Ghouls' new series, For the Culture, looks to explore the horrors certain communities experience. We're starting with the indigenous zombie film that has us SHOOK, Blood Quantum. A film whose name sends us on a journey through history and a film that twists our stomachs (but in a good way).
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Blood Quantum: The Systemic Erasure of Indigenous Peoples
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
What is Blood Quantum? We watched a film with the same name and it encouraged us to do some research. While we are not scientists, or experts on this subject matter, we hope our research encourages you to do the same.
According to an NPR article by the Code Switch podcast, So What Exactly is Blood Quantum?, Blood Quantum is defined as “the amount of ‘Indian Blood’ that an individual possesses.” A measurement used by the United State’s Department of Interior to commodify the racial identity of Native people as a means to avoid treaty obligations. The problem with the use of Blood Quantum, is that it was intended as a way to limit Native citizenship and ultimately eliminate their population. The goal being to erase the history of the United States’ “founding”, and to erase the Native communities themselves. This is done in the hopes of removing the Department of the Interior’s obligation to these tribes, limit tribal population, and ultimately slowly reclaim the land designated to Native tribes in the treaties.
When Blood Quantum is calculated, the Department of the Interior “issues what is called a ‘Certified Degree of Indian Blood,” and that is a card similar to an ID card.” It is measured through the use of tribal documents, and calculated by a government or tribal official.
The article goes on to compare Blood Quantum to the “One Drop Rule”, which is more commonly taught in schools. The One Drop Rule was used with a similar goal, to commodify racial identity of Black people, and a way to limit individual rights and citizenship. It stated that if an individual had at least one drop of Black blood, that that individual would be considered Black, and therefore would be subject to discriminatory laws, and slavery.
What does this mean for Native communities?
In another article, What is Blood Quantum and What Does it Mean for the Future of Oneida? The authors state “The use of blood quantum as a genetic cut-off point for Indian people is viewed by many as an instrument of assimilation and extermination.”
This ultimately means that through the use of Blood Quantum, the Native population can only go down, and can never truly rebuild itself. A Lakota elder, Gilbert Walking Bull stated that when Native nations adopt Blood Quantum “we can never restore the rock, we can only pile stones upon one another.” To outline plainly, if a full-blooded Native person were to marry a half-blooded Native person, their children would only be three-fourths Native under Blood Quantum.
The article goes on to argue that Blood Quantum goes against Native traditional values of family and inclusion, and that past cultural practices allowed for adoption and intermarriage to expand tribal boundaries. What once allowed for flexibility is impossible under the use of Blood Quantum, and can only limit the Native populations further. It also separates families’ citizenship based on Blood Quantum rules, meaning a parent may qualify as a citizen where a child doesn’t.
Media from this week's episode:
Blood Quantum (2019) Director: Jeff Barnaby
Summary by IMDB: A zombie virus decimates all of Earth's population except the Mi'qmaq community of Red Crow.
Blood Quantum & Generational Trauma
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Blood Quantum is a phenomenal zombie film with a strong message of generational pain. Available to stream on Shudder which has done an amazing job of hosting intentional films that greatly impact and educate us.
The beginning of the film is a great slow-burn, zombie film where the epidemic slowly unravels to reveal the horrors of it all. Similar to Dawn of the Dead, with that one day showing the descent into chaos overnight. In this, we follow a sheriff who is made-aware of many strange things occurring on his reservation including fish coming back to life and oddly enough, a lack of tetanus shots because people are unwittingly biting each other. What struck me in this opening act is that many of our primary characters are all bitten and it led me to question, “Who is this film going to be about if all our protagonists die?” However, we find, after a title-card informs us of the passage of time, that this virus has a very specific target demographic and it’s not who you would expect.
We are met with graffiti and dialogue which informs us that white people or non-native peoples are infected or at risk of infected while the members of this reservation are immune. The opening title-card of the film features a, Ancient Settlers Proverb, “Take heed to thyself, that thou make no treaty with the inhabitants of the land for when they whore themselves to their demons and sacrifices to them, you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters for your sons, they will lead your sons to do the same.” which serves as an omen that mixing with the others would only mean bad luck. However, it also ties into the concept of Blood Quantum itself and what Kat mentions in the facts section that, “we can never restore the rock, we can only pile stones upon one another.” As long as their people continue to mix with the others, their blood is only further diluted and ultimately distances them from their people.
