August 22, 2019

Where do Zombies Come From?

The zombie is one of the most interesting horror villains out there. But where did they come from? 

Horror films and tropes take fears from modern society and reinterpret them as scares that keeps audiences entertained. But they also have to make them think. Zombie films and TV shows have been on the airwaves for years. People look back to George Romero as the guy who started it all, and while he may have bit the neck of popular culture, the zombie's roots go deeper than that. 

Here's a breakdown about the history of this undead baddie, along with a discussion of some ideas about how they can continue to be relevant in the future. 

Check out this video from Nerdwriter and let's talk after the jump! 

Where do Zombies come from? 

The video is really informative about the origins of zombies. Turns out, the legend hails from Haiti and is tied to voodoo. It has to do with ancient practices brought from West Africa from slaves forced to come to Haiti. Voodoo grew from there and so did the idea of zombies. 

This idea grew from the fear, anxiety, and inherent racism of the white slave owners, and it was brought to mainland America by the writer William Seabrook. He wrote a book called The Magic Island in 1929 that described the slaves working in the sugar cane fields as "zombies."

So this is when the term entered the cultural lexicon. And it obviously has a bit of a checkered history. White fear was what drove it forward. Fear of a culture they didn't understand and a religion that they didn't want to learn. That fear made its way into Hollywood, thanks to Seabrook's book and the 1932 movie, White Zombie

In those days, zombies were seen as slaves, controlled by a master. They did his or her bidding. This was obviously inspired by...slavery. Which is abhorrent. 

Zombies would continue on that track until the late 1960s, when George Romero reinvented the zombie when he decided that wasn't what his zombies were all about. Night of the Living Dead ushered in the way we think about zombies today. They were flesh-eating organisms controlled only by our natural instincts. 

And to kill them you can only burn them or shoot them in the head. 

Obviously, this iteration of zombies broke the racist mold, and made them into something that taps into all our fears. 

But that was 1968. and while some of the best cultural commentary has come from zombies and how they act, it's hard to understand where they are going in the future. 

We've had fast zombies, slow zombies, zombies in comedies, and straight horror. They've been number one at the box office and on television. But where else can zombies go besides space? 

The future of zombies 

I think the best way to predict where zombies are going in the future is to look at what humanity fears. Right now, it's expansion, immigrants, diversity, and lots of other factors. So how do you make a zombie movie about that? What if I told you the biggest movie of a few years ago WAS about that? 

Get Out clearly takes the racist roots of zombies and exposes them in a highly inventive movie. This time it's white people using black bodies to become vessels for their control and consciousness. While it's not a traditional zombie movie, Jordan Peele riffs on the subject to create something gripping, original, and groundbreaking. 

So what can you do to take George Romero's lead and reinvent the genre? Find your personal fear and the fears of those around you. 

Talk about what you can do to challenge those things and to put them onto the page. 

And write original ideas within the genre

Now, go do it! 

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