Myling of Sweden. Banshee of Ireland. Manananggal of the Philippines. Mami Wata of Nigeria. Ifrit of the Middle East. Domovoy of Russia. La Llorona of Mexico. Chudail of Pakistan. Wendigo of the First Nations. And the Yurei of Japan.
With the most commonly reported supernatural entity in the world being the ghost — in its varying forms from benevolent to malevolent — why is it that a chunk of North American and European television is whitewashed?
I’ve noticed it in the past, but I think it’s making its presence known to me in the wake of George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter.
Go through all your favourite TV programs. “Most Haunted”? Yvette Fielding and her crew are all white. “Ghost Adventures”? Zak Bagans and his team are of the vanilla persuasion. “Ghost Hunters”, “Paranormal State” and “Paranormal Lockdown” also follow suit.
Often times, the subject matter experts are also white, save for episodes that wander into Indigenous territories, such as the “Ghost Adventures” trip to Skinwalker Canyon.
You can’t necessarily justify having a white person discussing the Navajo belief of the skin-walker, known properly as yee naaldlooshii, and be called a subject matter expert.
The Western lens has often skewed many supernatural beliefs of those not belonging to the white perspective. The Wendigo is a perfect example of this. Through film (Ravenous) and video game (Until Dawn), the dark spirit is depicted as a gaunt, cannibalistic demon.
I remember an online conversation with my friend Michael D. White, Bear Clan of the Anishinaabeg, some years back. We were discussing the legend, as I wanted to do research for a lengthy feature on Fort Kent, Alta. and the occurrence of “Wendigo psychosis”.
Naturally, the topic of pop culture and movies came up. What resonated with me was how easily a belief can be warped.
“The problem with these stories is the heavily Christian and Western lens,” he wrote. “Horror movies and non-Indigenous views have created something out of this being that doesn’t represent our own beliefs about what it is and why it exists.”
For him, the Wendigo represents what happens when we give in to our self-interest and forget our role to those around us and to other people.
“We become consumed by our individual wants, needs and begin to consume others around us,” he wrote.
So, many beliefs have been skewed by this white, Christian lens here in North America. Not enough diverse voices are heard or are allowed to be heard, as Canadian storyteller John Robert Colombo opined to me during an interview.
He wrote a five-volume series called “The Native Series” that focused on the Wendigo, the Shaking Tent and other traditional stories from the Rama First Nation.
“What surprises me is that the Canadian public has so little interest in such material,” he wrote me in an email. “I had to publish the first editions of these works at my own expense.”
In Canada, I find the Indigenous voices are ignored when it comes to a good old-fashioned ghost story, but they’re not the only community. I recently watched the Shudder documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, and it’s the same thing.
It hasn’t been until films like Attack the Block, The Girl with All the Gifts and Get Out where we had a strong, independent black protagonist — who lives in the end.
When it comes to paranormal shows, all we have is two seasons of “Ghost Brothers” and the short-lived “Ghosts in the Hood”, and the latter of the two was more of a reality TV show with a collection of actors.
Dalen Spratt, Juwan Mass and Marcus Harvey are the investigators from “Ghost Brothers” and they provide a different perspective on locations like the Magnolia Plantation of Derry, La. and Rose Hall in Jamaica.
Diversity is much needed in alleged haunts such as these. I mean, do we really need to revisit Waverly Hills Sanatorium or Eastern State Penitentiary every time there’s a new show featuring an all-white cast and crew?
Even in Canada, I find there’s not much diversity in terms of the supernatural.
Canada’s contributions to the paranormal investigating world include “The Girly Ghosthunters” with a much younger Dana Newkirk of “Hellier” fame, “Beyond” hosted by Alannah Myles, “Psi Factor” with Dan Aykroyd and “Creepy Canada” with Terry Boyle.
We also co-produce tons of shows with American and British collaborators. But still, there’s not a lot of exploration of a multi-national country.
Why is the paranormal community predominantly white? That would be a solid deep dive for a future features piece.
Given our point in history, that investigation is warranted, because not only do black and Indigenous lives matter, but their views on the paranormal do too.
— PHOTO COURTESY DESTINATION AMERICA