How Black Horror Became America’s Most Powerful Cinematic Genre


Likewise, the Conjuring Stories, which show black figures with the magic of transfiguring and empowering or annoying others, could serve as both charming tales and powerful allegories of how African belief systems older ones could, in theory, “defeat” the horror of American white supremacy. systems. Summoning men and women – people who knew ancient African magic and could work that magic, or goopher, as it was sometimes called – could be slaves who practiced their spellbinding roots in secret, or freed or escaped people. who lived in isolated areas that offered them some protection from prying white plantation owners, or simply black Americans who had kept traditions alive to this day. The magical systems mentioned in much of this folklore, such as obeah, have their roots in African religious and spiritual practices. Their sorcery can metamorphose people and things, bring good or bad luck, heal or hurt – or even offer protection from danger. In such stories, you might meet the worrying, a witch woman who sheds her skin and flies in the night like a flaming ball to find the blood of children to drink, and who can only be stopped if you pour grains of rice. or salt in its path, or put salt or pepper on its molting skin, guaranteeing its annihilation at dawn. Likewise, one might encounter ghosts, spooky flaming skulls, duppies, lycanthropic werewolves and more. Basically, many of these stories are about survival. And because white slave owners rarely seemed to understand the language or practices of obeah, voodoo, and other African traditions, the conspiratorial men and women quickly became icons of subversion, black figures who had the ability to bring whites to their knees, like the Conjuring. wife Sapphira Wade in Gloria Naylor’s novel “Mama Day” (1988), whose legendary magic brings down a slave owner. If knowledge of these ancient arts represented a power that white settlers could not comprehend, then keeping these memories alive was one way to keep yourself alive: folklore as a fortress, memory as magic. The stories were talismanic, serving as warnings to live with caution, always aware that scary things – whether evil spirits or white slave owners – might have their eyes on you.

Of course, there was another reason to tell some of these stories: to invoke perhaps the most remarkable specter of all, freedom. Perhaps the best-known story in this African-American folk tradition concerns theft. “Once all Africans could fly like birds,” begins a version relayed by a man named Caesar Grant of Johns Island, SC, to author John Bennett, “but due to their many transgressions their wings were removed. ” All Africans, including the slaves brought to America, can still ascend into the sky, if they remember the magic words – words that white settlers find indecipherable. Pronounce them, as the slaves do in the story, and you will soar into the clouds, free from the tribulations of the earth. Here, hope, indeed, has become the thing with wings. Remember, the message seems to be, and you too can be freed.


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