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The Girl with All the Gifts (2016): Coming of Age in the Zombie Apocalypse



Ghouls are talking about an unexpected favorite film about a young girl coming of age during the zombie apocalypse. Oh, and she's also a zombie herself. The Girl with All the Gifts is a phenomenal film that'll make you care for the protagonist, question if humanity has used up its time here on Earth, and root for the next generation of life to fight on. This film is made even more impactful by their decision to race swap two very important characters.


Sources in this Episode:

https://afropunk.com/2017/07/the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-destroying-themselves-to-save/

 

Media from this week's episode:

The Girl With all the Gifts (2016)

A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.

Director: Colm McCarthy

Adapted from the book of the same name by Mike Carey

 

The Girl with All the Gifts: Youth-Led Apocalypse & Black Liberation

by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Based on the book of the same name, The Girl With all the Gifts follows a young girl Melanie and her harrowing journey with her teacher, Miss Justineau, and others. Melanie and the other children like her are something…different. We are introduced to them strapped to wheelchairs and being verbally accosted by military-like guardians. Immediately, you feel connected to and affectionate for Melanie. She’s smart, charming, and perplexing. Why are these grown adults so afraid of these young children? Enough to dehumanize them and contain them in such a cold manner. Melanie is incredibly intelligent. You learn this by her rapid-fire recitation of the periodic table of elements or her answers to perplexing brain-twisters posed by the base’s doctor. But she’s also keenly aware that something is amiss. She has only ever been treated this way, but she knows it’s not right. She works to emotionally disarm any character that interacts with her. Whether this is to convince them she’s harmless or to manipulate them into a false sense of security so she can attack them later is the question.


Melanie and the other children aren’t human, not entirely anyway. They’re half human, half-hungries. Hungries being this film’s fun word for zombies. A cordyceps fungus, like the one that infected folx in The Last of Us, has taken hold of most of society. We get a glimpse into what’s left. A military base in England where they have farmed and study these children with the hopes of finding a cure. However, something terrible and predictable happens in this zombie film, the hungries get in and wreak havoc forcing Miss Justineau, Melanie, the doctor that was going to kill her for the cure, and others to flee their makeshift home.


During this journey on the outside, the human characters are forced to reconcile Melanie with being a child. Through her charm and innocence, they learn to trust and care for her – seeing her as more human than hungry. But she is no less hungry than before. Because she’s half-hungry, Melanie has a superpower. She can move among the hungries without being harmed. “Hungries don’t eat their own kind.” one soldier explains. She becomes this troupes one tool for survival. Finding them safe routes along the way to help and provide insight in the nature of the hungries. This allowance to be true to herself ignites a flame in Melanie. In her moments alone, searching for food or safe routes, she has the opportunity to take in the world around her and understand her place in it. She sees the fear the hungries invokes in the humans. It’s similar to the fear they have about her.


On the surface, this is a story about a girl coming of age and finding her power. It is about the next generation of life persevering, evolving, and prospering in the world despite the condition they’ve inherited it in. It’s about the Earth leaving us behind. And it’s about Black liberation.


I’m going to get into Spoiler Central here to dive into some really important themes in this film. In the book, Melanie is a white girl. In fact, she is the quintessential white girl with skin as white as snow, blue eyes, and blonde hair. Ms. Justineau however, is a Black woman with skin “so dark she was like her own shadow.” (I won’t dive into this descriptor but one day I’ll talk about how Black people and POC are described in books. One day!). In this film, they decided to cast the phenomenal young actress, Sennia Nanua, a black girl. Like Night of the Living Dead and She Never Died, by casting a Black person lead in their film, the directors and creators have greatly changed the narrative. Whether intentional or not (Romero didn’t intend to have his film be as racially impactful and perhaps wouldn’t have been as such had it not been released at the same time Dr. King was assassinated,) the film has evolved into some interesting discussions.


SPOILER ALERT

Melanie, on her journey with the humans, encounters a tower of spores. These spores could “end the world” she is told because they house the parasite that has changed humanity into the hungries. This same parasite lives with Melanie and the other children born from infected mothers. But the parasite has learned to live with the host, evolved to a happy medium where the host isn’t a mindless drone but instead has control of its body and mind unless introduced to human flesh – then nature kicks in. Melanie finds a new group of children who intend to eat her human captors friends. She immediately tries to help, proving her “humanity” and compassion. But she also discovers power at this moment. She interacts with the children and because she is this hybrid who is both a “monster” and an intelligent human, she can lead them. She shows them through force and wit, that she is the alpha. After this encounter, Melanie and her friends are attacked by the doctor. The doctor is dying and needs to fulfill their life's goal of finding a cure and saving humanity. It’s at this time, before allowing the doctor to murder her to save the humans that Melanie asks her if the children and she are alive. To which the doctor admits, they are. Melanie then gives one of the most amazing responses in horror and other films I’ve ever seen. “Then why should it be us who die for you?”


There are a lot of layers here so I’ll try to be as concise as possible. There’s the eco-horror element to this story that plays well into the monstrous femme/coming of age tale Melanie is going through. She is the next evolutionary step of humanity, not the undoing of it completely. The world has changed enough that humans cannot stay as they are and live. Later, after setting the spores on fire and in doing so, “dooming the world” to be hungries, Melanie interacts with a soldier. He cries out that it’s “all over.” now. To which Melanie says the second best thing in horror and other films, “I’m sorry, sergeant. I’m so sorry,” she says. “It’s going to be alright. It’s not over, it’s just not yours anymore.” And she is sorry. Just not so sorry that she would sacrifice herself and her people for a race of people that would never show her the same mercy.


However, by casting this young black woman the narrative has become deeper than just that of the evolutionary next step generation leaving us behind. It becomes a conversation about Black liberation. In a phenomenal article Kat found on Afropunk titled, ​​'The Girl with all the Gifts' and Black Girls Destroying the World to Save Themselves, by Hari Ziyad they explain this impactful shift of narrative and the impact it has on the ultimate goal of the story. Considering how often the Ghouls are disappointed by films that pull punches or don’t commit to revolution, it’s safe to say the Ghouls love this film.


Ziyad says, I am not sure the filmmakers made this switch to purposefully reinforce ideas of Black revolution. Indeed, the close-up of Miss Justinaeu, crying as she is trapped in a tiny room as the last human being Melanie keeps alive at the end (for the purpose of continuing to teach the other zombie children), seems to be included to invoke a feeling of sympathy. White women are always the most ideal victims. If one sympathizes with Justinaeu, as a white audience might, and as I believe was intended, the film becomes less a triumph and more a tragedy.


This is the tragedy we are told would happen if Black folks really were to destroy the world and humanity for our own sakes. We don’t have the tools to police ourselves, or we are “too good” to be so “heartless”, or we don’t need saving in the first place because eventually, things will naturally work out if we only are a bit more patient or respectable. Interpreting this as a tragedy tells us that Melanie should have waited for a way to save herself and the humans, even if there was no promise of that way ever existing. Even if waiting meant passing up just saving herself. Even if the humans had no interest in compromising in return.


F*ck that.


We are not white audiences. It is time we stop pretending as if we need them. It is time a Black girl destroyed the world, destroyed humanity, destroyed society to save herself. And it is time we cheered them on when they try and succeed.