An Interview with Monika Estrella Negra
Founder of the Audre’s Revenge Film Collective
Note: A few of the stills below are from horror films and while still work safe are a bit more intense than our usual fare.
- First, Monika Estrella Negra, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background and what experience do you have with film making and story telling?
I am a twenty eight year old Black, queer womyn residing in both Milwaukee and Chicago. I’ve always written stories. When I was a child, I always wrote short stories, and was an avid reader. I grew up comfortably poor, meaning that I was poor, but I never thought I had it that bad. Poverty has multiple levels, and some are harder than most. My family had gang members, alcoholics, drug users, hard workers, (though none of those descriptions are separate from each other). We lived in violent, post-crack affected neighborhoods. I used storytelling, books and film to escape that reality.
I’ve always had a penchant for filmmaking, and have always wanted the world to see through my own eyes. Horror and sci-fi always interested me, due to my great aunt’s obsession with them. I also became immersed with punk and goth subculture, rock music, which intertwines with horror and all that is weird a lot of the time. The ethics of punk rock gave me the momentum to always think outside of the box, and to be myself, despite the expected stereotypes of Black womyn being forced upon me. Despite my dreams of wanting to be a filmmaker, I went to school to study African studies and political science, in hopes of getting a ‘decent’ job. Being an artist never fared well with my family, because you can’t be fed with your dreams.
2) What is your favorite genre of horror and which films are the ones you’re drawn to?
My favorite genres include zombie and serial killer narratives. I prefer zombies, above all things. Dario Argento’s works inspired the trend of heavy politicization of horror. His commentary, story lines, are social commentary of Westernized fear, all while showcasing racial binary rhetoric and common intersectionalities. However, since it was written by a white man, the psyche of white fear once again makes me feel detached.
I love sci-fi/horror mash ups. ‘Attack the Block’, Alien (I am a huge Alien fan), are some honorable mentions. I’ve always felt that the two worlds can harness some pretty powerful political and sociological messages, just like zombie films.
Stylistically, one of my favorites films has to be ’28 Days Later’ by Danny Boyle. The entire film was shot in video, and also features one of my favorite characters who of I identified heavily with (Naomi Harris). It was one of the first that exposed me to the possibility that a Black women can be a hero and survive in a horror franchise. It didn’t seem unattainable to me to write my own narrative. Also, the cinematography is perfect, and I have always had an appreciation for grainy imagery, and the simplicity of video. Especially in this digital age, where anyone can make a film with an Iphone, I love the idea of using mediums that I grew up with.
Tracey Moffatt’s ‘Nice, Colored Girls’ reminded me that horror doesn’t always have to consist of sexist, gore infused cheap thrills. Films can be done abstractly, and speak on realities that don’t appease the white psyche. Trans generational trauma, western colonialism, white supremacy and modern survival are common issues black people and people of color live everyday. I want to depict that in my work, due to it’s underrepresentation in the horror universe. It is a kind of a sadistic release, one thing horror has always had its play in.
3) Tell us a bit about your collective. You describe as a QTIPOC outlet for queer womyn of color. How did this come about?
Being a ‘punk’, queer, Black womyn has always been a struggle for visibility in the world. Considering that I have interests in a lot of subcultural worlds where we are few, I have held onto the idea of creating personal space whenever I see fit. I created a show in Chicago called ‘Black and Brown Punk Show’ in which myself and Donte Smith (co-founder) decided to create safe space for folks like us, queer, trans, non-binary, people of color. It became a collective of folks coming together in order to claim our existence, and declare autonomy from the respected subcultural scenes of Chicago, that did not want us there. The show was a success, and it spawned over 5 years. It proved to me that anything is possible, and I am certain there is a similar space in film for it. Especially within horror and sci-fi, the true ‘outsiders’ of the mainstream film industry. That creates and important medium for demographics who experience exclusion, sociologically.
Creation of one’s space, when you are constantly denied entry to so many is very empowering and important. It’s one of the reasons why I chose the name ‘Audre’s Revenge’, named after Audre Lorde. She has a quote that states, ‘If I didn’t define myself for myself, I’d be crunched into other’s fantasies and be eaten alive’. Queer and trans folks of color deserve that right, considering that we are still misrepresented and underrepresented all of the time. Autonomy is an important step towards righteous self-validation.
4) Horror has a notoriously bad history of marginalizing characters of color. There is even a trope labeled “Black Dude Dies First.” Why do you think, especially in horror, characters of color have been dismissed and used, quite literally as fodder?
