“I Walked with a Zombie”

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When a Canadian nurse by the name of Betsy moves to a remote Caribbean island to take care of a rich plantation owner’s wife she was not aware that she would be taking care of a supposed zombie. Jessica, the “zombie,” is capable of performing certain tasks but is completely mindless and incapable of speaking.

When Betsy turns to voodoo in her desperate last attempt to cure Jesssica, she learns that Mrs. Rand a white, Christian doctor is also their voodoo master. Mrs. Rand remains hidden in the shadows of a hut where she mixes her western medicine with Voudou culture. Deception is fundamental in her practice and issues arise as to how one distinguishes between bodies and voices. What is a white voice detached from a white body? While Mrs. Rand stands hidden in the shadows, why is it that her voice is that of authority, that of the “master”? How does this reflect on the voodoo practitioners? One of the things which is highly problematic is that the voodoo culture shown here appears primitive, uncivilized and superstitious and the only representations of Haitians are as uneducated, dancing and drumming, strange, scary beings without any agency of their own. As far as the film goes, they only seem to be there to show either servitude or the opposite of civilization.

Where does the concept of freedom seem to lie? With the woman, the zombie, or with whoever owns and controls her?

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Zombification in this scenario functions as a mode for taking control of another person and maintaining the power dynamics of the current social order, and thus complying with the master narrative. What issues of sexism arise in this film? Jessica is a beautiful woman whose attractiveness lies in her passivity similarly to the way an attractive worker is meant to remain subservient and docile.

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In one of the first scenes, the Mr. Rand is sitting and playing the piano when drumming begins and drags him into the island’s drama. Throughout the film there seems to be this constant presence of binaries between classical music and barbaric drumming, humans and monsters, blacks and whites, men and women. Underlying all of these binaries, however, is the question lies as to what exactly is the opposite of a “human”?

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