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Indie film Bluegum stakes its claim on Black Panther Party vampire lore

todayMarch 6, 2024

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Indie film Bluegum stakes its claim on Black Panther Party vampire lore

In the ever-evolving landscape of independent cinema, an upcoming, crowdfunded film is poised to challenge conventions, spark meaningful conversations, and push the boundaries of storytelling. “Bluegum,” the ambitious and thought-provoking project conceived by writer and director Poetry Salaam, takes an unconventional approach to exploring the complexities of the Black experience by reimagining the iconic Black Panther Party as a group of vampires during the turbulent 1970s.

The project’s successful Kickstarter campaign is a testament to the growing appetite for diverse voices in cinema and the power of grassroots support in bringing unique stories to life. It also highlights the scarcity of Black-led projects in horror and science fiction genres, historically dominated by white creators and narratives.

The underrepresentation of Black voices in these genres can be attributed to a variety of factors, including systemic barriers to entry, limited access to funding and resources, and a lack of opportunities for Black filmmakers to showcase their talents. Additionally, there has been a long-standing perception that Black audiences are not interested in these genres, despite evidence to the contrary, such as the success of films like “Get Out” and “Black Panther.”

Bluegum revolves around Elijah Mackelhannen, a 16-year-old vampire fledgling who finds himself at a crossroads on his last day alive. Elijah is expected to be initiated into his brother Tyrone’s violent vampire gang, a path that seems predetermined for him. However, fate intervenes when Wes, a charismatic leader reminiscent of Huey P. Newton, announces a rally to support the lettuce boycott of the early 1970s.

Initially reluctant to get involved, Elijah finds himself drawn to the rally when he spots Anita, a beautiful activist who captures his heart. As he follows her to the event, Elijah becomes increasingly torn between his loyalty to his brother and his growing desire to stand up for what he believes in. This internal conflict is further complicated by the fact that Elijah must feed before midnight to transform into a vampire, adding a sense of urgency and desperation to his journey.

As the story unfolds, Elijah becomes more deeply entangled in the world of the vampire Black Panther Party, a group dedicated to the upliftment, protection, and defense of the Black community. Led by the enigmatic Wes, this group stands in stark contrast to Tyrone’s gang, which engages in violence for sport and personal gain. Elijah must navigate both groups’ complex politics and relationships while grappling with his identity and the weight of his impending transformation.

Meanwhile, Elijah’s relationship with Anita blossoms, providing a heartfelt and tender counterpoint to the film’s more intense and action-packed moments. Through their love story, “Bluegum” explores themes of Black love, joy, and the power of human connection in the face of adversity.

As the lettuce boycott rally turns violent, Elijah finds himself at the center of a growing conflict between the vampire Black Panther Party and the authorities. With time running out and his hunger for blood growing stronger, Elijah must make a choice that will determine not only his fate but also the future of his community.

Throughout the film, “Bluegum” uses its supernatural elements as a metaphor for the struggles and triumphs of the Black Power movement. By reimagining the Black Panthers as vampires, the film highlights the way in which the group was demonized and feared by the mainstream while also celebrating their resilience, ingenuity, and unwavering commitment to justice.

As the story reaches its climax, Elijah must confront not only the external threats posed by the authorities and rival vampire gangs but also the internal demons that have haunted him throughout his journey. In the end, “Bluegum” is a story of self-discovery, love, and the power of standing up for one’s beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

At its core, “Bluegum” is a love story—celebrating Black love in all its forms. The film explores the transformative power of romantic and communal love in the face of adversity and oppression. Elijah’s journey is not just one of self-discovery but also a testament to the strength and resilience of the Black community. Through his relationships with Anita and the vampire Black Panther Party members, Elijah learns the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs and the power of unity in the face of systemic injustice.

Director Poetry Salaam’s vision for “Bluegum” is rooted in the rich tapestry of the Black 70s aesthetic, which she describes as embodying “beauty, power, elegance, and love.” Salaam’s commitment to authenticity and representation is evident in her desire to create a film that entertains and shines a light on the marginalized communities often overlooked in classic horror and fantasy films. By infusing the vampire genre with the revolutionary spirit of the Black Panther Party, Salaam aims to bring fantasy to a world that often denies its existence, particularly for people of color.

The themes explored in “Bluegum” evoke memories of the groundbreaking 1972 blaxploitation horror classic “Blacula,” which grapples with the intersection of race, identity, and vampirism. “Blacula” tells the story of Prince Mamuwalde, an African nobleman who seeks the help of Count Dracula to end the slave trade. Instead, Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and imprisons him in a coffin for centuries. When Mamuwalde is freed in 1970s Los Angeles, he must navigate a world that is familiar and alien to him while coming to terms with his newfound powers and the thirst for blood that consumes him.

Like “Bluegum,” “Blacula” uses the vampire trope as a lens to examine the Black experience and the struggle for power and representation. Mamuwalde’s journey as a vampire can be seen as a metaphor for the Black experience in America, with his supernatural powers serving as both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, his vampirism grants him incredible strength and abilities, allowing him to resist and fight back against the oppressive forces that seek to control him. On the other hand, his thirst for blood can be seen as a symbol of the way in which systemic racism and oppression can turn marginalized people against each other, perpetuating cycles of violence and trauma.

Throughout the film, Mamuwalde grapples with questions of identity and belonging, struggling to reconcile his African heritage with his new existence as a vampire in America. This theme of double consciousness, of being caught between two worlds and two identities, is common in Black literature and film, and “Blacula” explores it with both nuance and horror.

However, while “Blacula” is a groundbreaking film in its own right, “Bluegum” takes the concept of the Black vampire a step further by incorporating the political and social commentary of the Black Panther Party. By reimagining the Black Panthers as vampires, “Bluegum” examines the Black experience through a supernatural lens and directly engages with the history and legacy of one of the most important social movements of the 20th century.

In doing so, “Bluegum” adds depth and relevance to its narrative, using the vampire mythos to explore themes of resistance, liberation, and the fight for justice. Where “Blacula” is primarily focused on the personal journey of its protagonist, “Bluegum” widens its scope to encompass the larger struggle for Black liberation and how it is both complicated and enriched by the bonds of love, family, and community.

One of the most striking aspects of “Bluegum” is its unapologetic celebration of Blackness. Salaam’s film embraces Black joy, love, and community in a genre often associated with darkness and despair. This emphasis on positive representation is a refreshing departure from the stereotypical portrayals of Black characters in horror films, offering a nuanced and empowering narrative that resonates with audiences yearning for authentic representation.

The successful Kickstarter campaign for “Bluegum” is a testament to the growing demand for diverse stories in the science fiction and horror genres. Despite the rich history of Black speculative fiction, from the works of Octavia Butler to the Afrofuturist movement, Black-made films from these genres remain relatively rare. Ultimately, “Bluegum” represents an exciting new voice in independent film that is unafraid to take risks and challenge convention in pursuing meaningful, impactful storytelling.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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