By Sherronda J. Brown
Writer’s Note: This essay contains spoilers for The Girl With All The Gifts
The zombie narrative in Western horror has always been rooted in fear of the destruction of the dominant white society, the disruption of the white heteropatriarchal family unit, and the downfall of post-colonial civilization as a whole. Since its (mis)appropriative beginnings, Western zombie narratives have placed Otherness at the center, removing the zombie from its original lore in Haitian/African religious traditions, and constructing Blackness as a monstrosity and a direct threat to whiteness.
Given this history, the zombie can never be divorced from its racial Otherness in the horror genre.
A fair amount of zombie narratives refuse restoration. They do not return to whatever normality is established at the beginning of the story or prior to the introduction, but The Girl With All The Gifts sets itself apart by being explicit in its message to intentionally and eternally disrupt the normality of the world. And having a Black central character in the zombie-child Melanie in this adaptation of the novel adds more gravity to its conclusion, in which she declares that the “hungries” (zombies) will now have dominion over the world.
It’s not over. It’s just not yours anymore.
Melanie may be small, wide-eyed, and soft-spoken, but these few words, tumbling out from the lips of a Black girl child, would strike fear into the heart of any white supremacist, because they point directly to their most deep-seated anxiety: the end of whiteness.
This zombie girl is the hero that I have been waiting for.
I sit and imagine how chilling and breathtaking it would be to exist in her shoes, to look into the disquieted eyes of whiteness and say, “This world is no longer yours. You’ve had your reign. This world now belongs to the Other, who hereafter will be Other no more.”
The Girl With All The Gifts dares to imagine a happy ending for its monsters, and that is simply amazing. The ideal vision of white middle class life, stability, unity, and homeownership are continually decimated in zombie apocalypse narratives. The ravenous horde is imagined as a body with a single driving mission; to dismantle the established order, i.e. white supremacy.
To create a story in which this hierarchy becomes dismantled through the intentional actions of a Black child enhances the theme of decolonization that is already present in the zombie narrative.
White supremacists are horrified at the possibility of this becoming their reality and this fear is the motivating power behind the myth of white genocide. They enact violence, draft legislation, and whitewash histories, all the while trembling at the thought of being outnumbered by people of color and perhaps eventually smudged out entirely.
I call this panic apocalyptic whiteness –– a compulsory obsession with the white genocide mythos that is rooted in racism, xenophobia, and nationalism, often with violent retaliation against the idea of “diversity.”
Apocalyptic whiteness actively seeks to hinder, not only the prosperity, but survival of non-white people for fear of their own extinction; from ethnic cleansing and forced sterilization, to enslavement and concentration camps, to immigration bans and deportation. Borders are a tool of apocalyptic whiteness. As are prisons and immigrant detention centers. As are gerrymandered school districts. As are the suburbs. As is gentrification.
To white supremacists, a crescendo of Black and Brown people reads as the literal end of the world; as an apocalypse which will destabilize white society and interrupt the progress of whiteness.
This unease, among other things, contributed to the rise of Donald Trump. He was able to secure voters and supporters by placing an emphasis on strengthening borders to keep non-white people out of the U.S., and the people of color within it contained and subjugated.
But this is not limited to the United States. Racism and xenophobia were the driving forces behind Brexit, as white Europeans voted en masse for this anti-immigration policy. Canada’s imagined exceptionalism is upheld through stereotypes about the over-politeness of its people and has long been rumored to be free of the kind of racism visible in the rest of the world, but the country is also fraught with acts of racist and xenophobic violence in an effort to preserve whiteness in its borders.
Appealing to white fear is an old tool used to recruit members into white terrorist and supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and the “Alt-Right.” The collective dread of fabled white genocide is echoed in domestic terrorist Dylann Roof’s manifesto. His ardent racism, xenophobia, and white nationalism were evident in the words spoken before he opened fire in a historically significant Black church and murdered nine innocent people while they prayed. His actions were propelled by his obsessive preoccupation with the foreboding prospect of existing as part of a white minority. Apocalyptic whiteness.
At the core of this fear is a simple truth: white people are not necessarily afraid of being outnumbered by us, but they are terrified that we will treat them the same way that they have treated us.
White fragility, aggression, violence, petulance, and greed are all responses to the prospect of losing institutional power and privilege, a reality that they dread witnessing.
In the midst of all of this, The Girl With All The Gifts is a quiet apocalyptic wonder. Stunning, serene, and contemplative. Unlike any zombie narrative we’ve ever seen, in more ways than one. Its powerful conclusion feels refreshing and necessary in this political and social climate.
This beautiful zombie film unexpectedly delivers an omen for whiteness and the white supremacists who worship it. They may hold tight to their privilege, institutional power, and mythical supremacy until their hands are bloody and raw. But one day, whiteness will be usurped from its ill-gotten throne.