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Black girls have the spotlight in horror anthology 'The Black Girl Survives This One'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In a horror story, there's this idea of the final girl - the character who, with both pluck and luck, outwits the supernatural monstrosity and emerges as our victorious protagonist at the end. The thing is, for the many Black people who love horror...

SARACIEA FENNELL: Generally, the final girl is usually white - usually white, usually battered but, like, is coming out on top feeling very triumphant. I think everyone probably remembers, you know, Sidney as, like, the famous final girl from "Scream."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCREAM")

JAMIE KENNEDY: (As Randy) This is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life for one last scare.

NEVE CAMPBELL: (As Sidney) Not in my movie.

DESIREE EVANS: But so often seeing Black women outside of the kind of roles as a - as kind of a stock character who dies or kind of a sassy best friend who's very supportive to the white female final girl lead - we were very rare.

SUMMERS: Desiree Evans and Saraciea Fennell both grew up reading horror stories like the "Goosebumps" books and would watch horror movies with their older siblings. And they would note every time there was a Black character, whether or not it was a forgettable part or a substantial one, like Sanaa Lathan's character in "Alien Vs. Predator."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALIEN VS. PREDATOR")

SANAA LATHAN: (As Alexa Woods) Unexpected things are going to happen. When they do, no one tries to be a hero. Understood? Understood?

TOMMY FLANAGAN: (As Mark Verheiden) Yes, ma'am.

LATHAN: (As Alexa Woods) Good.

SUMMERS: Now Desiree Evans and Saraciea Fennell have teamed up to curate and edit a new book. It's an anthology, a collection of 15 horror stories from Black writers, including themselves, with the representation they've always longed for. It has a self-explanatory title - "The Black Girl Survives In This One." And as Evans explains, it's geared to a young adult audience.

EVANS: Horror has always been a big genre in middle grade and young adult fiction. Kids like to be scared. Kids like to kind of face their fears of the world vicariously through books or through movies, as Saraciea and I did growing up when we were watching the "Friday The 13ths" and "A Nightmare On Elm Streets" and, you know, these movies that scared us. And when there were final girls in all these movies that we were rooting for, but again, they were always white girls.

And so now this opportunity to introduce teens of color, girls of color to a world where they can root for the girls who look like them, who might come from shared experiences as them, and to see them survive and come out and be able to vicariously experience that - that teen age is a place so many of us fell in love with reading, and so many of us came into this world wanting to see ourselves on the page.

SUMMERS: One thing I noticed while reading is that a number of these stories do address race explicitly - things like stereotypes and racism and microaggressions. For either of you, can you think of a story where you think that works particularly well?

FENNELL: I'm going to say Justina's definitely. "Black Pride" by Justina Ireland is about a group of friends who get together, and, you know, one of them is about to go off to college. They go to hang out at sort of like a little cabin/house, and some spooky things start to happen. I don't want to give too much away, but by the end of the story, the main character sort of has to make a choice. Is she going to join and team up with this particular group that is sort of fighting some racism in interesting ways, or is she going to decide to not join? What about you, Desiree? Do you have any that come to mind?

EVANS: Yeah. One of the ones that I really love, and I think we ended the collection with it, is "Foxhunt" by Charlotte Nicole Davis. We have a girl who's new to a school, kind of getting used to some of the kind of local traditions. And one of them is a game that is going to be played that people have been talking about as she begins the school year. But then we find out that while this game is not - it was requiring a bit more survival than she thought going in. But it kind of tackles this kind of sense of hypervigilance a lot of Black girls and Black women feel on the daily.

SUMMERS: It feels to me like even just a couple of years ago, we might not have been sitting here - three Black women discussing an anthology horror series that centers us. I'm curious - and Saraciea, I want to start with you here - what do you think has happened lately that allows an anthology like this to get made?

FENNELL: Wow. I'm going to tap into my publishing background and remind folks of all of the things that happened on social media and really within the world, right? Within 2020, people were out on the streets protesting. There was a lot of stuff happening in the real world. And then that kind of also made people within the arts kind of look inward and see like, oh, where is the representation for Black and brown people? And so things like the #PublishingPaidMe, movements like we need diverse books, there was just, like, a pressure point on publishing, like, we see you. And we see that you're not telling our stories, and you really need to. You need to pay attention.

And then I think, also, we got all of these wonderful horror movies from the mind of Jordan Peele, right? And then the fabulous Tananarive Due was teaching all these horror classes that also kind of went viral when she posted about her syllabus and of course, Jordan Peele, like, popping into her class.

So I think it's, you know, the perfect time for this anthology to be coming out. Like you said, there's so much diversity here. There's so much different type of horror that could be tapped into. There is room on the shelf for more of these stories to be told. Because I think a lot of people will think, oh, there's already that one Black horror story. I don't think we have room for anything else. And it's like, no, here's a collection that proves that there is diversity within that. And so we really do need to continue to tell these stories.

SUMMERS: There is this really pervasive stereotype that horror is simply a white man's genre. It's for the Stephen Kings and the Alfred Hitchcocks of the world and not for Black folks. And this book, among others, proves that that is very much not the case. It has 16 Black authors. Why do the two of you think that horror resonates so much with so many Black people?

EVANS: I think it's kind of - it's complicated and not. You know, Tananarive Due, who does the introduction to our anthology, is known for saying Black history is Black horror, right? You know, we've always been there. And we've always loved horror, even if horror hasn't loved us. Even if we were kind of, you know, used as a symbol of the other or the monstrous that had to be killed - right? - early on in a lot of '40s and '50s horror, or later on, we were the first to die, or the magical Negro. These kind of side trope characters that are only there to uplift the story of the white female heroine or the white protagonist.

We were always there, but we were there in ways that were not conducive to allowing us to tell the story, us to be the heroine, us to be the protagonist. My older siblings and I would get together on the weekend and watch horror movies because it was a safe place to experience our fears. You know, horror becomes this place that we can live vicariously through, that we can see people survive in ways that allow us to feel like we can survive what's happening to us in the real world.

FENNELL: I completely agree with everything that Desiree said. The real world is crappy to Black people. Like, to live in this world is to navigate racism, sexism, like, all of the -isms all at once. And I feel like being a Black writer and telling these stories and spinning something where I'm like, oh, OK, this Black girl is going to go through all these things, but then at the end she survives. We continue to survive no matter what is thrown at us.

SUMMERS: That's Saraciea Fennell and Desiree Evans. Thanks to both of you.

EVANS: Thank you so much.

FENNELL: Thank you.

SUMMERS: Their new collection is called "The Black Girl Survives In This One." It's out today.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISASTERPEACE'S "JEALOUSY INTO LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brianna Scott
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Patrick Jarenwattananon
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.