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The Sandbox: “Resident” Racism

The Sandbox: “Resident” Racism (photo)

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This wasn’t the type of horror “Resident Evil 5” was trying to elicit.

Long-brewing controversy over the latest installment of Capcom’s genre-defining survival horror series reached its high point two weeks ago, when the sure-to-be-blockbuster title hit retail shelves and millions were allowed the opportunity to determine for themselves whether, as some pundits had insinuated over the past year, the game was racist. While public opinion on the issue isn’t easily measured, those in the mainstream media heartily chimed in with reviews-cum-think-pieces, from the Wall Street Journal‘s discussion of multiculturalism in gaming to the New York Times‘ more blunt and simplistic conclusion that “it’s not racist.” Meanwhile, one of the journalists who ignited the brouhaha upon reviewing a teaser trailer for the game in 2008, MTV Multiplayer blogger Stephen Totilo, softened his stance upon viewing the final build, which he said was “shallow, bearing no sign of the racism some expected.”

Allow me to respectfully disagree. At the heart of the matter is Africa, where “Resident Evil”‘s Caucasian super-agent Chris Redfield is tasked with investigating and, for all intents and purposes, quelling the franchise’s newest zombie outbreak. It’s a scenario familiar to those who have played a prior entry, except in this case, it’s complicated by an obvious dynamic: a strapping white man violently dispatching ghoulish blacks in tattered clothes, or, in some cases, in grass skirts, tribal war paint and masks, wielding spears. They’re “infected” (shades of AIDS), chant and scream in incomprehensible tongues and appear to be performing ritualistic animal and human sacrifices. Sure, they’re possessed, there are some lighter-skinned zombies thrown into the mix (including one Arab guy who strongly resembles — the horror! — Borat), and Chris is provided an African sidekick named Sheva (although she has lighter skin, straight hair and the body of an L.A. porn star). Despite these transparent efforts to tame the stark racial conflict at play, though, for the 12 to 15 hours it takes to complete, “RE5” is all about making an American avatar put bullets in the heads of grotesque Africans, as well as — in inappropriately keeping with a trademark series element — steal gold, jewelry and gems (i.e. blood diamonds) from their corpses to use for weapons purchases.

That game journalists have mounted a hearty defense of a beloved property is neither surprising nor incomprehensible, considering that nothing quite dampens fun like claims that one’s eagerly anticipated entertainment is trading in age-old stereotypes. And the fact that a video game warrants a discussion about race in the first place speaks to the medium’s rapid technological advances, which now afford a level of realism high enough to spark mature conversations about representation. But that’s about the only bright side to the “RE5” debate, given that, having blasted my way through the Africa-set campaign, there’s simply no getting around the xenophobia plaguing the game. It’s not just minor. It’s upfront, rampant and of the most archaic variety. And, moreover, it has a cinematic precedent, as “RE5” is, strictly in terms of terms of imagery and narrative, a clumsy hybridization of two preeminently offensive films, “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and “The Constant Gardener.”

03272009_serpentrainbow.jpgIt’s with the Haiti-set “Serpent” that “RE5” shares its most significant ties, since both focus on white men who traverse an exotic foreign locale that’s malevolent and unnatural, and encounter black inhabitants (many decked out in tribal paint) who’ve been zombified by mysterious agents — in “Serpent,” it’s voodoo powder, and in “RE5,” a weaponized biological parasite. Directed by Wes Craven, “Serpent” takes a docudrama approach to its material (based on a nonfiction book about Haitian zombification), while “RE5” is modeled after modern-day action and horror cinema, as well as its franchise precursors. Yet aside from “RE5” benefiting from not having Bill Pullman as its leading man, the imagery promoted by both titles is an offensively stereotypical one of a “dark continent” that’s inherently hazardous to light-skinned outsiders, who can’t, except via potentially fatal hardship, hope to comprehend the supernatural phenomenon that threatens to engulf them.

Rushing to contradict, some have noted the lack of outcry over “Resident Evil 4″‘s depiction of Spanish zombies, and argued that blacks are as fair game for zombiedom as any other ethnic or racial group. What both points fail to recognize, however, is that the specific representations of race in “RE5” have a long, troubled history that still persists today, as recently evidenced, for example, by Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of “King Kong,” which dutifully included the 1933 original’s portrait of ooga-booga Skull Island savages.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.