Daywalkin' Night Stalkin' Bloodsuckas
Black Vampires in Contemporary
By FRANCES GATEWARD
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 Vampires seem to have timeless appeal. It would be no stretch
to consider them the most pervasive figures of the fantastic in
contemporary popular culture. For years they have been a part of
our "nutritious" breakfasts (in the form of Count Chocula
cereal), avatars and nemeses in the virtual realms of our X Boxes,
Sony Playstations, Macs, and PCs (in games such as Dark Stalkers,
Dracula Resurrection and Vampire: The Masquerade);
and as both the hunters and hunted on television - in television
movies, mini-series, daytime soaps, and weekly programming (Salem's
Lot, Ultraviolet, Dark Shadows, and Angel
respectively). They even live on that thoroughfare where "friendly
neighbors meet," on Sesame Street in the form of The
Count. We find them in comic books, both independent and mainstream,
and in novels for practically every reader.
 For adults there are the novels of vampire lore in the style
of classic horror, such as Richard Laymon's The Traveling Vampire
Show; the eroticized tales by authors Anne Rice and Laurel Hamilton;
genre-blending books like the mystery The Winter Man, about
a forensic hematologist who is also a vampire, the humor-infused
cultural critique Fat White Vampire Blues, and the well-received
Undead and Unwed, a sort of "Sex and the City"
with a single white fashionista vampire at the center of the narrative.
In the young adult category there is the voraciously consumed Vampire
Diaries series by L.J. Smith, romantic teen horror tales like Companions
in the Night, and the numerous novels based on the Buffy
the Vampire Slayer and Angel television shows. Even
grade school children are fascinated by creatures of the night,
occupying their leisure reading time with The Vampire's Vacation,
Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots, the wonderfully named Cirque
du Freak series by Darren Shan, and the musings of popular authors
R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike. And of course, we cannot forget
the nightmares provided by the Hollywood dream factory.
 There are so many vampire films in fact, with so many shared
conventions of iconography, theme, and character, that the vampire
film has become a genre in itself. And as film studies has illustrated,
no genre is stagnant - they are reshaped and re-articulated by cultural
circumstance. Scholarly literature has traced the evolution of the
vampire figure, relating the blood-sucker's changing construction
to shifting cultural anxieties -- questions of the morality of imperialism
and fear of reverse colonization (Arata); as metaphor for adolescent
sexuality (Evans), sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS (Dika),
capitalism (Latham), and as a text concerned with patriarchy and
women's sexuality (Demetrakopoulos). While there has been some
work on the vampire concerned with ethnicity and race, for example,
examining Stoker's novel as an anti-Semitic text, with Eastern Europe's
Jews coming to suck the life blood out of Western Europe (McBride),
there has not been much interrogation into the recent phenomenon
of the Black vampire - despite their increasing presence in novels
such as The Gilda Stories, My Soul to Keep, The
Living Blood, and Minion, books centered in the myth,
folklore, and history of the African Diaspora, and in the many
films in which they are featured: Blacula (William Crain
1972), Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn 1972), Scream Blacula
Scream (Bob Kelljan 1973), Vampira (Clive Donner 1974),
Vamp (Richard Wenk 1986), Def by Temptation (James
Bond III 1990), Vampire in Brooklyn (Wes Craven 1995), Blade
(Stephen Norrington 1998), Blade II (Guillermo del Toro 2002),
and Blade: Trinity (David S. Goyer 2004), and Queen of
the Damned (Michael Rymer (2002). This list, though quite extensive,
does not even include the ensemble films like Wes Craven's Dracula
2000, in which African American actor Omar Epps appears. Members
of a particular generation might remember the recurring character
played by Morgan Freeman on PBS, Vincent the Vegetable Vampire on
The Electric Company, or even be familiar with the claim
among some members of the Black community that the animated trademark
character Count Chocula was Black!
 As demonstrated by the other essays published in this special
issue of Genders, the symbolic order of the horror genre
has more often than not, placed Jews and communities of color as
the abject and uncanny, as carriers of pollution and defilement
through varied methods of displacement -- linking horror to the
melodrama (Petty), through fetish and technologies of make-up and
special effects (Winokur), or through metaphors of evolution (Gonder).
More and more, as filmmakers from communities historically excluded
from film production emerge, there are shifts in the representations
and constructions of race, in many cases, as George Lipsitz notes,
calling generic form itself into question. This is demonstrated
by Westerns like Buck and the Preacher (Sidney Poitier 1972),
action films like Romeo Must Die (Andrzej Bartkowiak 2000),
and in horror with films like Tales from the Hood (Rusty
Cundieff 1995) and Jonathan Demme's 1998 film Beloved (Scott,
also in this issue).