The white psyche fears Blackness, and in response comes desensitization of Black people and Black bodies. We, as a society have always seen the Black body decimated, tortured, and lynched. Even in modern times, it is not uncommon to see a video of a Black person being executed by cops, or Black high schoolers fighting in the streets. It makes us two dimensional, and the same can be said about a lot of Black characters in horror. The genre has never been kind to Black characters, and since horror is the personification of the white psyche’s deepest, darkest arenas — it should only make sense that Blackness itself is terrifying and disposable.
Along with Michael Myers, comes the real life horror of a Black man or anything remotely African. A good example of that would be ‘The Rainbow and the Serpent’, which demonizes traditional African spirituality and culture, and proves that white racial fear perpetuates anti-blackness, and the disinterest in believable Black lives; lives that have the privilege of sticking around, or daring to be cared about by the spectator. It’s so insulting at times to see films like it, as the message is generally missed and is created by voyeuristic, fetishist white male directors. Our entire existence becomes the basis of horror, which is dehumanizing and degrading. It leads to highlighting the ‘savior ship; of western civilization/culture, and not only is it felt by whites, but by Blacks as well.
5) Who are your favorite black womyn in horror television shows and films?
Hands down, Danai Gurira (Michonne, Walking Dead) gives me major inspiration at the time, Michonne is one of my favorite comic characters, and she definitely brings her to life. Jada Pinkett Smith in Demon Knight, Naomi Harris in 28 Days Later, Jill Marie Jones in Ash Vs. the Evil Dead — just to name a few.
6) Currently, you’re working on fundraising for a trailer for your first project, Flesh. What can you tell us about that movie?
‘Flesh’ is a story about a young, ‘alternative’ Black womyn named Rae who experiences a sort of racial dysphoria in her mid twenties. She has worked herself out of the impoverished life she had been raised in, but somehow feels as if her skin, her identity as a Black womyn is holding her back from achieving complete acceptance, assimilation even. Her answer to dealing with this is by killing those who have the power of ‘normalcy’, ‘acceptance’ of which she craves.
Breaking the cliche of the white male serial killer seen in numerous films, ‘flesh’ aims to change this genre by putting a new perspective and voice to the person who turns to destruction, murder and sociopathy in order to feel complete. A sociological piece, ‘flesh’ also takes a needed look at society’s perceptions of beauty and privilege, and how our looks determine how far one can go. The film explores themes of eurocentrism, PTSD and pertinent anti-blackness, which ultimately brings about internalized hatred of one’s being.
7) What were some inspirations for Flesh and its concepts?
Maniac and Henry, Portrait of A Serial Killer definitely inspired this film. I have always had a fascination with the pathological disintegration that occurs when serial killers decide to satiate their blood thirst. However, I have never witnessed a person of color or women be depicted in believable roles that are memorable. A common statistic of serial killers happens to be that they are usually white men and middle aged. It’s because of this, that so many are able to live their lives without being captured. That privilege of being able to commit atrocities time and time again, speaks volumes on racial profiling and white privilege within the United States. Rae’s decision to embark on her journey to quelling her own madness, by murdering and defiling, definitely depicts the type of power she is trying to reach, to obtain. The freedom and ability to take that power that society has never given her — acceptance of herself. It’s definitely sadistic, though I figured horror is a good medium to discuss the depravity of white supremacy in this country, and how it can affect someone’s psyche in the worst way.
8) In the future, what type of stories do you hope to tackle with your collective?
I would love to bring more stories by Trans women to the screen. Vengeance stories are some of my favorites, and I feel as if trans women of color are never given that opportunity to hash out those frustrations. Trans women’s roles in most films are degrading and always shown as a keen example of psychological denigration. I also would love to make a documentary about two Black twins from Wales, who were arsonists in the seventies. It’s a story that’s BEGGING to be told, and I am planning on going to the UK later this year to bring that to fruition. Ideally, I would love to dabble in more sci-fi narratives, as there is such a rich culture of Blacks in the Sci-Fi universe, and Afro Futurism is definitely growing as a movement. If our collective accomplishes our goal of receiving attention, I would love to bring Octavia Butler’s stories to the screen as well.
9) Where can people find you on the ‘net?
You can find us on Twitter at #audrerevenge, Instagram @audresrevengefilm and our website.
10) Finally, how can people support your efforts to bring Flesh’s first trailer to life?
Our Indie Go-Go campaign ended, but we are taking independent donations via paypal @ firstname.lastname@example.org . We plan on throwing film screenings and possibly doing another IndieGoGo campaign in the future. We are so determined to make this work, that we are utilizing every DIY option in order to bring this story to the masses.
Images used were are not property of Legendary Women, Inc. and we do not profit from them. We’d like to thank Audre’s Revenge Film Collective for providing us with promotional images for their work and for Flesh.