The sketch writer/actor Dewayne Perkins launched on Comedy Central is now the horror comedy The Blackening, which is heading to the big screen Juneteenth weekend. That all happened when it caught Harlem creator and Girls Trip co-writer Tracy Oliver’s eye, and she got it to director Tim Story, known for the Ride Along franchise.
Perkins tells EBONY the idea came from needing a piece for his Black sketch group. At the time, he was watching horror movies where the running trope is Black people being the first to die. That got his wheels spinning and he thought, “What would it mean if everybody was Black?”
That premise, he says, raises many other questions, mainly “What is Blackness? And what does it mean to try to quantify it in a life-or-death situation?” That, he says, is “where a lot of the comedy comes from.”
“I just love that there are so many different types of Black people in one thing,” says Oliver of what attracted her to the oeuvre. For her, it was also an opportunity to buck the Hollywood system. “Usually when it's horror, and you're pitching something, to be honest, it's easier for a studio executive to buy something where Black people are folded into a white person’s narrative," she explains. "On this, everybody's Black and we don't have to do that.”
The switch, she says, works for her because “we get to see a movie where everybody is the center of the story and it's a bunch of Black people in it.” Plus, she hopes The Blackening “changes how we think about horror movies.”
Story, who came on as a producer initially, says the script from Oliver and Perkins made him want to direct it. “It was hilarious. It was clever. It was everything that I like to make. I'm just really into making films that I want to watch,” he says. “I just had to be a part of it and thought ‘why not direct it?’ That way I don’t have to hope somebody does what I hope they do with it.’”
Because the film didn’t have a big budget, Oliver says “we didn't have the pressure of just putting a bunch of names in something that aren't the right fit [and could focus on] who's really, really funny. That mattered too because it's a horror film, but the comedy and just having comedic chops is really important.”
“To be able to act in a movie that I got to write for myself is such a blessing,” says Perkins. In addition to him, the film stars Jay Pharoah (SNL), Grace Byers (Harlem, Empire), X Mayo (Grand Auto), Melvin Gregg (Snowfall), Jermaine Fowler (Coming 2 America), Antoinette Robertson (The Haves and the Have Nots), Sinqua Walls (White Men Can’t Jump, American Soul, Power), and Yvonne Orji (Insecure). “On set, they actually were cracking each other up,” Oliver reports.
Crafting the Black trivia questions for the game they play in the film was one of the biggest yet funniest challenges in the film, Oliver shares. “When we were coming up with them, it was just really making us laugh to think about these dumb questions that have to be niche enough where they’re specific to Black people [and not] be so broad that they don’t feel Black, but not so niche that that people wouldn’t know the answers to them.”
The result, she offers, are questions like “how many seasons was dark skin Aunt Viv [on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air]?”
That scene, she says, “is just so Black and fun.” And that’s the energy they have for the whole film!
The Blackening will hit the big screen June 16, 2023.