Look! A Zombie! Race and Passing in ‘iZombie’

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-11-01 00:01Z by Steven

Look! A Zombie! Race and Passing in ‘iZombie’


Rukmini Pande
University of Western Australia

iZombie’spassing” narrative complicates its broader racial politics.

As the fall season of US TV swings into gear, the CW’s undead caper iZombie seems poised for an interesting second outing. Helmed by Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame), the show’s first season was received well by both critics and audiences, and was quickly renewed.

To recap briefly, the show follows Olivia (Liv) More (Rose McIver), a driven MD whose life is turned upside down when she is turned into a zombie. Now working in a morgue, Liv finds out that the brains she eats give her memories of the deceased persons’ lives, specifically, murder victims’ memories.

She teams up with police detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) to track down various killers, while also attempting to find a cure for zombie-ism (with her ally/boss, Ravi Chakrabarthi [Rahul Kohli]). She also has to try and outwit Blaine (David Anders), an ex-drug dealer turned zombie who has created a new business out of infecting influential people and controlling them through their desire for brains.

The show has garnered kudos for its interesting plot and diverse casting—Ravi is British-Indian, Clive is African-American, and Blaine has a number of non-white accomplices—yet its narrative choices end up complicating its broader racial politics…

…Passing and Survival

The practice of passing is a complex one but may be broadly seen as occurring when, as Brooke Kroeger explains, “people effectively present themselves as other than who they understand themselves to be” (Kroeger Passing: when people can’t be who they are. New York: Public Affairs; 2003: 7). This is a deliberate fashioning of identity presentation and has been practiced across demarcations of race, gender, sexuality, and sometimes religion. While the reasons that people attempt to pass are diverse, it’s most often a “strategy for managing stigma” (Einwohner, Rachel L. “Identity Work and Collective Action in a Repressive Context: Jewish Resistance on the “Aryan Side” of the Warsaw Ghetto.” in Identity Work in Social Movements. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; 2006: 121–139.126) and is employed in situations where being “outed” carries heavy consequences.

Interconnected to this is the acknowledgement that the ability to pass depends on various factors, including physical appearance, income, and community relations. As Allyson Hobbs writes in A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America (2014), to pass successfully a person must distance themselves from their community, and the community in turn must do the same. All these factors play into the narrative of iZombie at various points, but by making this a conversation about white bodies, it ignores the historical conditions of that construction, especially in America. In a culture where the raced body is always the one under scrutiny and most likely to suffer policing, the effects of structuring a narrative that places white bodies into that space without adequate critical engagement is dangerous…

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Passing Me By: African American Women and ‘Passing’ As a Film Genre

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2011-05-13 20:39Z by Steven

Passing Me By: African American Women and ‘Passing’ As a Film Genre


Matt Mazur, PopMatters Contributing Editor

Caught between two worlds, standing on a near-literal precipice with one foot in the African American experience, the other firmly in majority white culture, the protagonist of the passing film is confronted with an impossible choice: live in truth as a person of color or risk “passing” for white to gain societal advantage.

“Life is but a walking shadow,” wrote William Shakespeare in Macbeth. In film studies, we frequently consider the extreme contrast of light and dark, of noirish chiaroscuro designs that were born from the severe German expressionist lines. These are the “shadows” that highlight the pronounced differences between black and white, between coruscation and silhouette, between good and evil. The complex interplay between these two diametrically-opposing forces is one of the most essential technical elements of a film’s design, illuminating, reflecting and projecting the subconscious and highlighting implicit narrative themes in a visual language that aids the spectator’s understanding of the art as they read it. Nowhere is this essential cinematic contrast more apparent than upon the skins of characters in films about passing—a trope in which (usually female, usually biracial African American/Caucasian) pass for white, abandoning their black heritage and otherness to reap the benefits of whiteness. The light is the positive signifier, while the dark is the negative.

Until recently, this particular leitmotif was refracted bluntly in the way race dynamics were depicted in film in general. There were “black” films and “white” films, but rarely did any movie dare to highlight what life was like for any realistic scope of biracial characters who existed in true Jungian shadow-self, caught between these two worlds, standing on a near-literal precipice with one foot in African American experience, the other firmly in majority white culture, confronted with an impossible choice: live in truth as a person of color, be marginalized and treated like dirt, or risk “passing” for white to gain societal advantage. This concept was, from post-Reconstruction through the ‘60s, a much-discussed, weighty social issue, evidenced in the presence of the passing narrative in black and white art of the time, and it was brought most to social awareness in cinematic depictions, many of which proved to be financial and critical successes.

While racial passing seems outdated by today’s standards, and the very thought of a black person needing to pass for white actually smacks of racism, this essay repositions the importance of passing as a genre by looking at four key Hollywood films from the early-‘30s through the late-‘50s: two versions of Imitation of Life (John M. Stahl in 1934 and Douglas Sirk in 1959), Pinky (Elia Kazan, 1949), and Band of Angels (Raoul Walsh, 1957). We examine how race passing has become supplanted by other more socially acceptable sub-modes of the passing narrative (for example: the quintessential passing model now largely excludes race but focuses instead on gender and sexuality), but also how the distant ancestors of race passing can still somewhat insidiously found lurking unnamed in the world of contemporary film, from the extreme popularity of a biracial actress like Halle Berry (who has been nicknamed a “black Barbie” because of the way she conforms to standards of white female beauty) to the teasing, exoticized, and even sexually-festishized presence of the racially-ambiguous Mariah Carey in films such as Glitter (Vondie Curtis-Hall, 2001) and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009)…

Read the entire article here.

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