Zombi Child (2019)

Zombi Child
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Writer: Bertrand Bonello
Cast: Louise Labeque, Wislanda Louimat, Katiana Milfort, Mackenson Bijou, Adilé David, Ninon François, Mathilde Riu, Ginite Popote, Néhémy Pierre-Dahomey, Sayyid El Alami
Seen on: 1.7.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism and cultural appropriation

Haiti, 1962. Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou) is turned into a zombi and forced to work in a sugar cane plantation. 55 years later, at a prestigious boarding school in France, Fanny (Louise Labeque) is intrigued by the new student Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) whose family comes from Haiti. She wants to make her part of her girls’ club – but there is an entry requirement for that: Mélissa needs to tell a story – and it has to be a good one. What she tells the other girls reveals a whole new world to Fanny.

Zombi Child is an interesting film that is refreshingly aware of racial politics (for a film by a white man). It may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damn good.

the film poster showing Fanny (Louise Labeque) and Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) in close-up over a long shot of Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou).

[Slight Spoilers.]

Zombi Child went back to the roots of the zombi(e): voodoo. And it treats those roots with respect, not so much interested in its magic than in its implications. In the 1962 storyline the exploitative nature of zombiism is obvious. A zombi is a slave worker here, a cheap, unrelenting source of labor.

In the present day, the exploitation is also present, but not as obvious: white Fanny is fascinated by Black Mélissa, and when she hears about voodoo from Mélissa, and that Mélissa’s aunt Katy (Katiana Milfort) is a mambo, a voodoo priestess, she decides to use it, Mélissa, and Katy for her own needs – ignoring all warnings and ultimately risking not herself, but Katy. And all to gain the love of her boyfriend Pablo (Sayyid El Alami), a brown boy. The racial implications are pretty clear here.

Fanny (Louise Labeque) in trance.

Bonello connects these two storylines in an interesting way, albeit not without a few lengths just before the final act. His focus remains on the characters and he takes them all seriously, refraining from judging them – even Fanny where it would have been easy to be harsh. But in the end, she’s just a child who doesn’t know anything really.

There are some horror moments here and there, but that’s really not the focus of the film. Instead it makes the wise choice of asking questions about the racial politics – and there is much more meat to these bones of zombi lore than to the usual genre treatment zombi(e)s get. (Pun slightly intended.)

Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) telling Fanny (Louise Labeque) her story.

Summarizing: Definitely worth seeing.

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