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White Zombies: Nightmares of Empire

Aug 19 — Sep 11, 2022

The zombie of American cinema has always proven especially adept at communicating specifically Black anxieties: a class of creatures, not alive and not quite dead, their bodies untethered from their own will, helplessly bound as they are to do the bidding of one sinister master. Historically inspired more by the paranoid colonial writings of William Seabrook in The Magic Island (1929) than the “zombi” of Haitian Vodou, the cinematic zombie has often unwittingly become a reflection of the monstrous evil that first wrought it. Thus, the cinematic zombie, although born of the African diaspora, may not be Black at all, but inescapably white—a creature that embodies the imperialistic project itself—one that seeks to reduce its denizens to mere bodies, violently charged to spread hegemony and empire. This series, beginning with the Bela Lugosi horror classic White Zombie (1932), pictured above, will chart the zombie’s propensity to mirror not just the horror of imperialism but also a multitude of its anxieties, from miscegenation to war. But even as the zombie over the years migrated away from its Black origins, the figure has struggled to become fully raceless or to shed its roots in imperialistic exploits. Guest programmed by Kelli Weston.

Read Weston’s exclusive MoMI essay Grave Legacies: The Racialized Origins of the Zombie Myth.

Note: Following the August 28 screening of The Ghost Breakers, there will be a panel with writer-researcher Yasmina Price and scholar Dr. David Bering-Porter, moderated by guest curator Kelli Weston. This panel will trace the zombie’s evolution from its symbolic, racialized origins to its current, more raceless depictions, exploring the figure’s rich political overtones, concerning the state, the body, labor, and much more.

White Zombie: Nightmares of Empire is the second in a series of film programs presented in conjunction with the exhibition Living with The Walking Dead, which will be on view from June 25, 2022–January 1, 2023.