Resident Evil 5 screenshot
Resident Evil 5 screenshot

With its release date nearing, everyone's talking about Resident Evil 5, but not everyone's talking about it for reasons you might think. The latest in Capcom's phenomenally successful zombie action series has led some commentators to call it racist. Why? Let's go through the alleged reasons one by one:

1: You play Chris Redfield, a white American agent of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), who is sent to Africa to investigate an incident in the desert. Sheva is his half African, half European companion, who is playable co-operatively. Chris and Sheva end up killing countless black infected Africans as the story unfolds.

2: Early on in the game a group of black Africans are seen beating a bag with a body inside. When Chris approaches them they stop, the bag is motionless and they stare menacingly at Chris. There is no suggestion that the men are infected.

3: A white woman is seen dragged kicking and screaming from a balcony into a room by a man who is not obviously black. This scene has been misreported in some previews as featuring the woman being dragged into a room by "black men". Inside the room, Chris and Sheva find her infected and are forced to kill her, along with some infected black men.

4: The game's third level features a Native Village set in a marshland. This area is home to a number of infected black Africans who are wearing traditional African dress, including ornate headdress, and carry weapons including spears. Some are much larger than normal. Chris and Sheva kill a large number of infected here as they attempt to progress through the plot.

So far the debate over Resident Evil 5's alleged racism has been woefully misinformed, with no expert opinion called upon for comment. We showed the first three levels of the game to Glenn Bowman, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and asked him if he thought Resident Evil 5 was racist.

Resident Evil 5 screenshot

VideoGamer.com: Is Resident Evil 5 racist?

Glenn Bowman: My sense is that it's a very good conglomeration or mimic of a whole series of cultural things. The number of film references I could pick up, and novel references, everything from le Carré's The Constant Gardener to The Matrix. It's quite surprising how much is in there. My sense is if you're going to set a zombie film in Africa you're going to have African zombies. The other thing I think is much more organising of the scenario and the racism is the whole terrorism, post 9/11 anxieties about alterity about other cultures. So that original scene-setting, which involves guys beating on the pupae-like sack is certainly straight out of Black Hawk Down. It's about saying this is dangerous territory, this is a space where you're not at home, it's frightening. Black Hawk Down probably is more racist than this is in some ways. I don't find this very racist. I think what they're trying to do is make a setting of terror, of anxiety. We could go back to the mention of that one scene you claim that people were using as a sign of racism, where supposedly a blonde white woman is being dragged into a second floor house to be raped - it looked like to be raped. Well there's a couple of problems there. One is she wasn't being dragged in to be raped, she was being dragged in to be infected. And secondly the person who dragged her in is not black. Maybe there is an awareness by the makers of the game that there is a problem with a threat of racism and therefore they've diluted that problem by bringing in a number of white characters. Maybe they're simply working on the threat scenario. Certainly the presence of a lot of white characters, one) diffuses the idea that it's explicitly racist, but it also suggests they know it might be accused of being racist and possibly that's why they're doing it.

I would like to set up as a counter-thematic, there's a very interesting anti-colonial thematic running through it. This whole idea of the victimisation of Africa by pharmaceutical companies, by terrorist groups, all of whom seem to be run by white characters who are coming in and exploiting people. There's the diary left behind by the kid who's eventually infected (found on a table in the Native Village section), which points out very clearly that in the past the colonials came in and exploited the local people, ripped them off of stuff, damaged them. He says that maybe they came back to give us this immunisation because they felt guilty. There's something quite interesting going on with that. The fact that they actually came back to screw them up once again and infect them with this virus or disease, seems to me to be far more damning of the colonial powers towards Africa than it says anything about whether or not blacks are some sort of savages. The blacks here are clearly being set up as victims, alterity, frightening. Yes there are themes you can say might be somewhat racist but you know that's also about making you scared.

VideoGamer.com: You say there are themes that might be somewhat racist, is that simply because you are killing black people in Africa?

GB: It's the fact that what they're using to make you feel under threat is largely a series of black faces and then motifs of African masks and the like. It is about using Africa as threat, but they've got to use somewhere as threat, and as far as I know from what you've told me the last game used rural Spain as threat. Basically if you want to make a frightening scene you take whatever characteristics of that scene are salient and turn them align. So you get vicious Spaniards who I suspect are running around with knives or whatever. Here you get infected Africans. Maybe they'll make the next game happen in Finland and you'll have a whole series of Inuits and the like being really scary and running around with Walrus heads on. I think it's silly to call it racist.

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User Comments

Raishin's Avatar

Raishin

They seriously go in there looking for ways to call things racist for their own self satisfaction don't they?

If you ask me, most of these racism claims are made by racists. Why the hell else do you go out of your way to try and prove anything that portrays even a single member of a particular race or ethnicity in a "derogatory" manner is racist? It would be different if it was fabricated with the express purpose to make their entire race look bad.

"What?! We can't have a black man playing a villain anymore? Then why can we have a white man playing one?"

