Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Mo Moshaty
Mo Moshaty is an Afro-Latina screenwriter, author and producer. Raised within the clash of her mother’s Yaqui heritage and her father’s strict Southern Baptist upbringing, Mo’s work contains worlds in which characters of color strive for identity, sentiment, and belonging within the dark psychological horror genre.
Co-founder of the Nyx Horror Collective, she’s partnered with Stowe Story Labs to provide a fellowship for women genre writers over 40 and has also partnered with horror streaming giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022.
Still engaging with her first love, short horror literature, her work can be found in “A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales”, by Brigid’s Gate Press and “206 Word Stories” by Bag O’ Bones Press. In 2023, “Love the Sinner” with be published with Brigid’s Gate Press and in 2024, “Clairviolence” will be published with Spooky House Press.
Mo has lectured on Trauma in Cinema with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program, Horror Studies BAFSS, and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been writing and creating stories and fantasy worlds since I was around 7 or 8. I’m sure we’ve all gotten the bug then, but I realize it was really about escape. Having a pretty tumultuous childhood with inconsistent security, it was an open field of creating worlds. Something I really needed to run to.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I grew to love the horror genre by sneaking out of bed after dark to see what my oldest sister was watching. I also grew up in an era of the early 80s where if something was on cable, it played any time of the day, nothing was off limits, no waiting until after prime time or for when the kids went to bed. I distinctly remember watching The Howling at about 3:30, right after school. My first love truly was The Twilight Zone in syndication and Creepshow. Those stories astonished me, made me think, and made me scared but also super energized, and Creepshow helped me discover my undying love for practical effects.
Do you make a conscious effort to include African diaspora characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I do, often, to place the character in a world that helps them find belonging and purpose for them alone. Most of my work centers on characters struggling for identity. Finding foot inside the tornado eye of my mother’s Yaqui heritage and my dad’s strict religious upbringing, it took me a long time to sort out never feeling like I had a secure identity or clear purpose. What I hope resonates and what’s portrayed are characters on their own personal journeys no matter how horrific. Those journeys are not to serve someone else’s path or to further along another character’s arc.
They’re also not experiencing trauma for trauma’s sake.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I think it’s taught me a lot about personal stakes and boundaries. I absolutely adore the genre and there’s too many subgenres to count which is incredible but not all of them are for me. And that’s okay to say aloud without criticizing. It’s okay to not love everything or and it’s also okay to have a niche where your writing thrives more within that genre and staying there and comfortably enjoying that. It’s also been incredibly cathartic in more ways than I thought, and in more ways that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Writing in this genre has helped me uncover a lot about myself from childhood trauma to adult fears like not being where you would’ve liked to be at a certain age and stunts or blockages to personal growth.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
We still have a lot of stigma and shortcomings within horror in the area of diverse stories. With that in mind, yes we’re getting more voices in horror behind the camera like Akela Cooper, Nia Da Costa and Jordan Peele and we’re getting more literary stories of characters highlighting culturally rich practices like Brujeria and celebrating Yoruba ceremony. Hand to my heart, I’m loving reading those stories, they give me such joy. But I’m also seeing that weird push for “Black” stories. I had a conversation with a fellow writer of color on that subject and we couldn’t quite figure out if they meant a story written by a person of color or a story of Black trauma. Turns out that most of what they liked and most calls for submissions within the heat of 2020 were the latter, which is horrifying to realize that the market just might only see you as a continuous source of trauma porn for a wider audience. It’s worrying to see that continue in some pockets of this genre, but I have more hope than doubt as I learn of new and incredible writers of color every day telling gorgeous horror stories and it’s by their hands and minds that we will continue to see richer, perspective-driven stories to share on screens and within libraries.
How do you feel the Black community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
We’ve come a long way, yet not far enough, from being the first one snatched in horror. I was Keynote Speaker for Prairie View Texas A&M Film Program, an HBCU, as they put on “Nightmares from Monkeypaw: A Virtual Symposium on the Works of Jordan Peele.” Our last panel of the event was “Nope, Don’t Go In There!” Black Folks and the Call & Response Theatre Experience”, where Professor Teresa Dowell-Vest, Leslie Scott-Jones, myself, and St. Kitts Screenwriter Dele Adams talked regarding our quick onscreen demise could be chalked up to the fact that we are always hyper-aware of our surroundings, we can always tune in to when its go time and when we can’t trust those we’re with or those we encounter. That, in particular, makes us an instant foe and we must be dealt with quickly so this killer, slasher, and villain can further their own agenda which when you look at it, takes the sting out of seeing us killed first…..a bit. But I see characters in horror like Finn Wheeler in “Werewolves Within” played by the excellent Sam Richardson being the lead, the protagonist that we need to succeed, we’re with him every step of the way and he’s making smart choices, and nope-ing out at the right times and it’s lovely. Then we have someone like Tess from “Barbarian” that just makes awful choice after choice and you think clearly, no Black person wrote this, we would NEVAH make these choices and you check and yup, it’s not written by a Black writer. So I think there’s always going to be two sides of this coin where it’s done to enhance the story and experience and just a diversity tick.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
I absolutely love “Ganja and Hess.” Dr. Hess Green is plagued from the start, he’s tragic and overwhelmed and being stabbed with an ancient dagger doesn’t help. I love Mike Hanlon from Stephen King’s “It.” Mike’s pendulum swing is quite different than the other characters in that he stays in Derry. He stays amongst the ruin and trauma and decay and death of youth. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere about a testament to his strength but I think he sees himself as the ever-steadfast lookout and protector of the group, something none of the other children had the guts to take on.
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
“The Lost Child” by Caryl Phillips is a wonderful blend of a gothic tale mixed with rich history. It was a quick read for me, I couldn’t put it down. “The Gilda Stories” by Jewelle Gomez was a whirlwind, it’s been a while since I’d been so emotionally moved by such a visceral story.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Write what you like. People who like that will find you. We get so lost trying to write in the voices of those we admire that we stifle the good things.
Let yourself off the hook if the story just doesn’t finish. Sometimes we hit a wall and we’re bereft because the seed of an idea is so good, it shouldn’t fail. But it does and it can.
The minute you take pen to paper or finger to keyboard and let a story flow through you, that’s a huge accomplishment.
Submit, submit, submit. There are always a ton of great calls for submissions and horror indie presses are some of the most kind around.
If you’re having trouble breaking the story even though it’s fully formed in your mind, pitch it to someone who you share tastes with, then to someone you don’t. You’ll find what works and what doesn’t’ and you may have to kill some darlings and forge new roads, but it will surely be worth it.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Seek out (nicely and not creepily) other Black authors. It may seem on the surface that we are all having the same struggle, that we’re all clamoring for the still very few seats at the table, but what you find is not only tactics that others have used to combat that but also how they have thrived and found belief in their craft simply by refusing to not being seen. Be open to the community. Learn from others and be open to hearing journeys. Someone could ask you for yours in the future and you are not an island or a monolith.