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 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. 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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Edwin's Avatar
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Great and very necessary interview. I wrote the Kikizo preview a week or so back which mistakenly flagged the scene with the white woman being dragged off as racist - nice to see somebody following up on my shameful f*ck-up in a constructive manner...
Posted 15:33 on 06 March 2009
Rickitis's Avatar


In Resident Evil 4 you are shooting hordes of Spanish people. In Resident Evil 5 you are in Africa you are therefore shooting Black African people. The important thing is to remember the storyline of the game being that the main enemies are parasitically-controlled humans. You are therefore shooting people for a reason not just shooting them because of the colour of their skin. Also Capcom has included an African character which you can also control which was a wise move on their part.

I have to agree that I think the whole argument of the game being racist is silly when there are much wider issues beneath the surface. ItÂ’s a worrying sign of the times when a videogame sparks the whole topic of racism when in day to day life it is often overlooked or ignored altogether.
Posted 14:43 on 06 March 2009
thpcplayer's Avatar


Agreed with wes completely but i think this may well be a publicity stunt as history suggests "Controversial titles are successfull titles"
Posted 14:37 on 06 March 2009
wyp100's Avatar


@ FantasyMeister

We're not saying Resident Evil 5 is racist. We're asking an expert for their opinion, because the debate so far hasn't had any. It's topical because recent previews have accused the game of being racist. Acting as a platform for informed debate on issues like these is one of the key roles of responsible journalism. Simply saying it can't be racist because a racist game would never be released is a bit misguided. Regarding the timing, we can't go into details, but rest assured we would have run the article earlier if we could.
Posted 14:26 on 06 March 2009
CheekyLee's Avatar


Originally Posted by FantasyMeister
The fact that the games press are bringing the issue back into the spotlight exactly one week before the game is released smacks of... not sure what the word is, I'm not a journalist. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like I just chewed my way through the Daily Mail or something.

It may well be intentional. "Any publicity is good publicity."
Posted 14:24 on 06 March 2009
Fin's Avatar
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Dude, get your facts straight, there are no walruses or inuits in Finland. Another dumb misconception i`ve heard is that there are polarbears and elk running in the streets, only polarbears are in zoo`s and elks know to stay out of cities and towns most of the time.
Posted 14:18 on 06 March 2009
FantasyMeister's Avatar


Are gamers so stupid now that we need experts to tell us if something is racist or not? I know we can be a bit thick sometimes, but seriously, we haven't stooped to Fox News levels yet.

Whilst I find racism abhorrent, I also find the press continually throwing the words 'Racist' and 'Resident Evil' together to make articles - as they've been doing since July 31st 2007 - offensive. It's almost as bad as the Fox News/Mass Effect fiasco.

Games journalists in particular should know that any game that is racist would never make it to the shelves, and when Resi 5 first started causing waves 20 months ago the accusation was refuted vehemently then and there by many parties and the issue should have become a non-issue.

The fact that the games press are bringing the issue back into the spotlight exactly one week before the game is released smacks of... not sure what the word is, I'm not a journalist. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like I just chewed my way through the Daily Mail or something.
Posted 14:10 on 06 March 2009
GlitcH's Avatar


Need for speed shift is more Raceist... ;)
Posted 14:09 on 06 March 2009
GlitcH's Avatar


Has Resident Evil ever had a Black leading character? or even main character with a vague involvement in the plot? No? Then all of resident evil is racist..
Posted 14:08 on 06 March 2009
Bloodstorm's Avatar


Wait, what? When did Africa have a majority of black people? I find that comment racist!
Posted 13:51 on 06 March 2009


Re-assuring stupid people everywhere! :)
Posted 13:34 on 06 March 2009
CheekyLee's Avatar


Apparently, some people are unaware that the majority of Africans are black.
Posted 13:24 on 06 March 2009
ediid's Avatar
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It is all because of N'Gai Croal from newsweek . He picked up "racism factor" in Re5
Posted 13:13 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: 1,458 192
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