A Taste for Blood and Truth: Bill Gunn’s Ganja and Hess (1973)

I’m very excited to have a chapter on Bill Gunn’s 1973 experimental vampire film Ganja and Hess in Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion and Worship in the Horror Film.

Often discussed as an audacious subversion of the Blaxploitation genre by a maverick Black director, Bill Gunn’s 1973 “vampire film” Ganja and Hess is a complex meditation on the psychology of race, religion, sex, class and addiction in 1970’s America. The narrative is framed as a conflict between the redemptive power of the blood of Christ offered by the Black Church, and a fantasy of ancestral African sovereignty represented by the Myrthian blood-cult. The film is also an important vehicle for Gunn’s personal experiences as a Black artist struggling for creative autonomy and critical recognition in a White-run culture industry, and living with the damaging psychological consequences of existing between seemingly incompatible worlds. Drawing specifically on the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe’s writings on Blackness, the chapter discusses the religious and moral meanings of Ganja and Hess from the perspectives of its lead characters and the lives of the actors who played them.

The hardback edition of Scared Sacred has now soled out, but the paperback is available to buy here.

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