Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Black Women In Zombie Film & Television History

Madame Sul-Te-Wan as a housekeeping
mammy in Revenge Of The Zombies (1943)
There are many interpretations and realized concepts of the zombie in decades of consumed media. What we're told today by cash grabbing spin off's and zombie-themed cruises (which still floors me) is that the creature is more pervasive than ever.

Zombies, as a concept have roots in non-fiction; "depictions of Voodoo and zombies drew on first-hand accounts written by Europeans and Americans." The 1929 travelogue, The Magic Island by William Seabrook is a rather one-sided, racist account of his two year time in Haiti living with a Voodoo priestess where he apparently is let in on "the secret formulas for bringing forth the undead". His credibility was received because of his maintenance of the status quo: white supremacist declarations of Black religious practices as essentially evil.

Zombies didn't make a significant splash as a theme until 1932's White Zombie, a film preoccupied with the concept of raising the dead to do one's bidding. While Black women are "largely absent" here, The Love Wanga (1936) starring Fredi Washington as Klili Gordon as a biracial plantation owner who is fueled by jealousy when the white male object of her affection marries a white woman. With Voodoo, she conjures 13 zombies to terrify and ultimately kill the "pure, white" bride.

In other zombie-themed films of the 1930's to the 1950's, Black women continued their mainstay as malicious "natives", maids, and general house servants to the white characters who were centralized in these stories. It really isn't until the 1960's and 70's that we see an imagined resurgence of zombies in film.

We celebrate Duane Jones (Night Of The Living Dead) and Ken Foree (Dawn Of The Dead) with good reason. They're two Black characters in the sea of horror scholarship that are talked about the most next to Tony Todd in regards to the Black presence in zombie cinema. But I wanted to take a moment to provide a snapshot of Black women in this arena. As time has passed, representations have varied much more than their Black male counterparts.

Zombie Game Changers

 The Brides of Baron Semedi/Diana 'Sugar' Hill (Marki Bey) Sugar Hill


In Sugar Hill, Bey's 'Sugar' pleads assistance of the zombie army from Mama Maltrese and Baron Semedi only to incite her revenge on racists thugs who murdered her man in a shake down of his club. The use of voodoo and zombies are noted as "heroes" who "come to represent a pro-Black cadre" of men and women "doing away with 'Whitey'".

Zombie Slayers

Michonne (Danai Gurira) The Walking Dead


Michonne stands out as a bit of a serendipitous game changer with her "walker pets", realizing that they acted as a repellent from the mindless motives of the dead. But it's her arc that has been the most intriguing thing about her over the past three seasons. As commendably cautious as she's been, the realization that remaining too concealed can cost the lives of those she cares about most. Her expertise with a katana remains an enviable trait as much as it is a necessity for survival.

Solitaire (Carla Greene) Shadow: Dead Riot


Solitaire's role is critical to the motives of the antagonist, Shadow (played by Tony Todd) as she's a rather hardened character by every test she's put through, even her battle with massive hordes of the undead.

Selena (Naomie Harris) 28 Days Later


Another well known and popular favorite amongst genre and fans of the zombie narrative, Harris' Selena was a fresh presence in this 2002 film as the lead pushed to extreme measures to survive not only the infected but the rancid aftermath of the living as well. She makes you feel like you two can wield a machete with a urgent balance of detachment as well as care.

Warren (Kellita Smith) Z Nation


Easily one of televisions best kept secrets, Z Nation's Warren is the character that many are asking for on their quest for diversity in genre media. More on that later...

Vanilla (Brittany Gael Vaughn) Zombies Vs. Strippers


Vanilla is front and center and ready to battle when patrons of The Tough Titty are ogling about with no pulse. It's a comedy that should be taken lightly.

Zombie Impersonators

Mieko Hillman in Flight Of The Living Dead


Sarah Amankwah in World War Z


The Walking Dead

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