Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ANOTHER ONE FOR THE FIRE: RACE AND THE AMERICAN ZOMBIE FILM PT. 1

Many of you out there follow me either on Twitter or Facebook and have been hearing my constant moaning about a paper I was instructed to write about zombies.  While many would jump at the opportunity to spend 10 pages blammering about how awesome the undead are, I was given the task of approaching the zombie genre as something more than horrifying.  I had to primarily discuss two films from the genre (one before the 50's and one after) and cite sources to help back up my claims. With a TON of help from Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror, I have decided to present to you (as a series) the finished essay.  Enjoy :D

Another One For The Fire: Race and the American Zombie Film


The evolution of the zombie film is a direct reflection of America’s changing attitudes towards race.  Born in a time when racism in popular culture was relatively acceptable, the zombie film has evolved as a direct correlation into an age where outright discriminatory behavior is socially permissible. 

Before the Cold War, there was a strong emphasis on fantasy and escapism in American cinema.  However, in a post World War II America, movies became more socially responsible.  The zombie sub-genre of horror films is no exception.  Brothers Victor and Edward Halperin spawned an entirely new creature in the midst of the Universal Studios explosion of movie monsters.  While big budget Frankenstein’s and nocturnal bloodsuckers were challenging sexual and social mores, the early zombie film was a safe haven to reinforce the discriminatory ideals by setting up a racial dynamic within a fantasy setting.  1932’s White Zombie is typical of the blatant racism that was commonplace in society at that time.  

Fast-forward to 1978 when a maverick director from Pittsburgh took away every ounce of fantasy and delivered us a slice of reality based Americana. Gone were the voodoo rituals, and the safe distance of time and place.  George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead completely revamped the modern zombie film forever, and exposed the ugly truth in human nature for what it really was.  Instead of reinforcing or exploiting the racial fears that white Americans possessed, he condemns them and even shames the viewer for feeling that way.  As the racial views of Americans evolved, so did the underlying message of the modern zombie film.  


TA-DA! All you get today was the introduction.  Hopefully I've peaked your interests at least slightly.  Come back the rest of this week for more installments!

5 comment(s):

B-Sol said...

Having had to wrack my own brain on many a paper like this, lo those many years ago, it was the least I could do to point a worthy soul as yourself in the right direction! More than I ever got, that's for sure lol

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Nice approach! It sounds like you're done with the essay, but if not (or if you are interested) you should read "Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead: George Romero, Feminism, and the Horror Film" by Barry Keith Grant (a genre scholar). The essay basically argues that the original movie positions white hegemony as the evil, while the remake positions patriarchy as the evil.

You can find the essay in the edited collection, The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film.

Trick or Treat Pete said...

I love what you've shared so far and can't wait to read more.
Racism in the zombie-genre, that's a fantastic subject to write about. It's such a sad fact that one of the "rules for surviving a horror film" was to not be a person of color, it was was just such a given that that person was gonna die and that it was lumped in with the "don't have sex", "don't do drugs", and "don't assume the killer is dead" rules.
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Breezmister said...

I find it amazing that two people see different views of the same movie.

"1932’s White Zombie is typical of the blatant racism that was commonplace in society at that time."

I see the good against bad, evil soulless against the Godly. Not the racism. Maybe the full moon is blinding me to the fear of the past sins of my grand fathers.... Any way, good luck with your paper....I know, back to my cage.

B-Sol said...

Breezmister, I think it's just a matter of great works of art, even pop art, being open to multiple forms of interpretation. Some people see Night of the Living Dead, for example, as an allegory for the Vietnam War, while to others it's nothing more than a simple zombie movie. Hold off judgment till you see all the parts of the whole, as BJ-C does a fine job of supporting her statements with evidence from primary and secondary sources.

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