 What does it mean then, when race is referenced directly in
a genre that is historically one of the most racially exclusive?
What does the intersection of race, gender, and constructions of
the monstrous, in this case vampirism, offer in terms of genre revision
and cultural critique? I seek to explore these questions by examining
the construction of the Black vampire in four films, Blacula
(William Crain 1972), Vampira (Clive Donner 1974), Def
by Temptation (James Bond III 1990) and Blade (Stephen
 The 1970s was one of the richest periods of cinematic depictions
of vampirism, as the changes brought by England's Hammer Studios
from the late 50s into the 60s moved the subgenre away from the
overly referenced, clichéd iconography of the Bela Lugosi Count
and what Jack Crow (James Woods in John Carpenter's Vampires
1998) denigrates as "cheesy Euro-trash accents."
The Hammer vampire films, which began in 1958 with Dracula
(Terrence Fisher) and continued with several others including Brides
of Dracula (Terrence Fisher 1960), Dracula: Prince of Darkness
(Terrence Fisher 1965), Taste the Blood of Dracula (Peter
Sasdy 1969), and The Vampire Lovers (Ward Baker 1970) brought
a heightened sensuality to horror films, with the use of deeply
saturated color, lush sets, and sexually charged characterizations
of the Count and his associates, and inspired even more genre play.
There was genre mixing, as in the amazing Hammer-Golden Harvest
transnational co-production, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires
(Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh) in 1974, which provided "Hammer
Horror and Dragon Thrills," to create the first kung fu/horror
spectacular. The Seventies saw the wide theatrical release of
Bare Breasted Countess aka Female Vampire (Jesus Franco
credited as J.P. Johnson 1973), Nosferatu the Vampire
by Werner Herzog (1979), the successful Broadway play Dracula
adapted into a movie by John Badham (1979), the parody Love at
First Bite (Stan Dragoti 1979), Count Yorga (Bob Kellijan
1970) and its sequel, the Omega Man (Boris Sagal 1971), based
on Richard Matheson's novel I Legend, George Romero's Martin
(1977), Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (Albert Band 1978), on television
the movie Salem's Lot (Tobe Hooper 1979) and the drama series
Night Stalker and of course Blacula, Scream Blacula
Scream, and Bill Gunn's tour de force, Ganja and Hess
(1972), a film with a distribution history as tortured as its characters.
(After the original film won the Critics' Choice prize at Cannes
and received favorable reviews as an ‘art film,' the producers withdrew
the film from distribution, claiming the writer/director failed
to deliver a commercially viable film. It was re-cut, without Gunn's
approval and re-released under the title Blood Couple).
 The dismay of the producers of Ganja and Hess, Kelly
and Jordan, was caused by Gunn's structuring the film into a complex
treatise on race, addiction, and assimilation that violates conventional
Hollywood norms of linear temporality, characterization, and causation.
When they commissioned the film, they did so expecting a film in
the mode of one of American cinema's continually disparaged trends,
that which is commonly referred to as Blaxploitation. The movie-viewing
public often assumes incorrectly that all Black-themed films
of the 1970s had Black talent in creative and/or financial control
of the films -- very few were written or directed by Blacks, financed
and produced by Black production companies, or reached theaters
through Black-owned distribution businesses. Many films are frequently
misidentified, despite the fact that they are not ultra-low budget,
campy violent films about pimps and drug dealers in stack shoes,
bell bottoms and furs. Blacula, for example, is particularly
unique for having a Black director, William Crain, and for linking
the plight of its protagonist, Mamuwalde aka Blacula, to the destructive
legacies of the slave trade (Benshoff, Lipsitz, and Medovoi).
 Vampirism in Blacula is more than just a premise to
provide a source of horror or the mere appropriation of Stoker's
novel and its film adaptations. It is used to invoke the horrors
of slavery and the continued oppression of Black Americans. In
the opening scene, Mamuwalde and his wife Luva have traveled to
Eastern Europe in 1780 to meet with Dracula. They seek his aid
because as a count, an aristocrat wielding considerable power, Dracula
may hold considerable sway in ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Mamuwalde, played by the Shakespearean-trained William Marshall,
is presented here as a charming, wise, and noble African leader.
The vampire, however, relying on stereotypes of Africa as primitive
and uncivilized, reveals himself to be the true primitive.
The Count refuses to take Mamuwalde and Luva's petition seriously,
making obvious his unwillingness to renounce the access his class,
race, and gender affords him over women of color. The
film's overt allusions to enslavement are abundant in the opening
sequence. Mamuwalde is imprisoned, torn away from is beloved, takes
on his "master's" name, and is as Medavoi states "forced
to make the [M]iddle [P]assage in a coffin," traveling across
the Atlantic, suffering in confinement (7) .
