By Alethea Tyler
Upon first viewing The Girl with All the Gifts, I was overwhelmed by the premise of the movie: a unique zombie film featuring Melanie, a young child who possesses both zombie and human qualities. While the movie presents a dystopian storyline utilizing gratuitous violence, it also contains radical representations of complex inequalities and confronts stereotypes. Through examining the portrayal of age, gender, and race, the confrontational narrative and radical alternative representations within The Girl with all the Gifts become apparent.
Melanie is a young girl, an identity commonly associated with weakness. The theme of youth and incompetence is disputed as Melanie is not only the central character, but by the far the most powerful character in the film. As a “second-generation hungry,” the zombies do not see her as prey as she too, is prone to consuming flesh. And unlike other “hungries,” she possesses the ability to resist zombie cravings. This defies ageist assumptions by making her a superhuman who exists as an immune, omnipotent leader.
Melanie’s identity as a girl is not particularly emphasized in the film, but it nonetheless serves to challenge gendered stereotypes. Melanie’s clothes and haircut remain uniform, replicating a traditionally male or gender neutral presentation. If it weren’t for her feminine name, she could easily pass as one of the boys. This ambiguity, combined with Melanie’s insatiable curiosity and superior intelligence, confronts the common correlation of intelligence and masculinity. According to Judith Lorber, “The social construction of gender not only produces the differences between men’s and women’s characteristics and behavior, it also produces gender inequality” (2012). As a result of remaining outwardly gender neutral, Melanie challenges assumptions pertaining to gender. Her character is many things at once: fierce, intelligent, selfish and selfless. She is an independent protagonist who remains fearlessly female.
The most important stance this film takes is on race. The cast is predominantly white, marginalizing the few characters of color. The film uses this marginalization to radicalize the plot. The end of the film illustrates Melanie not only as a hero, but also as the destroyer of the old world. Intentionally, Melanie sets the zombie pods on fire, causing the virus to become air-borne and infect all living people. This act of defiance positions Melanie as a savior to the zombies and a destroyer of white culture. This racialization of the main character serves as an emphasis on the shocking ending: white people do not always win. As Lorber (2012) writes, “The subordinate group is always less influential unless it can turn the dominant values upside down” (pg. 233). Through Melanie’s act of defiance, she turns the “dominant values upside down,” addressing the question of why someone else’s life is more important than her own. Through this provocative narrative, Melanie directly confronts the idea of valuing White over Black.
Due to the provocative nature of The Girl with All the Gifts, the film presents a truly radical narrative. The film seeks to confront traditional narratives by diverging from stereotypical roles regarding age, gender, and race. As claimed by Lorber (2012), “Change does not come easily, because many of the foundational assumptions of the gendered social order and its ubiquitous processes are legitimated by religion, taught by education, repeated by the mass media, and enforced by systems of social control.” When media is used to present radical narratives, the perpetuation of social control is directly challenged. Through the presentation of empowering, intersectional identities, the foundation of racism, sexism, and ageism are questioned, therefore invalidating the very existence of inequalities.