Actress Kiersey Clemons joins us today on the latest episode of Vibe Check. Clemons, who plays Shoshanna Meadows in new horror-thriller Antebellum, takes some time to touch on the parallels between Black horror films and racism in America.
Led by Jordan Peele, the Black thriller genre has gradually transitioned into the mainstream, as stories of Black individuals being terrorized by white people ultimately mirror the horrifying experience of being Black in America today. During the podcast, Clemons delves into how Hollywood previously chronicled such narratives using a lens of comedy through shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Elsewhere in the episode, the Antebellum actress discusses her affinity for secondhand clothing and how she recently gave away a portion of her own wardrobe to fans on Instagram. In closing, she shares how her mood admittedly affects what she chooses to wear. Press play above to listen to the podcast.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Jian: Antebellum is finally coming out and that’s sort of… I can’t really tell what’s going on, but it feels like there’s some abduction and like people coming and grabbing Janelle Monae, and there’s this whole… I don’t know. There’s a lot of fuckery involved. I know that. I know that for sure.
Kiersey: Yeah. And the way that you don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know how to even talk about it without… I don’t know what anyone’s thinking and I don’t want to break anyone’s idea that they’re going to go into watching the movie with, because I think it’s important to watch the movie with whatever, I guess, goggles or idea you go into watching it with. I think that’s kind of the point, is to see how that lens maybe changes for someone or… I don’t know. I think the whole point of the movie is to go on a journey. It’s definitely a ride. Yeah.
Jian: I feel like there’s a lot of parallels now between a lot of the art being created by black creators now. I just did an interview with Jonathan Majors, who is in the show Lovecraft Country…
Kiersey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jian: … and I think there’s such an interesting parallel in the horror genre…
Kiersey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jian: … and how it really can amplify the sort of foreboding nature of racism that still is pervasive in a way, I think.
Kiersey: Oh, yeah. I’m so excited to watch Lovecraft Country. Holy moly. Wow. I was just talking about it the other day, about these horror movies, I guess, or these thrillers, these black genre thrillers that… We’re seeing this wave that was kind of kicked off mainstream, right? By Jordan Peele. I think that movies like Antebellum, the reality is the horror. The reality for black people all over the world, yes, but I think from me it’s more concentrated and it’s about America specifically. It’s a terrifying experience to be black. To be black, to be dark skin in America can be absolutely terrifying. It can be horrifying. And that’s not at the hands of black people, it’s the hands of white people…
Jian: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure.
Kiersey: … making it that terrifying. And that’s the theme of all of these movies. Yeah, absolutely.
Kiersey: I’ve touched on this before, we make movies about these dystopian societies and Handmaid’s Tale and how terrifying would it be if this happened to white women, not realizing that these horrible things you’re talking about, that would be so scary, if we stripped away the rights of white women, but you did that to black people not long ago.
Kiersey: That is the reality. And you’re doing such a disservice to the lives of thousands of people who died at the hands of white people by claiming it to be some alternate reality or scary near future. It’s a lie.
Jian: For sure. Now, one thing that I think… Go ahead. I was going to say one thing I think is really interesting. You spoke about horror and this kind of new genre of black art in a way that… I had this conversation, and I think it was a comment that someone left actually on the Highsnobiety Instagram, about the remake and possible reboot of Fresh Prince of Bel Air as sort of a gritty drama. And someone had raised the point that it’s almost as if it had to be a sitcom first in order to tell that kind of story. But to tell these grittier stories that are truer to life, in a sense, and certainly reflect the degree to which things haven’t changed as much and really are more closely to reality, it’s almost like having to say it through the lens of comedy was at first necessary and now you can say it as real as possible, I feel like.
Kiersey: Definitely. That’s why in the nineties though, we had a lot of shows that centered black folks, but they were all comedies. And we were dealing with real issues via making people laugh, because that was the only way for the show to get picked up by the network, or for the movie to get distribution. But we definitely had this influx of black visuals and movies and film. I think that hip hop did this thing in the nineties. Do you know what I mean? It was black folks leading the way. But everything had to be given to you through kind of rose colored goggles or…
Jian: Like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down type.
Kiersey: Yes, yes, yes.
Jian: For sure.
Kiersey: Yeah. And then it’s also, at the same time, there is that sense of relief that comes from having that content. That I can put on Fresh Prince, or A Different World, and I can laugh and chill out.
Kiersey: Not everything does need to be high stakes and you don’t want black pain porn.