 It is important to note that in the original theatrical trailer
for the film, Blacula is referred to not as a monstrosity to fear
or a source of horror, but as a Black avenger in contemporary Los
Angeles. The film critiques 20th century racial oppression
by its depiction of police power, which is used not to protect and
serve, but to work as an occupying force, harassing and brutalizing
poor with impunity. No doubt some audiences, having experienced
such encounters with the police only a few years after the uprisings,
as in Watts in 1965, took cathartic pleasure from the climactic
scene, where Blacula fights off night-stick wielding and gun-toting
uniformed police officers.
 Perhaps even more compelling is Mamuwalde's romantic involvement
with Tina, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his long-dead
wife Luva. His interest can be read as his attempt to regain his
pre-vampiric past. Tina's willingness to be his partner, to become
a vampire, is her attempt to recuperate the nobility of African
culture, during a period in American culture when the idea of Africa
as a mythic homeland was prevalent in both the political and expressive
cultures of Black Americans and the Diaspora as a whole.
 Blacula's resistance to the power structure represented by
the police, his heartfelt expressions of love for a woman of beauty,
strength, and vitality, and his tragic realization that he has been
forced by a White man to prey on a community of African descent
created empathy for the character, making him one of the first filmic
vampires to transform the archetype from one of the solitary, bestial
predator to that of a more humanized, reluctant victim. This is
heightened to even greater effect in the sequel released the following
year, 1973: Scream Blacula Scream, the title of which can
be interpreted as an acknowledgment of the vampire's continued pain
 At the start of the sequel, we witness the passing of Mama
Loa, a powerful priestess of Voudon who leads the practitioners
in her community. As she lies on her sick bed, her followers
express concerns of who will become the successor. The group
chooses Lisa (Pam Grier), Mama Loa's even-tempered and faithful
apprentice over Mama Loa's son Willis. In a sexist rage, decrying
the democratic process and ranting about the indignity of a woman
taking what rightfully belonged to him, Willis vows revenge.
He follows through on his threat by performing a ritual with a
set of bones — unknowingly, the bones of Mamuwalde/Blacula.
The resurrected vampire, learning of Lisa's knowledge and facile
talents with voodoo, seeks her aid in "exorcising this demonic
creature that inhabits [his] body" so that he can return
home to his people. She is willing to oblige, but their efforts
are thwarted, when, at the climax of the ritual, the L.A.P.D.
 What the vampire seeks so desperately are freedom and a
sense of the identity he once possessed, not only for himself,
but also for others caught by powers beyond themselves. Just
as Willis' resurrection of Blacula speaks to male power out of
control, so too does the sex trade. Just before killing two pimps,
Blacula lectures, "You made a slave out of your sisters,
and you're still slaves imitating your slave masters," possibly
the first and only time a cinematic vampire has recognized
the complex intersection of sexism with both capitalism and racist
 Another overlooked 70s vampire film that, like Blacula,
critiques racism is Clive Donner's Vampira, starring David
Niven as the (in)famous Vladimir the Impaler (another name
for Dracula), and Teresa Graves, best known for her role as the
action heroine Christie Love, as his wife. This light comedy takes
full advantage of David Niven's screen persona, presenting a modern-day
Dracula, a reader of Playboy (an odd example of product placement),
who has opened up his castle to the public, hiring an actor to play
a Bela Lugosi-inspired version of himself. His modernity and characterization
as a suave, "cultured" distinguished Englishman, is emphasized
by the presence of the campy, clichéd, cape-wearing imitation who
entertains visitors to his "theme park." Vladimir's rationale
for drawing tourists is more than just pecuniary — he needs
them for involuntary blood donation, though not for consumption.
He seeks an extremely rare blood type, triple O negative, to revive
his mate Vampira, who since the 1920s, lies in a coma-like state
after having bitten a person with extreme anemia. Four Playboy
centerfold models (three White and one Black), along with a male
writer for the magazine, travel from London to Transylvania for
a photo shoot. The Count drugs them, takes their blood, and proceeds
with the transfusion. After the re-awakening procedure is complete,
Dracula's beloved is revived, but her skin is noticeably darker,
transforming her from White to Black before the viewers' eyes. While
Dracula is distressed, Vampira is quite pleased. Upon discovering
her darkened skin, she proclaims with awe and wonder, "I'm
Black! If only I weren't a vampire I could look at myself [in a
mirror]. It is beautiful! Dracula confused, concerned, and not
wanting to upset Vampira, can only reply hesitantly, "Yes,
Black is beautiful."
