By Guest Contributor Jenn, cross-posted from The Nerds of Color
I don’t mean the zombie survivors. I mean the zombies.
Ironically, The Walking Dead is pretty racially diverse compared to other zombie movies in the genre. Remember Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake? There are, in that case, two sole surviving Black men, although one (Mekhi Phifer’s Andre) is singularly stupid. Meanwhile, there are no other notable characters of any other race or ethnicity among the survivors. And how about 28 Days Later ? Sure, the main female protagonist is a Black woman (Selena, played by Naomie Harris ), but why is she the main cast’s only character of colour despite the fact that London boasts a 20% Black and 20% Asian population . In fact, most zombie movies are typically populated by an almost all-White (with a token or two) surviving cast; against this backdrop, I’m relatively pleased by the racial diversity of The Walking Dead, One-Black-Man-At-a-Time rule notwithstanding (more on this later in the Walker Week).
But, here’s my gripe: where the heck are all the zombies of colour?
The Walking Dead is set in Atlanta, Georgia, a city that is 52% Black, 10% Latino and 5% Asian. Yet, we’re supposed to believe that this is the zombie horde that greets Rick when he makes his Atlanta run?!?
Or, how about this horde, which attacks the survivors in Season 2 when they are stranded on a highway just outside of Atlanta?
I’ll give you that maybe in more rural parts of Georgia you might realistically face a horde that looks something like this.
But in downtown Atlanta? Come on.
And, why is it that I haven’t seen a single Asian zombie? Okay, granted I haven’t really been looking, but still. I mean, what happened to Glenn’s zombified parents? Did the zombie virus just skip over the entirety of Gwinnett County’s Korean population or Atlanta’s Chinatown Mall?
Sure, part of Sunday night’s Season 4 premiere episode played with the question of whether or not Walkers are people (hint, they’re not). Of course, this begs the (only semi-facetious) question of whether or not “former people” retain their racial identity when they are reanimated from the dead. Obviously, the undead are marginally less concerned with equal access to economic opportunity as they are more concerned with equal access to the fleshy parts of your brain, but nonetheless, a zombie of colour is still a zombie of colour (at least insofar as viewers tend to racialize characters we see on TV). And, if The Walking Dead is trying to situate their survivors in a semi-realistic, post-apocalyptic world, than why are there so disproportionately few zombies of colour? Or, at least, why are there so few actors of colour playing zombies?
I’m sure there’s some totally reasonable explanation. Like, maybe zombie makeup looks better on White skin, which is why Black zombies look so completely unterrifying and unconvincing on The Walking Dead.
Or, maybe there just aren’t that many Black extras out there who are so hungry for work that they’re willing to sit through hours of makeup just for a few seconds of on-screen action shuffling towards the camera going “argghh.” Although, personally, I find that explanation a little hard to believe.
Or, there’s another explanation: maybe this is a deliberate choice on the part of The Walking Dead producers. Maybe — just maybe — the reason why there are so few zombies of colour in The Walking Dead is because people of colour have some sort of innate immunity to zombification? Or, maybe zombies are racist, and won’t bite people of colour? Maybe the big reveal of Season 4 is that actually most people of colour in The Walking Dead world carry the genetic codes that will one day lead to a zombie cure. After all, did we ever see zombie T-Dog? I think not. Clearly, T-Dog escaped the Prison in Season 3 and is now leader of his own all-minority faction of survivors, completely unconcerned by the risk of zombification (cue the surprise return of Iron E Singleton as a cast regular, anyone?)
Heck, maybe when the Prison falls this season, the survivors should make haste to the clearly safest place in all of Georgia: wherever T-Dog is. Because, he’s probably doing just fine.