The Philly-based artist making horror films that reflect the terror of living under white supremacy.
Monika Estrella Negra of Audre’s Revenge Film
Tell us about your film collective Audre’s Revenge Film, which focuses on horror and sci-fi. How does it relate to your other projects as an activist and community organizer?
Audre’s Revenge Film was created in 2015 after I decided to leave another project I started, the Black and Brown Punk Show Collective. The collective put on a festival highlighting BIPOC and QTIPOC within the punk and radical subculture in Chicago. Creation of space has always been a defining point in my activism, as we have limited space to feel safe in. Creating visibility and building lines of solidarity through music, art and film is my favorite thing to do, and so creating my own film collective came naturally.
Film has always been my personal safe space – especially horror. Though I am an avid fan, I was quite disappointed to learn that there weren’t too many movies highlighting the Black perspective. Horror films have always been made for the white, heteronormative psyche. In a world of Michael Myers and Jason, the irrational fears of the white psyche have always taken up too much space in the narratives produced. I wanted to convey the real life, quotidian horrors of marginalized people – since we experience deep trauma, grief, and so on, everyday. Horror has always been that source of entertainment that highlights the very things we fear in exaggerated form. Unfortunately, the only presence we have in most horror films is either as criminals, or as expendable entities that don’t warrant proper character development.
Does Audre Lorde relate to the collective’s name?
Audre Lorde was an immense inspiration to me as I came into understanding myself and my own identity. She was active in calling out cultural appropriation, the racism within white feminist rhetoric, and the effects of white supremacist culture within LGBTQA circles. With the collective, I aim to create material that will reflect her teachings, and make it appeal to the masses. A lot of people had to obtain a higher education to discover her work. I want to make her life’s work known, as a means of promoting visibility and respectful representation of those who are living on society’s fringe.
What roles do fantasy and fiction play in your process?
When we talk about our truths and our lived experiences, we are either shot down or tokenized for someone else’s benefit. Utilizing horror as a medium opens up the possibility of talking about these things, while using fantasy to vindicate the characters present. Hollywood definitely has taken a turn towards opening the field for more subversive voices (Get Out, XX), but there is still an element of fantasy and horror that doesn’t exist for BIPOC/QTIPOC. A lot of horror that plays on irrational fears can easily reinforce that the ‘threat’ is definitely unrealistic (and maybe it is for those who do not experience state terror, systemic institutions, etc). However there is a fine line for those who do experience this terror, and have never had the novelty of envisioning their fears as mere entertainment.
Tell us about your project Flesh. What is it about?
Flesh is about a young, queer Black woman in the punk scene in Chicago. In essence, the film visually displays her eradication of harmful, internalized behavior. Eurocentrism, white desire, white feminism, patriarchy, misogynoir – these are all pertinent issues that a lot of BIPOC in the punk scene deal with.
I chose to use the serial killer narrative in order to convey this young, queer Black woman’s “seizure of power.” Most serial killers are typically middle-aged, white, cis men. When studied, a lot of these men described their heinous tasks as methods of obtaining power. It’s interesting that they felt so disenfranchised, while systemically possessing privilege in the highest regard. In turn, I decided to make Rae a killer of the things she felt were disempowering her. For a Black woman to participate in that type of behavior is purely fantastical, as she would get caught immediately. Because of the homogenous demographic of serial killers, the majority are able to fall underneath the radar, because of who they are. Rae, because of who she is, decides to risk it all anyway, because the choices available to us (for survival) are limited and do not guarantee anything at all. She decides to destroy the very things that are actively taking power from her, at any cost.
In the rough cut for Flesh you use asynchronous sound. It creates a dissociated, out-of-body effect for me. What were you thinking about when you made that creative decision?
I wanted to convey the discomfort Rae feels while interacting with her oblivious friend. The non-syncing of the words, the ‘white noise’ in the background (because that’s what her friend is creating), the discomfort of not seeing the words match her lips, Rae’s obvious silence as her friend’s voice takes over on screen. These are all a part of the fragmented experience Black women deal with on a regular basis. When you are on the receiving end of conversations that directly affect you, sometimes it catches us off guard. Whether it’s microaggressive racism, tokenization, or blatant misogynoir, it happens every day.
What are some of your collective’s goals and visions for the future?
My hope is to bring more directors, producers, artists and writers from our communities to create and inspire timeless work that will heighten diversity within the horror universe. With the recent success of Get Out, I feel as if the gateway is open for every narrative within the Black diaspora that wishes to use horror as a medium.
I am working on two major projects: The Vengeance Anthology and The Two Sisters. The Vengeance Anthology will revolves around cis and trans women of color, utilizing classic horror themes and original short stories written by myself and three members of ARF. The Two Sisters will be my first feature length project. It centers on two tragic twins of Britain, named June and Jennifer Gibbons.
In addition to that, our collective goal is to promote the visibility of our struggles while also maintaining a love of punk, horror and science fiction. It’s time we have material that speaks our truths to those who will never know our world, and to help them identify with the characters we create in personable ways.
If you could give us three recommendations for horror movies to check out, what would they be and why?
Land of the Dead – This film came out in the early 2000s but is definitely telling of our political situation presently. It was made by George A. Romero, who helped create the “politicization” of zombie culture in the seventies, with his hit Day of the Dead. Land of the Dead takes place after the zombie apocalypse, and focuses on the false civilization created in its aftermath. Despite the country falling apart, people still adhere to the rules of capitalist/colonialist terror in a small citadel. The wealthy remain far away in a tower of riches, while the poor live in shanty towns where they literally are the buffers to the zombies outside of the cities limits. Sound familiar?
Candyman – The fabled story of a former enslaved black man’s ghost that terrorizes a white, affluent woman in 1990s Chicago. This movie lightly touched upon poverty in Chicago, privilege and the effects of giving up living a privileged life in order to “join the other side.”
The Serpent and The Rainbow – A classic movie that depicts Afro-Indigenous spirituality as “evil.” There has been such a trend of demonizing anything remotely African, and this movie definitely set the standard for taking it further. A scientist heads to Haiti in order to find a plant for curing death. Once there, he encounters shady priests, an obviously tokenized love interest, and over the top (incorrect) rituals. I recommended watching this to see the significant trends in horror that demean Blackness, and ultimately depict Black people as the biggest threat in the white psyche.