 The film has literalized the American definition of Blackness
- the one drop rule, the hypo-descent definition that renders a
person with any known Black ancestry Black, which in the
United States, applies to no other race. The fears rendered in
public health policies concerning race and blood transfusions throughout
U.S. history are realized here, and Dracula spends the rest of the
film trying to reverse the racial transformation. Like his namesake
in the Stoker novel, Dracula travels from Eastern Europe to England
in pursuit of a woman. He takes Vampira to London to find the donor,
thinking that perhaps this Blackness can be filtered out. Vampira,
unlike other films invoking vampirism and tropes of the horror genre,
radically differs by presenting the spectacle of racial "Otherness"
directly, rather than supplanting it. The horror and revulsion
is experienced not by the humans in the film, or even by the audience,
but by Count Dracula.
 While the he is out chasing the playmates, Vampira goes on
the town in celebration of her Blackness. When she goes to the movies
she chooses a film titled Jack Gunn, a play on Gordon Park's
film Shaft (1971). From her experience in the theater, she
learns how to speak African American vernacular English, which she
uses throughout the rest of the movie, even calling Dracula a "jive
turkey" later in the film when he refuses to let her go out.
She also spends a lot of time shopping, abandoning her flapper
clothing for ensembles audiences would recognize as those befitting
characters like Grave's own Christie Love, or Cleopatra Jones and
Foxy Brown. The music the vampire couple play in their Hefner-inspired,
swinging London pad, during the film's climactic party scene, intended
to entice the Playboy playmates to their lair - is of all things,
 The film does a brilliant job of playing on our assumptions
- for as we follow Dracula in his search for the blood donor, we
also expect her to be the young Black model that visited Castle
Dracula. As it turns out, the donor is a blonde White woman. The
answer to the racial dilemma in the film is not to restore Vampira
to Whiteness, but for Dracula to become Black….and he does, after
Vampira bites him. The film uses the trope of vampirism to simultaneously
critique racism, calling us on our own assumptions, while at the
same time addressing the influence of Black popular culture. Black
expressive culture in the film has become the dominant popular culture
- fashion, language, music, and in cinema. The vampire Count, whom
we thought was modern at the opening of the film, is shown to be
to be out of step with contemporary society, as highlighted by the
film's alternate title Old Dracula. For him to be truly
hip, he must not only become Black, which he does, but he must also
expropriate Black culture. At the end of the movie we see him and
Vampira at the airport, walking toward their Transylvania Airlines
flight, both looking "superfly."
A Mighty Epic of Modern Morals!
 One the most intriguing Black vampire films ever produced
is the 1990 feature Def by Temptation by actor-turned writer,
producer, director James Bond III, who also plays the film's protagonist,
Joel. This film was released by Troma, the production and distribution
company of exploitation films. Its most famous, or perhaps infamous,
titles being The Toxic Avenger (Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman1985),
Surf Nazis Must Die (Peter George 1985) and Sgt. Kabuki
Man NYPD (Herz and Kaufman 1991). It is no surprise to find
a horror film among Troma's catalogue, as exploitation films use
well-established Hollywood genres, often treating the narrative
formulas and iconography in what some would describe as a campy
and "tasteless" manner, highlighting material that would
be considered offensive by more mainstream audiences: alternative
sexualities, recreational drug use, and of course, an abundance
of blood and gore. Because exploitation films are considered a
low brow form of entertainment, films like those of Troma are typically
regarded with dismissive disdain by both popular critics and the
general public, despite their immense popularity. Yet like other
denigrated popular culture forms, such as the soap opera and until
quite recently, the comic book, these films are important, for they
speak to specialized audiences, offering pleasure in forms not provided
by more mainstream producers of the culture industry. Often lifted
to cult status and watched in ritual contexts, the films may be
cheap, raw, and trashy in terms of production value, but they have
the potential to directly challenge the dominant ideologies of sexism,
white supremacy, homophobia, and capitalism upon which high-brow
 When Def by Temptation was released in the early 1990s
it was a part of a renaissance of Black American filmmaking. Inspired
by the growing popularity of rap music and hip hop culture, as well
as the commercial success of three films produced well beneath the
$40 million average for a Hollywood feature — Spike Lee's
She's Gotta Have It (1986), a film budgeted at $175,000 that
made over $8 million at the box office; Robert Townsend's Hollywood
Shuffle (1987), the $100,000 feature financed by personal credit
cards that garnered more than $7 million; and Reginald and Warrington
Hudlin's House Party (1990), costing $2.5 million and earning
more than $27 million — Hollywood distributors released a
spate of Black-directed films in 1991, the first time such a high
volume of Black-themed films were released in commercial theaters
since the Blaxploitation movement of the 1970s. Perhaps even more
significant is the fact that it was also the first time since the
Race movies of the silent era that so many Black-themed films were
actually written and directed by Black filmmakers.
