As our interview continued, conversations turned to the future and to the other passions in Mr. Reddick’s life. I have admired, for a long time, the fact that he lives his life as a gay man openly for all to see even though that’s not always popular for the “suits in Hollywood” especially because he tries to write LGBT characters into as many of his scripts as he can. He points out, though, that it’s never been an issue for him in the fan community in horror.
“i came out to my family in college so it was never a big deal for me and the horror community has always been very supportive,” he said. “But the suits get a bit squeamish sometimes.”
As an example, he started telling me about making his film Tamara. In the initial drafts the main protagonist, Chloe, was coming out as a lesbian to her family in a subplot of the film. At one point, her parents even try to kill her to keep her secret hidden. This is the ultimate fear for every LGBTQ youth in the world, that their families will react violently to their coming out. As shooting neared, however, the producers informed him that they didn’t have the necessary funding to hire actors for the parents and because they couldn’t have the parents in there, they cut the subplot entirely. This left awkward scenes between Chloe and her best guy friend who pines for her unexplained and left audiences unsure why she wasn’t actually dating him to begin with.
In another scene later in the film, Tamara in her bid for revenge singles out two young jocks who have raped other young women. She casts a spell over them and in the script, forces one to rape the other as punishment. The day before shooting, Reddick received a call asking exactly how graphic he intended that to be.
“I told them it’s not supposed to be a porno and it’s not supposed to be sexy. It’s supposed to be a violent and terrible so just show what you would show if it were a woman being raped,” he explained. “When I finally saw the film we got to that scene and I’m like ‘You’re fucking kidding me!’. They sort of kiss and then they’re in a bed under the sheets with their clothes on and I’m calling and ask ‘What the fuck?’ They told me that the actors were really nervous and that one of them was the producer’s son so they filmed what they could and I’m thinking ‘Oh for crying out loud! If they can’t handle it, let a gay actor have the role!'”
The writer admits that his visibility is something he feels important, however. He’s received calls and letters over the years from young men and women who admit that finding out the guy who wrote their favorite horror film was gay actually kept them from committing suicide. And so, he continues to write the characters and to fight for their inclusion in the films made from his scripts even when his friends and colleagues ask him why.
“I would rather lose all my fans if it meant one person didn’t kill themselves because of my visibility,” he stated. “People don’t realize that even though it is 2017 there are still LGBT kids out there who commit suicide all the time, get gay bashed. We’re really being seen and the world seems to be pushing back against us. Now we have a vice president who believes in gay conversion therapy and there’s still that backlash. Unfortunately there are people out there who think that if there’s a gay character in a movie unless they’re completely self-loathing and finds Jesus and becomes straight then you’re promoting homosexuality. There’s still a section of society out there who feels that way. Even if it’s just a gay character who’s just walking by they’re all, ‘Oh my god, they’re promoting homosexuality.’ And I’m all fuck you, we exist and we’re not all miserable.”
This brought us to a second area that the writer is extremely passionate about: the inclusion of more people of color in horror films. In fact, his latest film set to shoot in May is called Superstition. Not only is it the writer’s first slasher film, but the cast is also made up of predominantly African American and Latino actors. It’s a rarity among mainstream horror films and it might even be the first from a major studio. And as such, it hasn’t been easy getting made.
“You’ll hear from studio heads that if a movie has an African American lead that it’s really hard to sell overseas because it is automatically labeled ‘urban,'” Jeffrey explained. “An action movie starring Will Smith? No problem. But a horror film with a black leading actor or actress runs into problems every time. But I’ve been explaining for years that if you cast an African American leading actor or actress in a horror film, horror fans will see it so long as it’s good. That’s the key”
He points out, though, that things are changing, even if the changes come slowly.
“Thank God for Shonda Rhimes for writing such great shows and including such diverse casts. And I think with Jordan Peele and Get Out it’s going to change the landscape. It’s like “Oh, we can can have a black lead! We’re gonna surround him with a WHOLE bunch of white people, though, just to be safe.’ But that’s okay…baby steps.”
As our conversation ended, and I tapped END on my phone, it was apparent to me that I’d spent an hour chatting with a man who knows how to make those changes. Someone who could successfully do what he intended. The self-described kid who was a hillbilly in the hills of Kentucky has grown into a self-assured articulate writer of scary tales. I’ve no doubt that his continued quiet persistence will no doubt break down a few more walls before he’s done.