Racism in Resident Evil 5? We think not...
Cast your mind back to E3 2007. The Resident Evil 5 trailer was shown for the first time to the masses.
I have a question for you.
What did you see when you watched the trailer?
I will answer that question myself before this article is finished, but let's just put this trailer in the correct frame to begin with.
This is Resident Evil 5. The clue is in the name. It's not actually the fifth game in the series (there are more than that, of course) but it is a continuation of a well-known franchise.
The location is E3 2007. It's a gaming show. It's all about the games.
So this trailer doesn't need to fill us in with reams of back-story detail about 'good vs. evil' or 'humans vs. zombies'. We don't need to know that a virus is killing humans off only to bring them back as the undead, because we gamers already know this. And the location of the premiere of this trailer put the message out loud and clear to the correct target audience.
But in the 21st Century, such trailers don't stay local for long. The Internet made the trailer, and the subsequent 'extended version' available to the masses.
What did 'Black Looks'1, a blog devoted to African women, see when they watched the trailer back in July 2007?
“The new Resident Evil video game depicts a white man in what appears to be Africa killing Black people."
"This is problematic on so many levels, including the depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults. Start them young… fearing, hating, and destroying Black people."
This view of the trailer is, in my opinion, a racist view. I'll explain why later.
Of course, the view of the Black Looks blog writer is inaccurate in any case. The story of RE5 is set in Haiti, not Africa. The game is going to be 18-rated and 'M for Mature', so it is not marketed to children or young adults.
What did Ragnhild Mogren, a teacher at Stockholm University and being interviewed by kezins.com2, see when she watched the trailer?
"Question: What does a person with no understanding of the Resident Evil franchise, as a game series, think about this piece of film?"
"Answer: If I should interpret this trailer from a hermeneutic perspective, that my previous understanding and knowledge plays a huge part in what I actually see here, then this piece of film is very racist."
Hermeneutics is an ancient term and was originally the development/study of theories around the interpretation and understanding of writings. The word is being used in a broader sense here, but the view of Ms. Mogren is still a racist view. Again, I'll explain why later.
What did N’Gai Croal3, Newsweek's gaming journalist, see when he watched the trailer?
"I looked at the Resident Evil 5 trailer and I was like, 'Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game'. The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?"
"This trailer says to me that the black people here are portrayed as Neanderthals, quite frankly. This white figure, on the other hand, is very good looking in terms of the norms and rules of what a good looking man is supposed to look like in our society, even if it’s completely unrealistic. The trailer shows political power in that it presents a sense of historical colonial suppression."
Of course, N'Gai is wrong and, I have to report, this is a racist view also. I'll explain why in just a moment.
In terms of his specific points, it worries me that he believes certain characters in the game are portrayed as Neanderthals. They happen to be Haitians who have contracted a deadly virus and are, to all intents and purposes, 'dead men/women/children walking'.
I've seen people look worse than this when all they have is the 'flu.
Their race is not the reason they don't look so good - the fact that they're infected and zombified are the reasons they look a bit 'peaky'.
And yes - the imagery does have history. A terrible, horrific history perpetrated by truly evil people. But perpetuating the mistakes of the past and attributing images to times gone by are the not the way forward for society. Let me explain by telling you...
What did I see when I watched the trailer?
I'm a gamer. I understand the RE series. I know the story. The location of the trailer's premiere targeted me personally.
But even despite all the back-story knowledge and the targeted advertising, there is one thing that makes my view of the trailer different to all the people mentioned above.
I truly didn't see the colour of any character's skin.
I saw 'good vs. evil'.
I saw a man trying to stop the onslaught of a deadly virus that could wipe out humanity.
I saw a character with the drive and heroism to attempt to save us all from evil.
I didn't see black. I didn't see white. I didn't see slavery or oppression.
So I ask, who, out of all the people who have discussed the trailer (including myself), are the racists?
1. Black Looks blog
2. Part 1 of an interview at kezins.com
3. MTV multiplayer interview with N'Gai Croal