 Bond's vampire film, with cinematography by Ernest Dickerson
and featuring actors Bill Nunn, Kadeem Hardison, and an early film
role for Samuel L. Jackson, is a dark, moody, and in many ways,
provocative film. Like other films of the period, Def by Temptation
centers on the coming of age of a young black man in an urban setting,
but unlike the "New Jack Cinema" of Boyz N' the Hood
(1991), Straight Out of Brooklyn (1991) and Menace II
Society (1993), set in the economically deprived areas of South
Central, Red Hook, and Watts respectively, Bond's film contains
none of the common tropes associated with the "hood" movies
- blighted city landscapes, narcotics trafficking, and hyper-stylized
gang violence. Though all the Black-directed films of this period
such as Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, Charles Burnett's
To Sleep with Anger, and Chameleon Street by Wendall
B. Harris (all released in 1991) were not analogous to the gangsta
tradition, Def by Temptation seems even more of an anomaly,
given its title, which makes use of hip hop argot, and the narrative
focus, on a young man experiencing life in the big city for the
first time. It is no shock that the Troma release contains staple
exploitation images of blood and sex, including the relatively rare
use of full-frontal male nudity. What is surprising about Def
by Temptation, different from both the "hood" movies
and exploitation horror, is its story, a modern incarnation of an
old Race film staple - the "uplift" narrative, commonly
found in films made from 1910 through the 1940s.
 At the turn of the Twentieth century, Black Americans were
increasingly under assault from theorists in the natural and medical
sciences who continued to make false claims of White racial biological
superiority, and from psychologists and social scientists who deemed
Black culture as deviant and pathological (Allen, Gilman). The wide-scale
circulation of such ideas resulted in prejudicial social policy,
increased systematic structural discrimination, and had a direct
impact on the magnitude of racial violence. It is no coincidence
that the lynching of Black Americans was at its height during this
period, from 1880-1930 (Tolnay and Beck), or that urban centers
experiencing the influx of Blacks during the Great Migration would
explode in racialized violence, such as during the Red Summer of
1919, when violence incited by Whites erupted in twenty-six cities.
Middle and upper-class Black Americans, in the attempt to assert
their humanity and their demands for equality, advocated a positive
Black identity. These elites put forth an ideology of self-help
and service. Though there was no single definition of uplift agreed
upon by those who led the charge, as the theories were varied and
frequently contested among the Black intelligentsia, they held in
common the aim of anti-racism. It was in this context that early
Black filmmakers emerged, producing films that highlighted the benefits
of temperance and thrift, the condemnation of gambling, and the
promotion of Christian doctrine. In the work of Black filmmakers
like Oscar Micheaux, Bill Foster, Richard Maurice, Eloise Gist,
and Spencer Williams, no-accounts, gamblers, dope fiends and shiftless
characters always get their comeuppance, while those grounded in
Christian faith that sought formal education and reflected the "proper"
work ethic emerged triumphant. Def by Temptation is, in fact,
a Black religious drama in the tradition of Spencer Williams' Blood
of Jesus (1941), considered by historian Thomas Cripps to be
the most popular Race movie ever produced (133). Both films are
centered on a crisis of faith, where an individual is at the crossroads,
caught at the intersection where the paths of religious doctrine
and free will meet. The temptation to stray from the righteous
path is not symbolized as a new pair of high heels, a glamorous
evening gown, or that devil music jazz, which entices Martha (Cathryn
Caviness) in Williams' Southern folk drama, where her soul goes
on a symbolic journey as she lays dying from a gunshot wound.
 In Bond's film, Joel, a divinity student from rural North
Carolina only months away from completing his education, visits
his older brother K in Manhattan. Experiencing a crisis of faith,
he seeks his brother's counsel as well as a change of scenery. Despite
his grandmother's warning, Joel is quickly lured by the possibility
of a fast, decadent lifestyle of clubbing and barhopping in New
York, with sin represented as lasciviousness--progressing from promiscuous
pre-marital hetero sex, to adultery, and ultimately homosexuality.
