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Vampires Vs. the Bronx (2020)

Ghouls are talking about the vampire film that aims to teach young people about the horrors of gentrification! Kat explains the many ways in which gentrification and redlining are harmful to black and brown communities. Gabe compares this cute kid's film to the UK film, Attack the Block and more.

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Gentrification: The Systemic Erasure of Black Communities & History

Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Today we’ll be talking about Vampires vs. the Bronx, and the very NOT subtle callouts of gentrification, redlining, and whyte people’s long history of erasing black history. What we see in the Vampires vs. the Bronx is another example of whyte people sucking the life and culture out of BIPOC communities and this time as literal vampires. Many have heard of gentrification as it’s a common newspaper headline or term used when “well-to-do” whyte people invade already well established BIPOC communities and “save” them by bringing in hipster stores dedicated to selling a random non-essential item like butter or typewriters at exorbitant prices. The big thing that people know is that gentrification results in the outpricing of communities, raises in rent, and cost of living for that area, and buy-outs of community houses and businesses to make way for “change”.

There’s a lot of things that influence this, and it’s often seen in neighborhoods that were previous ‘redlined’, a now illegal practice that is defined as “the systematic denial of various services or goods by federal government agencies, local governments, or the private sector either directly or through the selective raising of prices. This is often manifested by placing strict criteria on specific services and goods that often disadvantage poor and minority communities.” (pulled from Wikipedia). Essentially areas where black families and other POC groups lived were deemed dangerous or unlivable and unsafe for whyte people to do business. Now those places are being targeted by big real estate companies as cheap real estate opportunities, and the people who established communities in these areas are forced out by this blatant systemic racism.

In an article in the NY Times titled The Death of the Black Utopia, written by Brent Staples, he claims a historical embrace of “willful amnesia” when it comes to the erasure of black communities in New York City. He’s specifically referring to the Seneca Village, an epicenter of black political power in Manhattan during the mid-19th century. A community that was destroyed through intentional eviction of 1,600 people who lived on the land designated to become central park’s western edge. Despite the established community, filled with schools, homes, businesses and more, real estate interests, and the press set the state for what James Baldwin would later describe as “Negro removal” and defamed the flourishing enclave as a “shantytown” and “nigger village.” This act, despite the fact that it was published in the press and was documented, was basically forgotten less than 15 years later. The story had been eclipsed by the common cultural ‘willful amnesia” that has cut Black achievements out of history for years.

If you think of Tulsa, Juneteenth, and other intentional erasures of Black history, news of this isn’t shocking but is angering. This is something not unique to only Seneca Village, and is something that real estate developers have tried to do to countless Black communities across New York City. Along with just defamation in the press to justify these acts, there is a long history of racially motivated domestic terrorism acts against Black communties by whyte citizens. I recommend reading the article, and watching the youtube video that shines some light on this history, as I cannot cover it all in the time allotted and it’s a necessary read. This is something that took place in the 1800s so is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NYC’s long history of erasing Black communities. This country has a trend of intentionally segregating and disenfranchising Black and POC communities for whyte benefit, and that history extends into current times.

What does this have to do with Vampires vs. the Bronx? There are countless call-outs of gentrification throughout the film that are so on the nose it made researching for this episode pretty easy. Gentrification stems from segregation, redlining, and erasure of POC communities. Now, redlining didn’t end as a practice until 1968 when the Fair Housing bill was passed. The redlining laws are still actively hurting these communities. In an article in the Washington Post titled Redlining Was Banned 50 Years Ago. It’s Still Hurting Minorities Today written by Tracey Jan, there’s a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, that shows “that a vast majority of neighborhoods marked ‘hazardous’ in red ink on maps drawn by federal home owners’ loan Corp from 1935-1939 are today much more likely than other areas to be comprised of lower-income minority residents”. The article goes on to quote Jason Richardson, director of research at the NCRC, a consumer advocacy group “It’s as if some of these places have been trapped in the past, locking neighborhoods into concentrated poverty”.

These neighborhoods were mostly comprised of African Americans, Catholics, Jewish people, and immigrants from Asia and Southern Europe. They were deemed ‘undesirable’, and a researcher from the NCRC named Bruce Mitchell described it as “anyone who was not northern-European white was considered to be a detraction from the value of the area”. We see this impact of redlining in areas like Flint, Michigan, an area famously known for unclean water. There are many areas that became populated with minority groups and low-income residents after middle-class white flight took place, moving white people to suburbs and out of cities.

In Baltimore a 2015 study of home and small-business lending found that race, more than income impacted mortgage lending in the city. Lending was greater in neighborhoods with larger white populations, and banks making more than twice as many mortgage loans to whites than Black Americans. A study researching 30 cities for patterns of gentrification, where once redlined neighborhoods showed an increase in median home value and educational attainment between 2000 and 2010. While gentrification increased the income level of previously redlined communities, and decreased the segregation between white and Black Americans, there was an increase in economic inequality between newcomers and those who historically lived there. In fact, longtime residents of these redlined areas are commonly pushed out of these communities when the areas’ economic fortunes reverse. Rent increases make it impossible for the long time residents of these communities to remain in the area. Mitchell, who was quoted previously said “Is gentrification promoting sustainable desegregation? Or is it just a movement towards increased segregation in the next census period?”.

How I interpret this is whyte people returning to their colonizing roots by going into communities they previously deemed unlivable and then claiming to save these areas with their presence. The reality is they are actively hurting communities that they’ve BEEN hurting for hundreds of years while simultaneously claiming to be their savior. AKA it’s messed up, and it’s largely what the film is trying to call out. Similar to Get Out, sometimes there aren’t any good whyte people, and white women aren’t immune to hurting black communities. If anything the main vampire masquerading as an ally, pretending to care about communities that they’re actively destroying is the most gentrifier thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve met countless women just like this, at schools that I’ve worked at in Philadelphia. Impact over intention y’all.


