Introducing- Modern Black Folk Horror

Shannon Barber
9 min readJul 1, 2022

Folk horror is a subgenre of horror film for cinema or television that uses elements of folklore to invoke fear in its audience. Typical elements include a rural setting and themes of isolation, religion, the power of nature, and the potential darkness of rural landscapes. Although related to supernatural horror films, many derive their horror from the actions and beliefs of people rather than explicitly supernatural elements; the primary focus of the stories is often upon naïve outsiders coming up against these forces.

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[image description: a photo of a Black femme presenting person wearing all black, their Tshirt says I’m rooting for everybody Black — Photo by Tina Bowie from Pexels]

Let’s start here. For our purposes as in my first piece, I’ll be drawing from both film and literature to talk about Modern Black Folk Horror. Never heard of it? Great. Come on in.

If you enjoy horror, you’ve probably seen at least a few folk horror things. Perhaps The Witch, The Wickerman, if you like deep cuts maybe you’ve seen Kuroneko or The Wailing. Those movies that often take place either in England or somewhere foresty and make use of the folklore many of us have at the least learned a bit about either in school or just through casual life. What you don’t see are Black people.

I spent a lot of time searching and did not successfully find what I was looking for. In terms of why we could say a million things but, instead I’d like to focus on what I am creating in Modern Black Folk horror. Black spiritual and folk history in America is an ignored and occasionally exploited ground for inspiration. However, as I was reading to prepare writing the first essay, I found a clear line as to what “counted”. If a story or film depicted any kind of African Diasporic spirituality or religion, it was portrayed in tightly stereotypical ways and often only as a literary device to frighten.

We just don’t get the same level of legitimacy and depth as opposed to folk horror that presents us with dark but still generally mainstream paganism, occult, and Christian themes. Instead of the smooth-talking cult leader or the nubile temptress we get racist tropes with bones in their noses, or we get what American Horror Story did to present Papa Legba. Beyond spiritual themes, we just are not included as if there are no Black people with generations of country family secrets or Black people in forests or that our mythology is so esoteric many do not…

Shannon Barber