the girl with all the gifts, sitting on bench with a mask over her face

**= mild spoilers ahead

The world that we live in is brimming with various forms of oppression, all of which can and do intersect. Often, it is the younger generation which must lead the way forward, to see the direction that the world is going in, the world left to them by those whom are older and should be wiser, and decide that a change should be made for the better. In this post-apocalyptic zombie thriller, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) find herself in an unbelievable situation, in a frightening new world, and rises to the occasion beautifully. But this isn’t just because Melanie is a child, with all the innocent wisdom and precociousness of youth. Melanie is… different.

This dystopia presents us with a world that isn’t as black and white as human vs zombie, because there is an in-between, and Melanie is part of that group. Melanie and children like her aren’t considered human, they are infected with the zombie virus, and crave flesh, but are also able to feel, imagine, reason, and plan like humans. They are simultaneously both and neither, with a foot in both worlds. Melanie and her peers are the subjects of ridicule, fear, and even  medical testing in the bunker that they call home. The children are taught by their teacher, the compassionate Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton) for a few hours each day, then brought back to tiny, windowless cells. This is the only life they have ever known. The children know that they’re different, but they don’t know why.

When chaos strikes the facility in the form of a mass zombie attack, Melanie becomes the only shot at survival for her human caretakers, the people who have provided for her and largely despised and misunderstood her for her entire life. Although Melanie goes above and beyond to use everything she’s been taught and her natural instincts to keep them safe, it simply isn’t good enough. Melanie can’t save everyone. More importantly, the humans have little regard for all that Melanie does. She still isn’t seen as one of them, and treated accordingly. Her presence is largely tolerated by the group because Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) wants to use her blood to synthesize a cure for the zombie virus, a cure which would annihilate both zombies and “others”, like Melanie and children like her.

Melanie is faced with an impossible choice. She can help a group of humans, which include the teacher who loves her dearly, but will never truly understand her, and allow them to use her as a tool for the perpetuation of their species, or she can do what they have failed to do- protect herself. When faced with the unshakeable truth that she will only ever be truly useful to the humans as an ingredient in their “cure,” Melanie’s human and zombie identities must align to make a choice.

Besides being an incredible take on the outbreak of the zombie virus, by showcasing an airborne fungus and not a medicine gone wrong, The Girl with All the Gifts is incredibly thought-provoking in myriad ways. In Melanie, we see the result of years of internalized self-loathing, the deep shame of being told her entire life that what she is is wrong, scary, and dangerous. She is both zombie and human, but rather than try to get these two identities to behave in one accord, her human caretakers would rather highlight her zombie identity and dismiss her humanity to boot. She and her peers aren’t treated like children, even mischievous children, but handled like bombs which will go off at any moment. They are accustomed to being feared and disrespected by people who want to solve the “problem” they are, people so desperate to return to the way things used to be, that they refuse to embrace this uncertain new world, a world where these children might very well be the next stage in human evolution.

One can’t ignore the parallel between the way that Melanie is treated and the way that new cultures, races, and ethnic groups have been treated  throughout history when they were “discovered” by toxic cultures with presumed superiority. We can also draw parallels about how Black people are treated in a White supremacist system, as well as how mixed raced Black people are often told that the more White they look and the more that they align themselves with Whiteness, the more worthy they are. Even when Melanie proves repeatedly that she has self-control, independent thoughts, that she is more than just a “savage” and even sacrifices the life of one of her kind to save the humans, she is treated as a means to an end. She is praised when using her skills to protect the humans, but reviled when she reminds them in word or deed of her unique infection. The humans replace their dismissal of her humanity with a resignation that, while she is indeed sentient and her personhood is valid, her life isn’t as worthy as their own.

Melanie and the other children like her do actually pose a very real physical threat to the uninfected humans, unlike people of colour who are merely rumoured to be plotting violence against White bodies, and have been unfairly portrayed as inherently violent. The hypocrisy, however, lies in the fact that it is her instinct to eat human flesh and Melanie exhibits commendable self-control. Meanwhile, the uninfected humans who fear her so have consistently used physical, verbal, and psychological violence against her and her peers since infancy, and view her as an abomination which must be destroyed… but somehow she is the violent one. She is the threat, and they’re just victims, even as they actively work towards her demise. Sound familiar? When Melanie stands in her own truth, and asserts her own worth, we see a radical shift in how she sees herself, and the world around her.

The Girl with All the Gifts is the gift which keeps on giving, at once a cautionary tale, social commentary, zombie flick, and riveting, unique coming-of-age story. I give this one 4.5 stars.

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Emelyne Museaux is a freelance writer and intersectional Black feminist. She’s pro-Black, pro-LGBTQIA, pro-sex worker, pro-fat, pro-femme and any and all intersectionals of these. When she’s not typing her oh-so-relevant thoughts about Black pop culture both foreign and domestic, writing about herself in the third person, and trying to survive cishet White supremacist capitalist imperialism, Emelyne can be found reading, cooking, eating, and her favourite hobby, sleeping. Stay woke!
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