Black Horror: Race & Panic from Vampires to Boogeymen

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Independent academic Kyéra Sterling leads our virtual Coolidge Education class using horror as a prism to interrogate America’s Black panic.

Register For Class

Wednesdays, October 14—November 4 at 7:30pm EST

The phrase ‘moral panic’ is often used to refer to the coercive ways morality is weaponized to produce hysteria and control mass opinion. Historic and contemporary race panic functions identically, preying on our racial presumptions and biases to perpetuate dangerous, widely engrained opinions which seed perceptions of difference and justifications of racial superiority. As a genre seemingly born to violate boundaries of law and order, muddy the line between man and monster, and shine skepticism on the fundamental tenants of our everyday world, the horror genre becomes an an ideal prism to interrogate America’s Black panic – both how we perceive Blackness and its relation to whiteness and how that complex interrelation more accurately exists.

This course will explore the ways Black horror exploits and harnesses our most engrained and troublesome racial prejudices through the lens of some of the most iconic Black horror films from the 1970s up until the present. However, it also considers the space the horror genre lends to Black filmmakers looking to contend with the horrors of Whiteness as they inform the legacy of Blackness. We’ll begin with the Blaxploitation-classic Blacula (1972) considering both the subversive and destructive potentials of the Blaxploitation genre as it relates to fears of urbanity and the Black “other”. As a contrast, we’ll turn to Ganja and Hess (1973) for an entrance into the Black horror arthouse which strategically distances itself from conventions of Blaxploitation. From here we’ll shift into the psychic and phantasmic with Eve’s Bayou (1997), interrogating the tropes of voodoo lore and conjure which stick particularly to Black women, and conclude with an examination of ‘unwilling martyrs’ in Candyman (1992).

Throughout the course we’ll also spend time with supplemental films that expand our understanding of the versatility of the subgenre, help us grapple with the definition of ‘Black film’ and empower us to identify the politically expository methods Black horror films often use to illuminate the ironies and realties of Black panic. 

FAQs

How much does it cost to register?

The $60 registration fee gets you access to all four 90-minute live Zoom discussion sessions, all four pre-recorded lectures, as well as recordings of the discussions if you have to miss a week.

However, the registration fee does not include access to any of the films being covered in the class—you should budget in anywhere from $15-30 to spend on film rentals, varying based on film availability and which streaming services you subscribe to.

How many people can sign up for the class?

Attendance for each session is capped at 30 people, to allow for a more interactive, discussion-oriented classroom environment. Unlike our virtual seminars, these will be held in Zoom meetings, rather than webinars, with the full class on camera and able to talk.

Where do I watch the films?

All films discussed in class will be available online, either to rent, stream, or both, and instructors will direct you to the appropriate places to watch them each week.

What if I have to skip a week?

Don't worry—all discussions will automatically be recorded and sent out to all registrants each week.

About the Instructor

Kyéra Sterling is an independent academic whose work explores intersections between Gender, African Diaspora, and critical race theory in film and literature. She completed her master’s at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and was awarded the Crossley T. Prize for her work entitled Exorcising Demons: Bush Mama and the Possessed Body. Kyéra currently serves as Chief of Staff in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Films

1hr 33mins

William Crain's iconic blaxploitation horror movie is available to rent and stream here.

1hr 53mins

Bill Gunn’s revolutionary independent film is available to rent and stream here.

1hr 49mins

Kasi Lemmons' directorial debut is available to rent and stream here.

1hr 39mins

The gut-wrenching thriller is available to rent and stream here.