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South Carolina Honors College

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Film Review: Representation in the Vampire Genre

By Abigail Green

As a Black woman who has not seen many Black female vampires in horror films, it was interesting to watch Suicide by Sunlight. This film bends the rules of vampirism, from skin color to the unique abilities associated with it. In traditional vampire lore, there are rules bloodsuckers must follow to survive and camouflage themselves from society. Some of the most well-known rules were popularized by Dracula, Bram Stoker’s novel from 1897. No vampire may enter a house uninvited. Every person who survives a vampire bite becomes a vampire. Vampires do not have reflections in mirrors, and many more. One of the unwritten rules is that vampires are not Black. We see these rules challenged in some modern movies and shows such as Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and First Kill, but none of these are as revolutionary as Suicide by Sunlight.

Nikyatu Jusu's Suicide by Sunlight is more than a short film about a vampire nurse. This film intrigued me because I could recognize myself in Valentina. Seeing a Black main character, especially a day-walking vampire, was inspirational because the trope challenges the conventional whiteness of vampires in media. One popular bylaw in traditional horror narratives, albeit constantly questioned, is that vampires must avoid the sun. In Suicide by Sunlight, however, day-walking Black vampires bend the rules and get to live double lives because of it. The film is a nuanced and intense take on vampirism, race, and motherhood in the postmodern world. It reveals the advantages of being Black and a vampire. Nikyatu Jusu beautifully creates a new twist on vampire lore by introducing race into the equation. This concept shocked me to my core because most movies with fictional species like vampires don’t have heavy themes like those in Suicide by Sunlight.

Growing up in the early 2000s, I knew only about Twilight and Darks Shadows. By then many people had taken a stab at vampire movies, but I was young, so I was not able to see many creative vampire variations. Twilight made a little bit of headway with race by including the Black vampire, Laurent. Of course, as action and horror films go, Laurent died early compared to his white counterparts. Seeing a strong Black female vampire lead in Suicide by Sunlight was incredible in the aspect of representation. Moreover, the majority of secondary vampire characters in the film are Black as well. Though the movie is only 17 minutes long, I was able to relate to so much of Valentina’s life. In the Black community, we often see single, hard-working mothers struggling to balance various components of their lives. Jusu does not shy away from presenting the personal struggles of Black mothers in an unsupportive society, making Valentina even more relatable. This short film, which shows Blackness as an advantage to vampires, allowed me to consider the heavy topic of the challenges of motherhood. With Valentina’s relatable character, Jusu empowers Black viewers by allowing Black vampires to gain substantial benefits over their traditionally white counterparts, such as Dracula and Edward from Twilight

Though our main character, Valentina, has incredible abilities as day-walking vampire, this prevents her from being a mother to her two daughters. Valentina becomes a liability as her seductive new powers increase her bloodlust and dubious decision making. Valentina flawlessly represents the themes of parenthood, gender, and the monstrous feminine in the 17-minute short film. She must make difficult decisions, such as not fully consuming blood, that affect not only herself, but her patients, children, and her relationship with her ex-husband. Seeing her face so many challenges made me want to root for her all the way to the end. I saw myself in Valentina because, as a Black woman, I face challenges based on how I look and who I am. In society Black women, especially Black mothers, face many prejudgments, which create disparities in areas such as health care, mental health, and support from other women. Valentina’s character embodies these issues. Even though Valentina has the desirable gift of day-walking, she is shunned by her family, struggles at work, and has trouble harmonizing her multiple identities. These are all issues that Black women face every day based on what they look like.

At the same time, Suicide by Sunlight created an ethical dilemma for me. While challenged by my morals, I still wanted to cheer on Valentina as she fought for her daughters. Valentina is an imaginative form of the monstrous-feminine. We see her depicted as a devoted mother who wants nothing more than to love and care for her daughters. Despite this, she is overpowered by her lust for blood and ravages the nightlife of New York, creating a rift in her relationship with her daughters and alienating herself from her former life. Though I sympathized with the motherly side of Valentina because I saw my own loving mother in her, I was horrified by her sinister actions. Langston's character mirrored my feelings, which further justified why he wanted to shield their children from Valentina.

Although I sympathized with Langston, Valentina was still an extremely relatable character to me. I was able to understand a bloodsucking vampire on a level I never have before. Twilight did not affect me on a visceral level because it was harder to relate to characters who do not look like me. The one Black vampire in the saga is depicted as a traitor and killed off early on, which left me with nothing but a little sadness. Suicide by Sunlight is the perfect movie for young Black people of the newer generation. The film brought me closer to who I am while also opening my eyes to issues I did not think I cared about, like representation in the vampire genre. The intense plot left me with more questions than answers, but in a good way. The moral ambiguity generated an enticing experience for me as I was stranded on a cliffhanger with disturbing implications. By the end of this film, I was left begging for more of this intricate family dynamic.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.