 The female vampire/demon, aptly named Temptation, seeks only
men as her prey, specifically, men she will punish for their debauchery,
utilizing suggestive clothing, coy body language, and flirtatious
conversation to beguile. Once ensnared the men are led to her bedroom,
where the erotic coincides with death. The first victim is a bartender
who uses his occupation to meet available women. In the opening
scene, he receives a telephone call from one of his former conquests,
informing him that she is pregnant. He callously tells her to "get
rid of it," suggesting they can have more "fun" after
the abortion. He hangs up angrily, annoyed that the call has interrupted
his pursuit of the beautiful young woman at the end of the bar,
 The next man to succumb to Temptation's charms is Norman,
aka John, a married man who, pretending he is single, prowls the
bar in search of a one-night stand. On the morning after his dalliance
with the vampire, Norman wakes to find his back deeply scarred by
her claw-like fingernails, and thus, in a state making it difficult
to return home. With an air of righteous indignation, he castigates
her for marking him with a symbol of his adultery. She lies languorously
in bed, amused at Norman's outburst. In an eerie voice several
octaves lower than normal, she tells him that she has given him
something worse — something for which there is no cure, which
we presume is the AIDS virus. As his skin transforms, covered with
pustules, Norman refuses to acknowledge his involvement in contracting
the disease. Rather he sees himself only as a victim, protesting
the unfair consequences of his participation in male privilege.
The demise of these sinners is presented in form true to the genre,
with the usual low-key lighting, heightened music score, and screams
accompanying the sounds of rending flesh. The most disturbing scene
in Def by Temptation, however, is the murder of a gay man,
who, having committed the gravest crime against nature in terms
of conservative Christian doctrine, is subjected to brutal torture
in the film's lengthiest death scene.
 As in Stoker's novel, and in most vampire films, scenes of
feeding are commonly constructed as highly sensual and hyper-sexualized.
The same is true in Bond's film. The promise of pleasure offered
by the seductive Temptation is realized just at the moment of blood-letting.
The gay victim, lured not by attraction, but by the vampire's hypnotic
power, experiences pleasure at the hands of Temptation, who penetrates
him with an unseen object. It is at the precise moment when he
expresses his enjoyment that the object is transformed into a weapon,
and his prolonged suffering presented in a montage of violence.
 Despite these successes, the man Temptation desires most is
Joel. Bedding him would symbolize her greatest triumph, for she
would possess the soul of a man of God. Like the ordeal Jesus faced
when baited by Satan, Joel is pursued by the vampire for several
days. She uses the lures of Manhattan, alcohol, companionship,
and ultimately sex on the inexperienced, socially inept country
bumpkin. The climax takes place in Temptation's bedroom, highlighting
her bed as the site of moral and spiritual struggle. Because,
as we have seen in numerous contemporary vampire films, crucifixes,
holy water, and wooden stakes no longer work as an effective weapon
against the undead, or in this case against one of Satan's minions,
Joel's salvation lies in the reaffirmation of Christian belief and
the remembrance of Scripture. Though the film does provide some
progressive social critique, for example when K, Joel's economically
struggling older brother, is sucked into a television screen as
a bust of Ronald Reagan cackles in uproarious laughter, Def by
Temptation instructs us that the only answer to urban strife
and decadence is Jesus.
 The film's conservatism is rooted in both the exploitation
film's common definitions of sexual difference and in its reliance
on the contradictory and problematic liberation ideology of racial
uplift. As Studlar notes, "Midnight movies typically crystallize
the problem of sexual difference and the s/excess of perversity
in a feminine, though not always female figure" (4).
Destruction and death are constructed in Def by Temptation
through gender, with yet another embodiment of the monstrous feminine
as a succubus, who, in this case, reveals a voracious, sadistic
sexual appetite. The concept of racial uplift in Def by Temptation
is as problematic as the older, traditional ideologies of racial
uplift on which it relies, linking gender, class distinctions, homosexuality,
and religious exclusionism to pejorative notions of racial pathology.
As Gaines points out in his insightful book Uplifting the Race,
at issue with the self-help doctrine "was not African Americans
quite understandable desire for dignity, security, and social mobility.
Rather, the difficulty stemmed from the construction of class differences
through racial and cultural hierarchies that had little to do with
material conditions of African Americans, and less to do with the
discrimination they faced in a racially stratified southern labor
market, with the active complicity of the state and opinion-making
apparatuses of civil society" (3). Def by Temptation
informs us that the cause of the public health crisis of AIDS/HIV,
familial dissolution, and urban ills are caused by the lack of sexual
repression and the loss of religious faith rather than codified
social policy that disproportionately affects women, the poor, communities
of color, and homosexual and transsexual populations.
The Modern Mulatto
 Certainly the reasons for our continual collective cultural
fascination with vampires such as Temptation are multiple and complex,
but much of it may have to do with the ways in which they embody
binary contradictions: young/old, mortal/immortal, dead/undead,
masculine/feminine, hetero/homosexual, norm/Other, predator/prey,
victim/villain. Just as our own identities are increasingly brought
into question by the contemporary social conditions of post-modernism,
so too is that of vampires. In an increasing number of horror films,
vampires are the central figures in narratives of miscegenation.
