REWATCH: Wake

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Midwest BSFA member Tiffany Luckey (of Another TV Blog) is back with the second installment of our “Rewatch” series, giving us her take on the 2010 short film Wake.

The first man ever lived God made from the dirt. And ever since then, every man east of Eden goes back to being dirt when he dies. So ‘round here, when it come time to bury a man, the church folk go to the dead man’s house to help his soul pass over, all through the night, keeping watch as good Christians do—or having a wake, as they call it. – Charmaine, Wake

By now, you should know who Bree Newsome is: activist, singer/songwriter, speaker, freedom fighter, social justice warrior, Confederate flag remover (seriously, look at all of this fan art that supports this). But in the midst of her overall badassness, she’s also a noted filmmaker, creator of the 2010 award-winning short horror/sci-fi film Wake, which she wrote, directed and produced while attending graduate school at New York University.

Set in 1930s rural North Carolina and featuring an all-black cast (because duh), the film tells the story of Charmaine (Sahr Ali), a young, attractive woman sheltered by her father—and looking for love. To get away from her daddy, she kills him, and then uses old-fashioned “rootwork” to conjure up the perfect man. But because she doesn’t understand how dark magic works, she quickly realizes that maaayybe he’s not so perfect.

The film starts off with Charmaine’s father, Ezra, lying dead on his (and soon-to-be-daughter’s) house porch, flies swarming around his body. At his wake, we meet three female townspeople—Florence, Ruth and Bootsie (who act as the African-American version of The Fates in Greek mythology), gossiping about Charmaine and her lack of a husband. Charmaine stealthily takes a handful of dirt from her father’s open grave, and uses it to conjure a demon (Buena Batiste Webber), who gives her her version of the perfect man (Benton Greene).

That’s when shit gets real.

Though Wake is only 20-minutes long, it ranks a 9.9999 on my Weird Shit-O-Meter. It’s eerie as AF, with its abundance of horror elements and exploration of African-American folklore. It has just enough scare to reel you in, keep you there, then make sure you have trouble sleeping that night. Because that’s what good horror films should do.

Good horror films, no matter the length, should also make you think about bigger-picture issues. What I gleaned from Wake is one, don’t mess with the dark magic because you don’t know what you’re doing and that ain’t nothing but the devil so stahp, and two, be careful what you wish for—especially when it comes to finding the “perfect” soul mate. Doing this might get you pregnant with a demon seed. For reals.

Black women filmmakers in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre are scarce, but Newsome proves that they do exist, and that they are fierce.

“I was a horror and sci-fi geek always,” she said during a discussion at the “Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts and Activism” event held at Spelman College last April. “I thank my mom because from my earliest memory, she always had an Octavia Butler book in her hand…

“The power of science fiction, horror and why that is a genre that we continue to break ground in is because it’s essentially about the present. Horror and science fiction is about examining the present and pushing beyond that. So much of the limiting of the space we have access to is about stopping us from thinking beyond the moment.”

With hope, Newsome, and others like her, will continue making films like Wake. And I, and others like me, will continue to watch them and be entertained—and scared shitless.

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