film was a dramatic feature entitled Little Woods. However, Dacosta would also add her contributions to horror as writer and director for the 2021 reboot of the horror film Candyman, a project also produced and co-written by Jordan Peele.

1. Justin Simien

Justin Simien

Last but not least is Justin Simien, who made his debut with a cultural series deemed a “social satire,” Dear White People, in 2014. While this series launched his career, his second project was a hair-raising horror film entitled Bad Hair. This 2020 offering was a comedic horror, fresh and unexpected. While he doesn’t yet have many credits to his name, his work in the industry continues. In fact, Simien has been tapped as the director of the upcoming reboot of the film Haunted Mansion

Artistry and talent are non-specific, meaning they are not relegated to a certain demographic. And the celebration of such should be without parameters. So, a big salute to the Black creators who have imprinted on the horror genre, inspiring others to do the same.

Bad Hair (2020) Official Hulu Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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I am a writing enthusiast and Entertainment journalist. I live life with unbridled passion. And I live by the mantra love what you do, and do what you love!