Coming in February, SugarMynt gallery in South Pasadena will celebrate Black History Month with We Are Here, an exhibition celebrating horror films featuring black actors and directors. Curated by Giselle, the show will feature iconic characters such as Candy Many (played by Tony Todd in the 1992) film and Ben (played by Duane Jones in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead).
The horror genre has a sketchy history with black actors and characters. Roles in the 1930s and 1940s were usually comic relief characters who fled at the first sign of danger (which usually turned out to be a fake scare). There were some exceptions: Son of Ingagi (1940) was the first all-black horror film, which avoided most of the usual cliches. King of the Zombies (1941) featured the talented Mantan Moreland as a black sidekick who did the usual bug-eyed shtick, but atypically he was right about the dangers that his white friends were dismissing. Decades later, Night of the Living Dead broke new ground by casting a black actors in a heroic lead role. Then in the 1970s, there were some entertaining blaxploitation horror films, such as Blacula (1972), with William Marshall making a powerful impression as the reluctant vampire, followed by Sugar Hill (1974), in which the titular character uses voodoo to exact vengeance against the white mobster who killed her boyfriend (the film features a strong supporting performance from Don Pedro Colley as Baron Samedi). Since then, progress has been gradual but encouraging. Scatman Crothers was great as sympathetic psychic Dick Halloran in The Shining (1980), but typically the character did not survive till the closing credits. The 1990s gave us Candyman and Blade (starring Wesley Snipes). The new millennium saw writer-director Jordan Peele rising to the top rank of genre experts. We have now reached a time when a film like The Blackening can openly mock the cliches of the past with its tag line “We Can’t All Die First.”
We Are Here will shine a light on these and other characters and films, through artwork by Rachel Satya, Josh Stebbins, Brusky311, Legollamb, Destiny Kelly, Britt Duqtt, Bri Tippets, Summer Teerlink, Ol.jack.durden, Ryan sam carr, Lori Herbst, Rittenhouse, Kate paints, Jeremy labib, Bonnie Bozelle, Richard Garcia, Karen Drum, Serena Antillion, Alan Dellascio, Lari Alejandro, James Can Paint, Joe Rizzotto.
The exhibition launches on February 3 with a reception from 6pm to 9pm, then continues during SugarMynt’s regular business hours to the end of the month. Tickets to the reception are on sale at the gallery’s website for $15; regular admission is $10. The address is 810 Merdian Avenue in South Pasadena. The website is sugarmynt.com.