Black women have a checkered past in horror. There are far too many examples to name of us being the sacrificial Negro, the Black best friend who will probably die, the evil entity who must be eradicated, or a peripheral character who definitely dies to advance the story of a white protagonist. But there are also Black horror icons like Selena, Jeryline, and, most recently, Lovecraft Country‘s Leti Lewis who shatter tropes and not only survive, but thrive.
This continuous rise in mainstream media is great but its even higher in indie horror and fantasy fare. There are a legion of Black women filmmakers at the helm of inventive stories that audiences crave and mainstream shows/film often ignore. The upcoming series Robyn Hood is certainly one to look out for with a clever plot and Black women both in front of and behind the camera.
The Story Behind the Lore
The horror-comedy puts a spin on succubus folklore and combines it with a common joke among Black people. Robyn Hood’s titular character is a sexy, mysterious, and charming woman who likes to steal men’s hoodies. But, her reason behind snagging these coveted (and comfortable) clothing items is steeped in something more sinister. Her current target, Qaseem, is a man fresh off a breakup who falls for her with no idea what he’s getting himself into. Robyn Hood’s creative team consists of three Black women: writer and executive producer Shayla Racquel, producer Moon Ferguson of Juju: The Web Series fame, and director Janeen Talbott.
Robyn Hood‘s concept stems directly from Racquel’s desire to step outside of her writing comfort zone. “I think sometimes as writers we can get complacent,” Racquel tells Nerdist via a Zoom interview with the creative trio. “We know our niche and we want to stay within those lanes. I had a good friend who once said to me ‘If you’re a good writer, then you can write in any genre because they all have a human element to them and you can create any world.’ That really stuck with me. And this idea really hit me out of nowhere.
“I was perusing Twitter during Fall,” she continued, “when everyone’s talking about ‘cuffing season’ and stolen hoodies. That’s a big thing in Black culture: the men want to keep their hoodies and people like to steal them. I saw that and I saw an opportunity to create something outside of the box with that cultural staple…What if we created a world where there’s a different, deeper, and more sinister meaning to this?”
Prior to formulating Robyn Hood‘s premise, Racquel actually kept a sticky note on her desk to create a sweatshirt film. Perhaps it was destiny for her to write this story. She eventually got the extra push and encouragement from Talbott to move forward and write this story. The name itself is similar to Robin Hood, a character known for swiping items, but also a play on the phrase “robbin’ hoodies.” Racquel credits her boyfriend for helping her come up with the name; he read her work and envisioned the woman character as a Robyn (spelled with Y.)
Juju: The Web Series/YouTube
The Allure of Robyn
Robyn is far from the first Black temptress to show up in horror; however, there’s a lot of depth and complexity within her characterization. She’s obviously written from a Black woman’s perspective, which ensures authenticity. Robyn is given the space to be a villain without any need for explanation nor validation from anyone else. In other words, she does what she wants to do because she can.
“I’m a big advocate for Black girl rage and anger being a very powerful, magical, and valid emotion,” Ferguson says. “Not to say that Robyn is “angry” because she’s not but it’s powerful to see her just be. She’s like ‘This is who I am. Deal with it. I trick on dude’s hoodies and I don’t need a reason to do it. I’m sexy because I want to be. I’m sensual. I don’t give a f**k.’ I don’t think Black women have the space to just be. They always have to be “good” and if they aren’t good then people want to know why they are so bitter. Robyn shows a different kind of Black woman horror character. She doesn’t only compel and intrigue Qaseem…she compels the audience, too.”
Shayla Racquel Films
“I love that’s she’s not the Black savior,” adds Talbott. “Usually you watch a horror film and you have that trope. You have one Black person who’s the smartest one in the group whose telling you not to go into the room. They have all the common sense yet they die first. In this story, all the characters are Black. Robyn is bad the f**k a** and she’s not sexy for the sake of us, the viewer. She’s sexy for the sake of herself because that’s just who she is comfortable being.”
Racquel, who says Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is one of her favorite Black horror characters, further expands on Robyn. “I think we are pushing the boundaries by having this villain be someone who gets a chance to triumph,” says Racquel. “And that makes me feel good because all of my favorite female villains like Cruella de Vil and Ursula had such excellent points but they rarely get to win, especially at the end. I can’t give away any spoilers but I think Robyn’s trajectory will go in a direction that most people may not expect.”
Doin’ It for the Culture
When it comes to Black-led shows, films, and comics, there is often this odd misconception that there’s only space for one thing or that a single representation of something suffices. Ferguson says she often hears this in reference to Juju; other creators believe that because she’s already done a Black witch series that they cannot do one. This is in contrast to predominately White films and shows that are in the same genres and use similar formulas.
Ferguson hopes that Robyn Hood will encourage more indie filmmakers, specifically Black women, to create more fantasy and horror stories. “I am seeing more creativity in the indie space,” she affirms. “And as we have more in the indie and digital space, hopefully Hollywood will take notice and start to put certain people behind the camera.”
Juju: The Web Series/YouTube
Robyn Hood‘s crew is primarily Black women, a reflection of what happens when Black women are in control. The series is currently in pre-production with hopes of wrapping up filming later this year; but the cast is drippin’ with talent. Atlanta and Insecure actress Gail Bean will star as Robyn alongside Daniel Augustin (David Makes Man, Dynasty) as Qaseem. Even some of Robyn Hood‘s set pieces are from Black businesses, thereby creating a production that is not only about telling Black stories but enhancing lives with career opportunities and marketing.
Racquel, Talbott, and Ferguson all interweave their respective knowledge bases and talents to make things happen. As the director, Talbott says it’s all about making sure the visuals stay true to Racquel’s vision.
“Shayla wrote the story with intention and a certain level of joy,” states Talbott. “[As a director] my goal is to make sure that joy is maintained and the intent and soul of her words on the page stay the same. The way I do that is through a lot of communication with her about what she likes and dislikes. She may say I can do what I want; however, she realizes through these conversations that she does have feelings about certain things. We are making a baby together. I can’t make the baby without the words and they are her words. Even if something is my decision at the end of the day, I still make sure she’s included in it.”
Juju: The Web Series/YouTube
Talbott also works closely with Ferguson, often sharing potential filming locations and photos that inspire her. It’s the type of camaraderie and community that Black women creatives consistently carve out for themselves. All three women agree that it’s challenging to find the right chemistry and dynamic between cast and crew, especially during a pandemic which limits face-to-face interactions and bonding. Locale challenges aside, they will soon come together to make Robyn Hood happen.
As expected, there are significant costs with creating a film, so Robyn Hood does have a Go Fund Me page to help mitigate some of their expenses. They are working with a tight budget; however, nothing will stop them from creating films and telling innovative horror and fantasy stories with Black women. Robyn Hood‘s premiere date is still TBD, but we are ready to see Robyn steal from the simps and live for the lure.