From an early age, Ashlee Blackwell, an adjunct teacher of music, drama and film, noticed that women were portrayed more heroically in horror films than in others. Developing a passion for the genre, Blackwell turned her love of horror movies into a career.
The film “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror”, which explores the history of black Americans in horror films and the industry, was released in 2019. The film was largely written and produced by Blackwell and has won several awards.
But as a black woman in the industry, her experience hasn’t been without challenges, and in a way she didn’t expect from a community that had drawn her to its portrayal of gender.
“I expect racism, sexism [and] misogyny, unfortunately,” Blackwell said. “But do I expect that from some people?” No. And that’s why I was so surprised when I was in these all-white horror spaces and some people, in particular, were really hostile towards me.
In what she discovered is an industry made up mostly of white men, Blackwell said she would feel that hostility toward her at places like horror movie conventions.
“I felt like my voice wasn’t valid,” Blackwell said. “Especially if I disagreed with people, that’s really when I got a lot of venom spat on me.”
Blackwell knew there were other black women interested in gender and wanted to create space for that community. This realization led to the creation of the website, Graveyard Shift Sisters, as a space to celebrate and showcase other women and their work in the horror industry.
The website features creators of all kinds: visual artists, other filmmakers and writers.
“I wanted this website to be a haven for all that work, and for people to come and learn, so that there was no longer a feeling of absence for black women, feeling alone in loving this. genre,” Blackwell said. .
Not only identifying this niche of women, but also “showing the contributions, the excellence, the ways in which women evolve,” helps advance black cultural production, said Robin R. Means Coleman, Ph.D., whose the book Blackwell’s film was adapted from.
“What [Blackwell is] collecting in a smart and scholarly, but also accessible way is really important when we think about centering the contributions of black women, who are still so often overlooked by both industry academics,” Coleman said.
In an industry of people “who want to have a lot of followers and the recognition of credibility without doing the work,” Blackwell does the work for the importance of the work done, Phil Nobile Jr., executive producer of “Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror” wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk.
“Here’s Ashlee, quietly building her website and bringing to light a whole horror story that was underexplored,” Nobile said.
Since joining the St. Joe’s community in January 2020 as an adjunct film teacher, Blackwell has incorporated her experience into her classes, such as her current “Women in Horror” class.
“My thesis is that women in the horror movement are really directly linked [to gender disparities in the film industry]”, Blackwell said. “It’s really knocking on the door of this glass ceiling.
Whether he teaches, produces or operates his website, Blackwell’s goal is to help black women be and feel seen.
“People treat me like I’m invisible, and interestingly enough, they think they’re slick,” Blackwell said. “I know exactly what you are doing. You erase me. I refuse to be erased and I refuse to have other black women erased.