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…

Read the entire article here.

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