In Len Wiseman's Underworld (2003) for example, a "race"
war lasting centuries is launched because of an interracial romance
between a lycanthrope and a vampire. The enmity between the two
groups is sparked by the execution of the vampire, pregnant with
what is referred to in the film as an "abomination," in
other words, a dreaded mulatto.
 While it might seem odd to apply this concept to that of the
vampire, it is apt because of the shifts in vampiric representation.
As Brian Aldiss notes, the vampire, "once a country dweller,
has come to the city. It lives among the great urban masses and
like them, is inclined to take on the mantle of civilization, becoming
communal" (ix). Their evolution has bestowed upon them a more
human status. Though they still possess preternatural strength and
speed, and still shun the light, filmic vampires have lost their
mutability, no longer transforming themselves into mist, bats, or
wolves. Murder has become an expression of the individual villainous
vampire rather than evil of the metaphysical religious dimension
- so much so that biology is often the saving grace, rather than
Christianity (another reason Def by Temptation seems so out
of place). Vampires are lonely, guilt-ridden, and victimized figures.
They have been so humanized that they have become defined as ethnic
groups as in Blade, with their own history, language, religious
texts, and political body; or as a race. In Vampire in Brooklyn
vampires are actually defined as an ancient, soon to be non-existent
Egyptian race, with Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) as the last-remaining
full-blooded (no pun intended) member.
 The most interesting mulatto figure is Blade, played by Wesley
Snipes. This vampire-slaying character first appeared in the 10th
issue of the comic book, Tomb of Dracula in 1973, only two
years after the amendments to the Comics Code, a self-regulatory
set of rules, functioning much like the Hays Code for the motion
picture industry. (In 1954, comic book publishers formed the Comics
Magazine Association of American and created a code banning violent
horror and true crime comic books to stave off censorship by a U.S.
Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and by civic and religious
groups. It was amended in 1971.) Published by Marvel Comics, the
mainstream company known for humanizing its superheroes and presenting
more progressive ideologies, Blade would appear with some regularity
in Tomb of Dracula, and in other titles such as Dr. Strange,
until he was given his own series Blade, the Vampire Hunter
in 1994 and Blade in both 1997 and 2002. Unlike Rita, who
chooses to "pass" for human in Vampire in Brooklyn,
Blade, in the film of the same name, chooses a human identity over
vampire, rejecting assimilation with the dominant race - vampirism
serving as a metaphor for Whiteness.
 Though we see vampires of various races in the film, the movie
racializes vampirism as Whiteness in several ways: As in Blacula,
the Black vampire's origin is lined to enslavement and rape. Blade's
status as both human and vampire is created through a rape metaphor
- his mother was bitten in her ninth month of pregnancy, causing
the genetic mutation that would give him all the advantages of vampirism,
hence privilege. Vampires are depicted in a Manichean light. Just
as Whites were bestowed advanced intelligence and rationality during
the Eugenics movement, vampires see themselves as superior, possessing
greater strength, speed, and reflexes. Susceptibility to ultraviolet
rays is used in the film as another marker of difference. Though
African Americans and other peoples of color are vulnerable to over-exposure
to the sun, melanin does provide some protection. Blade, unlike
the other vampires, who must rely on sunscreen to move about in
the daylight, has no such sensitivity. The vampires in the film
even use the term "Daywalker" as an epithet - analogous
to half-breed throughout the film. We never have any knowledge
of Blade's father, but we do find out later in the film that the
vampire who bit his mother was Deacon Frost, played by an extremely
pale Stephen Dorff. When Blade's mother, who has fully crossed
over to the "other side," informs her son that "these
are her people now," Frost even goes as far as to speak of
the gathering as family reunion, taking his place as patriarch.
And his is not the only name associated with Whiteness - we also
have the vampire record keeper, the archivist Pearl, a bald bloated
symbol of White excess who is as rotund as Jabba the Hut. As
in the Blaxploitation films, where Black characters' references
to disenfranchisement and racist political and economic control
are through the use of the term "the Man," we learn in
Blade the vampires "own the police and have their claws
in every institutional power structure." If vampirism is seen
as a White disease, than it is not surprising to see the cure, discovered
by hematologist Karen Jenson associated with Blackness, through
an analogy to an affliction developed as a natural defense against
malaria, Sickle Cell Anemia, which is most prevalent in the United
States in African American communities. And of course, one can
not deny the pleasure provided an audience, weary of racialized
police brutality, in watching a powerful Black man physically subdue
both a redneck vampire and a uniformed White cop who is vampire-servant/wannabe.
The film's obsession with racial purity is even recognized by the
designations of vampires, such as the more aristocratic council,
made up of pure bloods, and the lesser beings who became vampires
not by birth but by being turned - analogous to the levels
of Whiteness that places WASPS at the apex, and Jews, the Irish,
and Italians at the bottom. Frost's frustration in the film, which
leads to his violence and plan for vampire domination, is fueled
by a pathology that discerns him as "not white enough."
