I only recently discovered that I wasn’t the only one engaging “The Girl With All The Gifts” with critical race theory in mind. I wondered though, why a little Black girl who destroys the entire human world as we know it–see white civil society–didn’t get more attention. Negative attention is what I would have guessed. It didn’t do very well in the box office in the UK, and I’m tempted to delve into that whole thing a little more. Many of the reviews for the movie adaptation focus on smart zombies and such, and yes it is an interesting/novel idea, but I have to say, the race swap between Ms. Justineau and Melanie changes the whole fucking game.
Melanie, played by Sennia Nanua, is part of an ongoing experiment involving child zombies with partial sentience: partial because they’re still liable to lose control and eat humans if tempted by scent, though often times, Melanie proves to be much more intelligent than her full human counterparts. In the book, Melanie was white and Ms. Justineau was Black. The swap of these two characters for the movie–who I feel were both cast very well–works as much more than just a diversity plug for the big screen though. Melanie, throughout the whole film is treated as less than human; she is caged and her body is forfeit in the pursuit of human ambitions which she is not only excluded from, but whose success would mean the destruction of her entire species.
Still, she cooperates. She tries. She plays her part and saves the lives of her human companions after the facility where she is being held burns down. The most fantastic thing though, is that she figures out that no matter how hard she tries, even in spite of her relationship with Ms. Justineau, they will never see her as a person. So what does she do with that? She’s not a person. She’s something better, so she does better. Only in science fiction could this young Black girl achieve such personhood because we aren’t even ready to conceive what it would look like in real life. Melanie realizes that her worth isn’t based on something as empty as “human” which only exists really, because of its ability to compare what is not human, what is other. So, Melanie burns the whole fucking world down, just like we deserve. She literally stands over the white man and tells him, “it’s just not yours anymore” as he dies. Better yet, the benevolent liberal of this tale, Ms. Justineau takes her rightful place in the cage, as Melanie uses her body to teach a new generation of beings which she will always be excluded from. How is it possible not to love that?