"We have to have a token black man in a key role in our movies/games/etc or else its racist?"
Posted 00:08 on 21 March 2009
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman

I wonder if the guy actually played any of Resi 5 before casting accusations of racism. I could understand if you can unlock a KKK suit for Chris or something but for god's sake get a life - these so called 'specialists' and 'protectors of the peace' end up reigniting fires that don't need to be lit! How come COD4 wasn't deemed racist for shooting people in the middle east - A bit more close to home on current race and religion concerns.
Posted 11:44 on 17 March 2009
inuit's Avatar

inuit@ THMercury

seems a bit racist to assume that the only place that racism occurs is Africa; you don't think the relation of Israelis and Palestinians might have something to do with perceptions of race, and thus of racism?
Posted 10:53 on 17 March 2009
Gordo01's Avatar

Gordo01

There is always gonna be something about race as usual, Im sure the fact that people can buy this game would mean that the game was never intended to be racist. Its just the press want to get in on the action cause they know its a big franchise. But who cares this nonsense isnt stopping the majority of people buying the game because it is a great game.

To a-ray they have this for a reason especially in america it is a touchy subject, and it celebrates the end of days when a Family along with the kids would go and watch a black man being hung from a tree stabbed and set on fire, because he sneezed in public thats the kinda sick *****that would get done.
Posted 22:35 on 16 March 2009
THMercury's Avatar

THMercury

Hey Wesley,
Sorry dude but you need to do your homework. What makes this guy an expert in his field? Last I checked, Resident Evil 5 is about race and Africa. This guy's specialty is Israel/Palestine and religious imagery. Again, nothing to do with Africa and how blacks are portrayed. If he's an expert on racism solely because he's an anthropologist, then I must be an expert in neuroscience because I took a class in college.

We get upset when people talk horribly about videogames and never play them and try to ban them. How can we do the same thing about a topic so delicate? I do hope that you and the staff decide to publish a story talking about his credentials, or at least ask an anthropologist who actually does work in AFRICA on his or her opinion.

It's perfectly possible to use Africa as the setting for a powerful and troubling horror story, but when you're applying the concept of people being turned into savage monsters onto an actual ethnic group that has long been misrepresented as savage monsters, it's hard to see how elements of race weren't going to be a factor.

I really do hope that you and your staff will publish another story asking real anthropologists in the field of racism on this topic, or will at least post that this guy isn't an "expert." Though the damage has been done and this story has been posted in many blogs worldwide and as seen as gospel by gamers, but you can start ending the nonsense.
Posted 17:17 on 16 March 2009
USslacker's Avatar

USslacker

"Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game," said N'Gai Croal
http://forums2.battleon.com/f/interc...xposesraci sm

I don't even know how to react to his statement. Fool...
Posted 17:38 on 13 March 2009
inuit's Avatar

inuit@ Hernan

OK, sorry. I should have referred to Sami wearing masks made of the mutilated heads of reindeer run down by cars.
Posted 20:15 on 08 March 2009
Hernan's Avatar
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Hernan

Inuits...in Finland? -_-
*facepalm*
Posted 21:49 on 06 March 2009
A Ray's Avatar
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A Ray

I think its messed up how we can kill every other race but as soon as black people r zombies its races. U know wat is Races...black people have there own Black History Month,There own TV Channel, and Award Show.
Posted 20:27 on 06 March 2009
Johnson's Avatar
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Johnson

Inverted Racism. The knee-jerk response. Politically correct opinion. Saying those things is enough to point out the problematic entities of this issue.

Thank you for this side of the issue. We need both sides before we should say much.
Posted 18:37 on 06 March 2009
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

I think it would be more racist if it were just white zombies in Africa. Think about it.
Posted 18:28 on 06 March 2009
eadwin's Avatar
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eadwin

"You think you're simply in some backwater part of Africa where there are infected savages that I'm killing."
No, you DON'T. You can see these tentacle things coming out of their necks once you critical-headshot them.
I can't understand how the hell can people call Resident Evil 5 racist. It's so dumb and ridiculous. I mean, seriously, it's set in Africa, and it's not like you're being attacked by sane native people; they're all infected, for God's sake! Such people like those who accuse RE of being racist are the reason why racism exists...
Posted 17:03 on 06 March 2009
Errol James's Avatar
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Errol James

The game would be racist if the game was set in Africa and there weren't any black people lol.. Sorry it's not racist.. people just need to get over themselves.
Posted 16:38 on 06 March 2009
Aguro's Avatar
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Aguro

Wow, that was actually very deep. If anything I think that people seeking to play this game should read this article in order to garner a deeper enjoyment of the theme of the game.

Just awesome.
Posted 16:35 on 06 March 2009
Jeff's Avatar
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Jeff

If this 'discussion' doesn't stop, I'm gonna freak the f@ck out. Can someone tell me why African people aren't allowed to be zombies, but Spanish and Americans are in the previous 4 games? Seriously, think about 4. A blonde haired, blue eyed soldier murdering waves of dark skinned, hispanic spaniards? Remember the Spanish civil war, when the Hitler's "aryan nation" gave aid to Franco to help murder countless Spanish natives? You can even take it back further, since everyone in Spain used to have blonde hair and blue eyes until the moors invaded from the south and spent 700 years mixing races, societies and ideas, so you could also say it echoes the Spanish inquisition. But no, for some reason these are too far a stretch for the imagination, probably because it doesn't make sense to run those comparisons within the context of Resident Evil 4. Just like it shouldn't make sense to run these comparisons in the context of Resident Evil 5.
Posted 16:19 on 06 March 2009

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Release Date: 13/03/2009
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Survival Horror
No. Players: 1-2
Rating: BBFC 18
Site Rank: 1,027 135
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