 Blade's crisis of identity in the film is in the vein of tragic
mulatto, one of the staple Black stereotypes of classic Hollywood
cinema. More often than not a sympathetic character, she
(the mulatto figure tended to be a woman) was caught in an identity
crisis, in a liminal space between the two races. Light enough
to pass for White, she often enjoyed the privileges her skin tone
permitted, that is, until she was found out, made Black despite
her appearance, because of the one-drop rule. Though films that
featured such characters, most notably Pinky (Elia Kazan
1949) and Imitation of Life (John M. Stahl 1934 and Douglas
Sirk 1959) presented Blackness as undesirable and even as horror
(See Petty), they did on some levels undermine the concept of racial
categories based on phenotype — for passing by its very nature
contradicts the designations.
 Blade's construction as the female archetype inverts not
only gender, but much of the ideology symbolized by the tragic
mulatto, a figure constructed to warn of the outcome of interracial
sexual relations. The typical movie mulatto struggles because
she seeks White privilege, despite the high cost of self-exile
from the Black community. Blade on the other hand, identifies
with the subordinate, denying the heritage that affords a higher
place on the Darwinist evolutionary scale (Humans, according to
Frost, are not to be negotiated with - they are merely food).
As a vampire/human hybrid, he literally embodies the bipolar associations
with vampirism, predator/prey and victim/villain to a much higher
degree. The compounded construction of Blade as a mulatto parallels
the binary social station afforded Black men in contemporary America,
as described by Wiegman:
the African American male is stranded between the competing - and
at times overdetermining — logics of race and gender. Denied
full admittance to the patriarchal province of the masculine through
the social scripting of blackness as innate depravity, and occupying
an enhanced status through masculine privilege in relation to black
women, the African American male challenges our understanding of
cultural identity and (dis)empowerment based on singular notions
of inclusion and exclusion (174).
The mulatto may, in some ways, be more descriptive for Black
men than for Black women, given the simultaneous attribution of
criminality and victimization.
 Rosemary Jackson in Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion
notes that increasingly, fantasy has come to function as expressive
rather than escapist or compensatory. Modern fantasy does not invent
supernatural regions, but presents a natural world inverted into
something strange, something other. Like vampires themselves, the
genre becomes domesticated, humanized, turning from transcendental
explorations to transcriptions of the human condition. If as Nina
Auerbach states, "every age has the vampire it needs,"
(145) what need do we have for Black vampires?
 Certainly some of the phenomenon can be attributed to the
profit driven industry, which, in this era, many would describe
as lacking originality — an era when we are inundated with
adaptations from television, non-English language films, remakes,
films inspired by pop songs and novels, and in the case of Blade,
comic books - a medium whose demographic matches that of Hollywood.
With profits as the main goal, it makes perfect sense then, to rely
on a highly recognized, trademarked figure - one belonging to the
same media conglomerate as the studios (Time Warner).
 Reliance on genre is another important economic factor. It
provides a cross-over appeal for White audiences, while simultaneously
allowing access for Black talent. The success of Blacula,
for example, created a demand for more Black horror films. Though
it resulted in a proliferation of low-budget, problematic films
like Blackenstein (William Levey 1973); it also provided
the opportunity for Bill Gunn to make Ganja and Hess. Gunn
was asked if he had a Black script about vampires. Though he did
not, he quickly conceived what is now considered one of the best
Black directed films of all-time.
 The issue of assimilation is an important one when considering
the contemporary vampire figure. He/she is human and not human,
as well as inside and outside the culture. Additionally, the victim/predator
depiction in contemporary films allows marginalized audiences the
fantasy of the empowered that Fanon notes in Wretched of the
Earth, while at the same time acknowledging a stigmatized status,
as in both Blacula and Blade, resulting from White
 By racializing the vampire, perhaps what we are seeing is
a reinscription of the horror film, with the features functioning
as cautionary tales. They depict dystopias where Blacks are drawn
unwillingly into a White-dominated world of corruption and evil,
and an existence that relies literally on the exploitation of the
Other's body. "The monster always represents the disruption
of categories, the destruction of boundaries, and the presence of
impurities and so we need monsters and we need to recognize and
celebrate our own monstrosities." (Halberstam 27)
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FRANCES GATEWARD teaches in the Unit for Cinema
Studies and the African American Studies and Research Program at
the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. She is the
co-editor of Sugar,
Spice, and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood (Wayne State
University Press 2002) and Where
the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth (Wayne State
University Press 2004). Her current projects include a book on African
American women filmmakers and an anthology on Korean cinema.