‘The Blackening:’ Creator Dewayne Perkins On His Fresh And Original Horror Comedy
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[NOTE: I got you! This is a no-spoilers interview and review.]

There’s a decades-long running joke in the black community about black characters in horror films with a mostly-white cast.

Historically, the token black character dies first and almost never makes it to live to the end of the film. It’s a movie convention that’s been around for decades and has been slowly changing as the film industry chips away at the veneer of anti-black racism in film production.

The Blackening takes this convention and turns it on its head. It’s a horror-comedy about best buddies who travel to a little house in the woods to celebrate college and friendship; and they do it during Juneteenth. For the general public who watches horror films, this plot is familiar and you think you know what’s about to happen. But for the black movie going community, you can add in a layer of African-American cultural awareness that ups the comedic ante and delivers a well-balanced film that blends standard movie fare with an acknowledgement of the breadth and depth of the American experience.

In a word, it’s brilliant. I laughed. I cringed. I related. Inside of a horror film, you get black tv show trivia, the experience of navigating racism while traveling and a solid argument about playing spades right – or wrong. Plus a serial killer stalking the vacation rental in the woods.

Chicago native, writer and actor Dewayne Perkins created The Blackening and he stopped by the city on his press tour. It was his idea after all that brought this idea from a 2016 Comedy Central sketch to the silver screen in 2023 — right in time for the country’s 3rd national celebration of Juneteenth. He also had an aid and assist from many in black Hollywood, including Tracey Oliver and director Tim Story.

“That’s also a major theme of The Blackening,” Perkins says of his experience making the film.Their survival is based on who they’re in community with.”

While he was in Chicago, we talked about the film, gay black leads, being the only black writer in the room, the comedy inside of black culture, the community and fashion. The film also stars Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Grace Byers, James Preston Rogers and Diedrich Bader.

The film releases to a wider audience just in advance of Juneteenth weekend.

Here’s what else Perkins had to say.

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs: Everything about this film was culturally specific and didn’t try to explain certain things to folks who don’t already know. The spades jokes. The black TV trivia jokes. The feeling of going to a cabin in the woods with your family and joking about the likelihood of a serial killer showing up.

Perkins: I think that that was what we set out to do is kind of really create a FUBU [for us, by us] vibe, where we have some red herrings that kind of make you think you know what’s going on. But at the end of the day, it’s a conversation about us. Us versus ourselves. And what does it mean to exist in communities with other white people and what does it mean to go outside of that community that black people have?

ASG: This was a sketch comedy back in the day and now it’s a big summer film. Tell me about that journey.

Perkins: It’s pretty insane. It’s wildly unexpected. When I originally wrote this sketch, I didn’t think that it would be a movie. To see it kind of snowball into what it has; it has been very validating. For me, too, it has given me like a new faith in myself in the work that I do. But also helped me recognize how random this industry is. How your life can change at any moment, by any random thing. Like, I didn’t think that this sketch would do this. But it went viral.

And then Tracy Oliver called me and that call changed my life. Being able to first handed see that my life is dictated by my actions gave me a lot of self confidence to continue to move in that same spirit. I have more power in this world than I ever thought. Because an idea is now a movie in theaters nationwide next Friday. So yeah, it just feels very powerful.

ASG: How did you go from spark to success?

Perkins: It wasn’t just me, just working hard. There were actual real life things that had to transpire for this to happen. I would not have a career without black women actively seeing something in me and allowing me to do more of that. Tracy Oliver. Amber Ruffin. There’s so many people in my life that has given me opportunities.

So it’s a combination of motivation and actually doing the thing, but also community. And that’s also a major theme of The Blackening. Their survival is based on who they’re in community with. And I think those relationships are imperative to success because no one does anything on their own in this industry, that’s just not how it works.

ASG: You have worked in Hollywood for years and have often been the only black writer in the room. How is that different from this film and more recent changes?

Perkins: I told my my reps: I’m just not interested in being a token for anyone. That doesn’t produce the best work for me. And I know this from experience. [In non diverse writer’s rooms] there is too much energy used explaining my existence; [I need that energy] to actually produce good work. So that is the biggest difference that I’ve learned. The lack of diversity in these rooms actually, literally affects the way you produce and create art. Whereas I’ve seen in rooms where I don’t have to do that, and I have an excess amount of energy to put into my jokes, to put into characters.

I just think the lack of diversity is detrimental to good art.

ASG: Let’s talk fashion. You’re working with celeb stylist Bryon Javar, who has also dressed Quinta Brunson. What’s that like?

Perkins: When I first started doing the press tour, I was pretty clear to my team that I really wanted to work with like-minded people. That’s how my career has been able to flourish; when people were very intentional with hiring me. I also think [Bryon is] very dope. We first worked together for the GLAAD Awards. I felt and looked great. I got so many compliments. I’ve always used fashion as a form of expression. But to now come at it from a different standpoint, where we’re being more strategic, we’re thinking about relationships, and kind of how I want to really enter this space as somebody who has a voice and presence in the fashion world.

He really listened to me, and that allowed him to find the ways in which he can elevate the ways in which I already express myself.

ASG: Tim Story, of Barbershop fame, directed this film. He’s also working with you on your NetflixNFLX
version of Clue, based upon the popular boardgames and Tim Curry film. What’s it like working with Story?

Perkins: I can honestly say that Timothy Story is one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. He created a set that was so positive and really created a vibe that I think produced fantastic performance. Tim gave us space to play. He took time to learn who we were, and created spaces that brought the best out of us.

ASG: Can you speak to the idea that the black community can make fun of itself. I ask this against the backdrop, as you know, of some recent pushback to comedy, with folks saying some of it is too offensive.

Perkins: In my life, I experienced bullying, [and] people being offensive. I think that there’s such a large swath of ways to be comedic, and not be offensive, or blatantly trying to be salacious. And I think we [in The Blackening] were just coming from a place of care. And we love black people, we love being black. So there isn’t really any reason for us to make jokes or anything that is harmful towards black people.

Using comedy as a way to have conversation is essential, and kind of a very big point of the film. The jokes are the conversation. We are not a movie that feels like we need to preach to people; we’re simply trying to make a horror comedy where you scream a little bit, you laugh a little bit. But at the end of the day, we’re just making entertaining movies, with black people in them. So if there is someone who does feel like oh, this was offensive, I think we’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s unfortunate. That wasn’t our intention.’ And then move on.

ASG: Could this movie have been made 15 or 20 years ago?

Perkins: I think that during these last couple of years, there’s been a sensitivity to black people, that has been very public. And I think within that awakening, there has been some some real movement, and then some movement within the internet feels more…not as real. I mean, generally the world has gotten more progressive, despite people trying to go against that progression. So I do think genuinely there are people who want to hear new stories from different points of views. And I think me and me and Tracy and Tim and the team around the blackening, just so happens to interact with people who were very much in line with what we wanted to do.

Even in 2023 it’s still pretty rare to see gay black men leading anything. So it still feels pretty revolutionary to me. So I will say no, but I am very grateful that we are in a time where something like this could be made, and that I was able to write in star in this movie in a way that I have not seen many people be able to.

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