I was a latecomer to horror film; as a kid/teenager, I was far more interested in science fiction, and was a bit of a wimp when it came to horror. Arriving at it in my 20s, it’s now become a big part of my life, and how horror is used to examine social/cultural/political issues has become a bit part of my academic work.
When I saw Beloved on its release, I went as a big fan of the books’ author, Toni Morrison. I approached both the film (and the book) as historical text. Certainly, the book delves into a wonderful lyrical surrealism, particularly in Morrison’s description of what Beloved experienced when she was buried, and in what Paul D and Sethe experienced when they were slaves.
Fantastic genre films set within known historical time periods/events are a bit rare, though not unknown. The Purple Rose of Cairo wouldn’t be the same story were in not set in Depression-era America, looking at it did at unemployment/spousal abuse; The Dead Zone is a product of the cold war era and right-wing politics. In my book on genre film from Spain, I write about The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth and their ties to the Spanish Civil War, and the concepts of post- and prostetic memory.
Post-memory is that which is contained in generations that did not directly experience a trauma (such as slavery), but still feel it repercussions. Prosthetic memory is cultural; similar, in that it is experiences by those who did not witness the trauma, but it is a part of collective memory. The audience of Beloved is part of the collective memory of slavery, and Morrison and the main actors are a part of both.
Of course, Beloved was directed by a white man, and two of the three screenwriters were also white men; an issue that likely would have caused more of a stir today (though I believe it was a little frowned on at the time). And certainly, it would be great to see what a black woman at the helm, given the focus of the story on black women and women’s issues.
How do later generations deal with such a traumatic history, one that still indirectly affects them, as slavery and its aftermath, from Jim Crow laws to the Civil Rights movement, continue to affect Black people in the United States? In referering to magic realist literature, Fredric Jameson talked of the fantastic as filling in the holes of history. So in using the fantastic, or more specifically in the case of Beloved, Morrison, and subsequently the film’s creators, use horror to express that which history has left behind. click