Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee and Bill Gunn
Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaarah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Felicia Pearson, Katherine Borowitz, Joie Lee, and Naté Bova
For a long time, it wasn’t easy to see Ganja & Hess, especially not as originally released. The distributors pulled it from theaters, recut it (removing around a half an hour from its run time), and re-released it as Blood Couple. A complete print was donated to MoMA and has had a few releases, most recently though Kino Lorber. I mention this because because by doing a remake of the film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Spike Lee essentially brought Bill Gunn’s version to a wider audience.
Written and directed by Bill Gunn
Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam L. Waymon, and Leonard Jackson
Vampires are associated with Eastern Europe in American film, despite the rich world culture of similar mythologies. Even in the classic blaxploitation horror Blacula, African prince Mamuwalde is turned into a vampire by a very traditional Dracula. Almost as though in answer to the Euro-centrism of Blacula’s origin, the following year saw the release of Bill Gunn’s Ganja &a Hess. The importance of this film cannot be understated, as it presented a very different model of black filmmaking amidst a glut of crass cash-ins.