White Zombie as Captivity Narrative and the Death of Certainty
Horror films such as White Zombie (1932) reveal viewers to themselves by narrating in the currency of audience anxiety. Such movies evoke fright because they recapitulate fear and trauma that audiences have already internalized or continue to experience, even if they are not aware of it. White Zombie’s particular tack conjures up an updated captivity narrative wherein a virginal white damsel is abducted by a savage Other.
The shell of the captivity story, of course, is as old as America. In its earliest incarnation it featured American Indians in the role as savage Other, fiendishly imagined as having been desperate to get their clutches on white females and all that hey symbolized. In this way, it generated much of the emotional heat stoking Manifest Destiny, that is, American imperial conquest both of the continent and then, later, as in the case of Haiti, of the Caribbean Basin.
White Zombie must of course be understood in the context of the American invasion and occupation of Haiti (1915-1934). As it revisits the terrain inhabited by the American black Other, it also speaks to the history of American slavery. The Other here is African-American, not surprisingly given the date and nature of American society of the day, typically imagined in wildly pejorative fashion in early American arts and culture.
This essay explores White Zombie as a modified captivity narrative, pace Last of the Mohicans through John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), the Rambo trilogy (1982, 1985, 1988), the Taken trilogy (2008, 1012, 2014), even Mario and Luigi’s efforts to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser.
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