There are many layers to the complex nature of a zombie outbreak that only turns white people. For one, how do the white people feel or react to this? What comes of the interracial relationships we were introduced to previously. One of the sons, Joseph, in the film has a white girlfriend, Charlie, who finds herself pregnant as a teenager. They are in the hospital for what is to be assumed is an abortion but given the impending doom of zombies, their plans are foiled. During this time there is a conversation between Joseph and Charlie where Joseph asks her if she is ashamed of him, wondering why she won’t tell her father about him. She responds that she is instead ashamed of her father, hinting at his racism and bigotry. Clearly, in normal life, Charlie has the upperhand and is in a position where not approving or being ashamed of Joseph is a possibility. Her character is later confronted with the reality of being an outsider or of a race that others deem dangerous or unworthy after it is revealed that only white people are being changed. She is very pregnant and constantly worried about the condition of her child but also is upset by how she is being treated by the native peoples who are weary and distrusting of her. She is a ticking time bomb. Her experiences and reactions to this didn’t come across as whiney but rather her accepting that she is now the outcast and it is not something she is accustomed to. She also overhears Joseph’s mother telling a story in her native tongue to a child. The story is about Joseph’s grandfather and Charlie has to accept that this is a history she cannot share with her child, only Joseph and his people can. She doesn’t speak the language and does not know the tale.
Something that stuck with me in this film is the question of whether the Mi’qmaq people are obligated to open their gates. We have a few characters adamantly opposed to the idea. They are angry. In an article on Vulture by Jordan Crucchiola, Jeff Barnaby Made an Apocalypse Movie to Watch the System Fall, Then a Pandemic Hit, explains this problem and why the community is reluctant to become saviors. “Are the Native people duty bound to help the white survivors, or do generations of marginalization and dehumanization by the ruling classes give them license to lock their gates, protect their own, and let the world outside burn down?”
This quote and the film itself made me think about the film, Bit which we reviewed in an earlier episode as part of our Queer Horror series. We were disappointed by Bit in that the ending seemed to dismantle the powerful statements delivered throughout which expressed anger and justice. The ending seemed to pull back and say, “Don’t be too angry. This is too much.” But who gets to say it’s too anything? At the end of the day, people have every right to be angry and to deliver empowered messages of vitriol and spite as retaliation. We shouldn’t have to censor our message to appease the oppressors. This film pulls no punches and through the anti-hero Lysol, we get to see that generational trauma, anger and resolve acted out in vengeance and graphic horror. Lysol is the sheriff’s first son. He is painted as a troubled person who harbors resentment and pain. He is compared to his brother Joseph, who has hope for a future and has loving parents. Whereas Lysol carries his mother’s unknown tragic death as a shield to protect him from the judgement of others. He seems to think, “This is it. This is all I’ll ever be.” And it appears to me that he is that generational trauma and is tasked with coping with the hopelessness of an unkind history.
He is much a villain in that he brings much pain to his own people in the end but he was a voice of truth throughout. He lashes out and asks why they would allow these people in. Why open their gates to people who would not do the same for them? They are also, very honestly, a risk to his people. He ultimately suffers from this when one of those people bites his dick off. His manhood and his fears made real drive him to a breaking point, causing him to lash out at the ones he had tried to protect. In that same Vulture article Jeff Barnaby goes on to explain, “It’s interesting, because you don’t really see Native villains with epic backstories in the sense that he is representative of a history rather than just his story. He’s like the Native Everyman. He’s almost an anti-hero. My wife and I had this back-and-forth, and she’s like, “You know he’s the hero of the movie, right?” And I’m like, “Really? How do you come to that?” And she was like, “Well, everything he says, even though it’s coming from a place of anger, comes true.”
Something I found interesting in an article in the LA Times titled, How Indigenous Zombie Horror Film ‘Blood Quantum’ Became Prescient in the Pandemic, was that Barnaby had this story ready to go in 2007. However, he mentions that he didn’t get any hits. “It was a different time. Nobody was ready for a story like this,” he said. “Nobody was ready to hear that the great capitalist dream was falling apart and colonialism was going to help usher us into destruction. So it was the culture that took catching up to the script. Nothing changed, just the cultural perception of it.” Similar to Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley also had his film written and ready long before the culture was ready to hear it. However, for both films, the content didn’t change from their original pitch to the ultimate creation because those stories continued to ring true over time. These stories are out there, they represent us now and probably for years to come. We just need to be ready to hear them.