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HAUNTING THE NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS: THE RISE OF INDIGENOUS HORROR

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Film Noir Cinema

122 Meserole Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11222

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Indigenous peoples have long participated in the history of cinema, dating back to the Indigenous written and produced silent films of James Young Deer and Lillian M. St. Cyr (aka “Princess Red Wing”). Despite the labors of many Indigenous writers, actors, crew, directors, and audiences, much of this early cinema represented Indigenous peoples in limited and stereotypical ways. Additionally, popular representations of Indigenous peoples were generally relegated to the Western genre, with limited crossover into other genres or modes of storytelling.

However, history shows that Indigenous peoples played a key role in structuring the imaginary of other film genres, especially horror. In the 1960s, during the rise of the “Red Power” movement in the United States and Canada, Indigenous peoples again captured international attention by reigniting debates about environmental racism, land theft, and the destruction of cultural patrimony. Since this period, independent Indigenous filmmakers seized the opportunity to produce material that told stories from Indigenous perspectives, and Indigenous peoples soon began appearing in a variety of narrative contexts. Despite a surge in depictions of Indigenous peoples, Hollywood has continuously co-opted indigeneity, producing additional stereotypes, especially within the horror genre. This includes such representations as the “Medicine Man” who warned against both environmental catastrophe in films such as Nightwing and Prophecy (both 1979) as well as the lingering trope of “The Indian Burial Ground,” which we encounter in everything from blockbusters like The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Shining (1980), and in low-budget efforts such as Scalps (1983) and Grim Prairie Tales (1990). In addition, countless media productions by non-Indigenous producers have appropriated Indigenous cultural productions for monster lore, from films The Manitou (1978), Creepshow 2 (1987) and The Last Winter (2006), to the recent video game Until Dawn (2015).

In recent years, Indigenous filmmakers in the United States and Canada have increasingly embraced horror as a means to narrate their historic and ongoing experiences under settler-colonialism. From the brutal works of filmmaker Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2014), Blood Quantum (2019)) to Helen Haig-Brown and Gwaai Edenshaw’s Edge of the Knife (2018), the latter of which is the first film told entirely in the Haida language, these filmmakers have not only utilized the horror genre to depict Indigenous boarding school experience, violence against Indigenous women, and the other ongoing horrors of colonization, they have actively refuted and critiqued Hollywood’s stereotypes.

For this class we welcome special guest Jeff Barnaby and moderator Kali Simmons who, in a conversational style, will guide us through the cultural shifts that have affected and informed the depiction of Indigenous cultures onscreen over the last 50 years of horror history.

About the Instructors:

Kali Simmons (Oglala Lakota) is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Riverside. She has taught classes on Indigenous film and media and her research explores the history of Indigenous representation in American and Canadian horror films. Her work on Indigenous media practices has been published in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.

Jeff Barnaby was born on a Mi’gmaq reserve in Listujug, Quebec. He has worked as an artist, poet, author and filmmaker. His work uses unsettling elements of the horror and sci-fi genres to paint a stark and scathing portrait of post-colonial aboriginal life and culture. His short films File Under Miscellaneous (2010), From Cherry English (2004) and The Colony (2007) led to his two feature films, Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2014) and Blood Quantum (2019).

About the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies:

Founded by film writer/programmer Kier-La Janisse in 2010, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies offers classes in horror history, theory and production with branches in London, New York and Los Angeles, as well as hosting special events worldwide.

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Film Noir Cinema

122 Meserole Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11222

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