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Project R

This entry contains spoilers.

One of the problems I'm addressing in Zombie Nation is the way in which North American racial history is cinematically encoded into George Romero's Living Dead Series. There is little dispute that classic zombie cinema (prior to Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead) deals with issues of North American and European imperialism in the Caribbean. However, the transformation of cinematic representation in postmodern zombie cinema (which begins with Night of the Living Dead) introduces a more subtle encoding of contemporary racial history, so subtle in fact that some critics argue that Ben's (Duane Jones) race is not important to the meaning of the film.

One such critic is Kim Paffenroth, who just last year published a single-author monograph on Romero's Living Dead series. At one point Paffenroth observes that "Ben's race is never the subject of approval, disapproval, judgment, innuendo, or even remark" (37). The suggestion is that because Ben's race is not mentioned within the diegesis, race is not important to the meaning of the film. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Among the many ways in which race is encoded into the Night of the Living Dead is in the cinematic representation of Ben's demise at the hands of McClellan's posse. This point is eloquently made by Adam Simon in The American Nightmare, a documentary on American Horror film after 1950. In the following excerpt, the featured speakers are (in order of appearance) Dr. Adam Lowenstein, who is presently Associate Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and John Landis, director of films and music videos such as Schlock, Thriller, and The Blues Brothers.

from The American Nightmare. Dir. Adam Simon. 2000. (00:12:07 - 00:13:28)

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Works Cited
Paffenroth, Kim. Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006.
The American Nightmare. Dir. Adam Simon. 2000.
The Blues Brothers. Dir. John Landis. 1980.
Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George Romero. 1968.
Schlock. Dir. John Landis. 1973.
Thriller. Dir. John Landis. 2000.