It has been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina left a tragic and unforgettable mark on the people of Louisiana, particularly New Orleans. Since that time, those that call the Big Easy home have barely been able to catch a break. Now a new problem is facing the city, as blood-thirsty vampires are feeding on its most vulnerable citizens in the Amazon Original Black as Night, which arrived on Prime Video on Friday, October 1, 2021 as a part of Welcome to the Blumhouse.
Written by Sherman Payne (Shameless series, Charm City Kings 2020) and directed by Maritte Lee Go (Remittance short 2018, Phobias 2021), Black as Night is far from a simple teen vampire film. A whip-smart blend of Action, Horror-Thriller, and Drama, Payne’s screenplay offers slaying good times inked on its skin while the meat of the story runs deep with timely, and often emotional, socio-economic commentary. For teens who are watching, it’s likely to be little more than a fun start to their spooky season that offers up a fierce female lead (Asjha Cooper: Everybody Wants Some!! 2016, There’s Someone Inside Your House 2021), while adults are apt to have a very different experience.
But let’s start at the beginning. Cooper’s Shawna is a young woman experiencing a coming-of-age summer—one that is doomed to include blood splatter. When a housing project where a recovering member of her family (Kenneisha Thompson: A Ghost Story 2017, Radiant series) currently resides comes under attack, the teen’s inner Buffy the Vampire Slayer is unleashed in the name of vengeance. Along for the ride is her best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido: World War Z 2013, Mr. Iglesias series), or ‘Dro, an “immigrant kid from Mexico” who is loyal to the core.
After enlisting her crush, Chris (Mason Beauchamp: NCIS: New Orleans series, Eat Brains Love 2019), as well as a peculiar preacher of the Gospel of Team Edward, named Granya (Abbie Gayle: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back 2016, Looking for Alaska mini-series), our leading lady and ‘Dro must evade her well-intentioned father (Craig Tate: 12 Years a Slave 2013, Greyhound 2020) and distant brother (Frankie Smith: Roots mini-series, Jeepers Creepers III 2017) as they set to planning the downfall of New Orleans’ vampire forces.
As previously stated, despite its ludicrous situations, the story is not all sharpened stakes and garlic powder as a biological weapon. At its core, Black as Night confronts the tragic legacy of Hurricane Katrina—in some sense predicting the preventable tragedies of 2021’s Hurricane Ida—from both a socio-economic and human impact standpoint. Just as the fictional Watkins family still carry the scars of their experience, there’s no denying that many families have suffered tremendously over the past 15 years—and continue to do so. In a touching yet somber scene on the front steps of what was once their home, Shawna’s father (Tate) provides a personal impact statement, reflecting on the storm’s effects on her mother.
These elements of American history are fact, not fiction, and devastatingly real for so many. The fact that this portion of the story is delivered with respect, not used as a sympathetic cash grab, is a testament to the power of Black as Night and the sincerity of its creators. But they do not stop there and continue to confront issues facing Black Americans today: this time, they turn an observing eye toward prejudice/racism within one’s own race. In a heartbreaking moment, Shawna’s brother (Smith) suggests that, as a dark-skinned Black woman, Cooper’s character is somehow less attractive. It’s a sentiment that is echoed by several others throughout the film, men who continually pine for lighter-skinned women instead of those who share Shawna’s dark complexion.
Outside of the world of the film, there is, of course, no rationalizing racism of any form; it is an irrational prejudice that exists within some individuals. The dramatic irony, in this instance, is that the woman portraying Shawna is absolutely stunning. And as we know, we are all much more than the tone of her skin, and Cooper’s Shawna is intelligent and brave, a teen who is driven by her love for family and friends and never by hatred. This is a key distinction to make, particularly in 2021 when the world seems to run on fear and loathing.
This aim toward healthy relationships and caring motivations is a point that is echoed in her friendships, some of the most positive in recent teen films. Case in point, Guido’s ‘Dro and Cooper’s lead are quick to stand up for one another, as well as to push each other to be better and do better. There’s a candid honesty between the best friends that, thanks to the actors’ organic performances, feels authentic and never forced. It’s a refreshing change from the recent trend of presenting a vapid group of frenemies that can barely tolerate one another.
With the inclusion of Beauchamp’s Chris and Gayle’s Granya, the friends are an inclusive Breakfast Club of vampire slayers. And why shouldn’t they be? Each of us can be courageous and loyal, someone’s crush and/or our parents’ pet project. And in a world such as the one we face today, the people you choose to surround yourself with are more important than ever: so choose not by the shade of their skin or their country of origin, but instead by the character of their heart!
Again, not every film is going to change the world, but some can have fun while offering intelligent insight and commenting on important social issues. In Black as Night, the interactions between Cooper’s Shawna and her motley crew feel relatable, minus the vampires, which provides a welcoming vibe for teenage moviegoers. As adults we are better-suited to understanding that killing monsters, imaginary or the ones we create for ourselves, is no easy task, but surrounding yourself with quality people can certainly make wielding a stake a much more enjoyable experience. So for its sense of humor, keen commentary, and talented cast, Cryptic Rock gives Black as Night 4 of 5 stars.