Today@Sam Article

Friday Forum To Take Turn At Zombies, Film

Jan. 30, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Blue, toxic garbage from a military ship that arrives from an unnamed, nearby country is dumped in Haiti, infecting the population with the “blue disease” and transforming them into a nation of zombies.

headshot Rodney Saint-Eloi
Haitian Canadian writer Rodney Saint-Éloi —Photo from Wikipedia

It may sound like one of the many zombie movies that had a resurgence in the mid-2000s, but this is actually the premise of Haitian Canadian writer Rodney Saint-Éloi’s noir short story “The Blue Hill.”

Sam Houston State University associate professor of English April Shemak, who specializes in Caribbean literature, will discuss some of the implications of this 2010 noir story in comparison to the 1943 zombie flick “I Walked with a Zombie” on Friday (Feb. 6).

“Nwa Noir: Colonial Infection and Zombie Plagues in U.S. Film and Haitian Literature,” the English department’s First Friday Faculty Forum, will begin at 3 p.m. in Evans Complex Room 212.

“Nwa Noir” refers to a specific, Haitian noir genre Saint-Éloi utilizes to present his protagonist, Detective Simidor, not as a gumshoe invested in empirical forensics, but as one who seeks environmental and political justice, a search that is refracted through the cosmogony of vodou.

“I Walked with a Zombie” features a Canadian nurse who travels to the Caribbean to care for a “zombified” white woman and encounters the unexpected intersection of Western humanitarianism and (Haitian) vodou.

The “zombie” is often a figure that represents notions of health, disease, and medicine in relation to colonialism.

“I examine how this figure developed in early U.S. horror film during the time of the U.S. occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century," Shemak said. "There were ‘zombie stories’ and rumors that were disseminated—by marines, journalists and other people—with the idea of Haitians as ‘savage,’ but also ‘unhealthy,’ particularly because the zombie was connected to the practice of voodoo. So I look at how this is represented in the film.

“I then look at how Saint- Éloi, who is a Haitian Canadian, reconfigures the zombie and the genre of noir from a Haitian point of view,” she said. “Whereas in the film, zombies are created from ‘primitive’ voodoo practice in Haiti, in his story, Haitians become zombies because of a military invasion from a foreign country when the military begins to unleash toxins and the Haitian people and environment are sickened.”

Shemak, who joined the SHSU faculty in 2005, earned her doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Maryland and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Her other areas of research include postcolonial literature and theory and U.S. ethnic literature.

The First Friday Forum is designed to highlight research by graduate faculty and fellow graduate students.

For more information, contact forum coordinator Paul Child, professor of English, at 936.294.1412.

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