Is a Movie About a Black Serial Killer Really OK in 2021?
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Photo credit: Shane Brown
Is a Movie About a Black Serial Killer Really OK in 2021?
“We get caught up in not doing things because of how it is perceived, and that can limit opportunities,” director Bill Posley says
A movie season distinguished by critically acclaimed, Black-themed projects, including “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “One Night in Miami” and “Da 5 Bloods,” appears a fitting tribute to the past year’s national reckoning over institutional racism. But is it OK to make a movie about a Black serial killer right now?
Independent filmmaker Bill Posley is banking on it. Posley is hard at work on post-production for “Bitch Ass the Movie,” a $200,000 horror genre film about a nerdy, almost 300-pound bullied youth who grows up to force his tormentors to play deadly games for their lives.
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“I don’t think there has been a Black horror film that has taken place in a Black neighborhood in almost 30 years,” Posley told TheWrap. “I saw an opportunity in the market and I wanted to take a swing at it. The funny thing is, (movies) have portrayed killing in those neighborhoods for a very long time — just not horror.”
Posley, who is biracial, said he not only aimed to fill the void in horror films set in communities of color, but he also wanted to enjoy the freedom to create a complex serial killer without being limited by the call for positive Black role models on the screen.
“We get caught up in not doing things because of how it is perceived, and that can limit opportunities,” he said.
Posley is not wrong about the opportunity factor. Statistics show the horror movie audience is 33% larger among minority audiences than the audience for a non-horror movie. Also, 16% of horror ticket buyers are African American and 24% are Hispanic (versus respectively 12% and 18% for a non-horror film), according to Movio, a global marketing data and analytics firm.
Posley’s lead character Bitch Ass, portrayed by Tunde Laleye, is arguably the first high-profile Black serial killer to hit the screen since Bernard Rose’s 1992 cult film “Candyman,” the racially charged story of the undead son of a slave who appears as a violent murderer. The Candyman character became a franchise, with the newest chapter of the supernatural slasher saga slated to open in late summer, this one directed by Nia DaCosta and written by DaCosta, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld.
Posley, who serves as director, co-writer (with Jon Colomb), producer and financier of his film, said his movie takes a detour from the style of Peele’s Academy Award-winning (for Best Screenplay) 2018 movie “Get Out” as well as Peele’s 2019 “Us” by setting his story in a low-income neighborhood.
The action takes place in an unnamed city but was shot on location in South Los Angeles, Glendale and at Vangard Studios in North Hollywood, so it has a West Coast vibe, Posley said. The film has no release date but is expected to come out in early 2022.
Sheaun McKinney, Bill Posley. Photo Credit: Shane Brown
Posley financed the movie half with cryptocurrency and half with investment from friends, including cast members Sheaun McKinney (CBS’ “The Neighborhood”) and Laleye. Posley also is exploring NFT (non-fungible token) options for elements of the film, perhaps production shots of the killer character.
“Black people are making genre films, and I think that’s phenomenal. But in ‘Get Out,’ the majority of the cast is white and it takes place in a white neighborhood,” Posley told TheWrap. “In ‘Us,’ a majority of the characters are Black but it’s also an upper-middle-class neighborhood and a well-to-do family. I really wanted to get into neighborhoods we don’t normally get to go into (in horror films).”
Along with being a filmmaker, Posley, who is in his 30s, is an actor and comedian. He describes himself in his official bio as the son of “a Black activist who married a white trash woman just to complain about her being white.” That self-description, as well as the in-your-face title of the movie, suggests political correctness is not his dominant concern.
Still, Posley acknowledged that he struggled with the social implications of launching a Black serial killer at this inflection point in history. He set the film in 1999 to give it a distant, fantastical aura and also to give him a chance to pay homage to “a decade when Black filmmakers found their voices. I think that’s what the ’90s were.” He added that unlike “Candyman,” race is not a factor in his character’s evolution into a killer.
“At the end of the day, it’s a revenge story about somebody who got bullied. It doesn’t matter what race you are,” Posley said.
Filmmaker Dallas Jackson’s 2019 movie “Thriller” — the title is a deliberate wink to Michael Jackson — is different from Posley’s because his lead character is more of a slasher than a serial killer. However, Jackson, whose credits also include “Welcome to Sudden Death” (2020) and “Rebel” (2017), told TheWrap he had similar intentions to set a horror film in a less affluent community of color, in this case, Black and Latino. Also similar to Posley’s tale, “Thriller” is a revenge story about a youth who is bullied and comes back to terrorize the kids who let him take the rap for an accidental killing.
“I grew up in Denver, Colorado, going to the movies,” Jackson said. “I like genre stuff — action, horror, sci-fi. I would go watch ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Fright Night’ … there were not many people who looked like me in these movies, and they were all set in suburbia.”
Jackson said he was able to persuade Blumhouse, a production company specializing in horror, and Netflix that there was an appetite for “Thriller” by pointing out that Black and Latino teenagers tend to drive movie attendance, particularly on opening weekends.
“For me, ‘Thriller’ was not about race; it was just about telling a story of revenge in a neighborhood where you had regular Latino and Blacks — the jocks, the nerds, all the stereotypes in white films,” Jackson told TheWrap.
Jackson said he sees a creative renaissance for Black-led film projects that empower the storyteller, rather than banking on one big-name star. Ten or 20 years ago, he said, “You had to have Eddie Murphy, that one Black star that would make your movie get a green light.”
He added that “Thriller” did well for Netflix in overseas markets, proving the global community is interested in authentic Black stories, not just Black superstars. “We’ve had an onslaught of stories about slavery and civil rights, things that remind us how hard it is to be Black. We’ve hit that on the head a lot. It’s important to tell the stories of now and the future and to entertain — to just to go to a movie and escape.”
Horror filmmaker Matt Leslie, known for “The Summer of 1984,” a slasher film that premiered at Sundance in 2018, said that setting horror films in diverse communities is critical to keeping the genre alive.
“We need new voices to tell a new story because so much of what we’re seeing being made is retreads. You can’t make the same ghost stories over and over again,” Leslie said. “I think one of the reasons that horror is having such a renaissance is that someone like Jordan Peele came out and made these movies where people were saying, ‘Whoa, that’s amazing.’ It’s beyond ‘nice’– we need this.”