Media from this week's episode:

Vampires Are Not Afraid (2020) Director: Ozmany Rodriguez

Summary by IMDB: A group of young friends from the Bronx fight to save their neighborhood from gentrification...and vampires.

Vampires Vs. the Bronx: Gentrification for Kids!

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Vampires Vs. the Bronx is a fun kid’s movie that seeks to educate young people on gentrification and to love where you’re from. It’s a film with a good deal of heart and it means well, only to fall short in many ways. I can’t help but to compare this film to Attack the Block. You’ll remember from our Aliens episode early last year that Attack the Block was an instant favorite. John Boyega and co, fight against alien invaders but also confront many toxic and problematic issues in their community along the way. Vampires Vs. the Bronx however, misses the honesty and purpose that Attack had. I went into this movie with a lot of hope and left sorely disappointed. If you are looking to scratch your youth inspires revolution itch, you won’t find it here. I ain’t even lyin’ bruv. Trust.

Something I did love about this film was the afro-latinx community featured in the film. I got strong Miles Morales vibes from Into the Spiderverse and although Lil Mayor was sweet, he didn’t have Miles’ charm. However, I still loved the bilingual world I was dropped into. The brief glimpses we get of the environment was genuine and sweet. What I found myself hoping for throughout the film was that this neighborhood rise up and fight the vampires directly, as the title alludes to. And in a way, we get something like that in the end. Although, it felt a bit more like the ending of People Under the Stairs with the neighborhood showing up for Pointdexter but still kind of missing the emotion and impact of that scene. I wanted more from the moms or I wanted them oddly missing the way parents seem to be in most kid-adventure movies.

The best part of this film was actually the use of live streams with the character Gloria. She does not hesitate to ask questions or address the concerns in her neighborhood. I wish we got more of her character or seen her fight back since she knows so much. But like the other female characters in this film, she was left out and given no real strength. The supposed love interest??? Had a great line about being Haitian so therefore unafraid of vampires which was exciting since we often overlook other cultures when we talk about vampires and witches.

The kids themselves were also a bit too cardboard cut-out for me. I wasn’t engrossed in them as I have been with other kids in horror such as Attack the Block, Tigers Are Not Afraid or IT. These kids were normal enough but they lacked the spark that makes them special. Other than having an understanding of gentrification, these kids were average. They never appeared vulnerable, flawed or showed any growth. Even Bobby who is fighting against his impending future of walking in his father’s footsteps. (We get a one off line aimed to hurt Bobby about how his father died by gun violence but it didn’t give me enough time to feel anything.) Unlike the kids in Attack the Block, again sorry to compare, who are introduced to us while committing a crime and are later revealed to be involved in questionable activities that they were proud of - Bobby didn’t show any emotion towards or against this gang. Even his discussion with his mom felt off. Why didn’t she care more? I think of the boll in First Purge, Isaiah. In both Attack the Block and First Purge, those lifestyles and decisions were heavy and not villainized or romanticized but acknowledged the complexity of it. In Attack, we get a monologue from Boyega about how the aliens could’ve been sent by the government. They already poured guns and drugs in, so why not? This film, for all its in-your-face political statements missed the sincerity of this neighborhood that was being hunted and attacked long before the vampires showed up.

In an article on Wired titled, Vampires vs. the Bronx Is a Kids' Movie About Class Warfare by Emma Grey Ellis there is discussion of the use of vampire monsters in film as a whole. We’ve covered vampires before and discussed the nuances of being a forever super-emotional human and what effect is has on romantic relationships. But similar to Zombies, these fanged beasts can serve many purposes on screen.

Vampire stories seem to do best in times of economic downturn. They peaked first around the Great Depression with the classic old Hollywood films, and then again in the 1960s and ’70s, when recession (and the Cold War) made an Eastern European villain especially appealing. Twilight hit theaters in 2008, just in time for the financial crisis. Maybe this happens because the Dracula story can be understood as a kind of class struggle. Karl Marx certainly read it that way. Capital is soaked with bloody vampire metaphors. “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks,” Marx writes. So maybe vampires trend when middle and working class people feel like the rich are trying to suck the life out of them in one way or another.

Zombie films tend to erupt during certain times of crisis related to epidemics (I imagine we’ll be getting many zombie films in the next few years) or war. Whereas zombies represent our fear of conformity and mindless labor. Vampires, as described by Emma Grey Ellis seem to exist as a placeholder for the larger villain which isn’t ourselves but rather, those in power.

Emma continues to say, The innovation of Vampires vs. the Bronx is that not only are the vampires emblematic of class tensions, they’re also evidence of how racism props up those systems of social and economic oppression. The vampires are extremely white, and blond to boot: the main vamps are Blockparty Becky and a guy who dresses like he’d be a little too into the Classics. They aren’t just real estate moguls—the landed gentry of our age—they’re gentrifying real estate moguls specifically targeting neighborhoods and people of color because they think no one will care if they disappear.

And I do appreciate the unabashed bold approach to exclusively white vampires. Like Blood Quantum, it doesn’t even try to hold back and call out the real villains. We know from the beginning that Blockparty Becky is no good. I yelled to Kat while we were watching that she was very much a Rose from Get Out character. My alarm bells were ringing. It does work to address concerns and given this is a children’s film, I think it’s a great tool to teach about gentrification - to white kids. Because the children represented in this film already know about this problem and I don’t know if they’d feel seen (though I was giddy from the use of Adobo as a weapon!). Will they see themselves as heroes, able to combat the white, monstrous vampires or will they feel neglected all the same?


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