Although they insisted it came as a big shock, it is difficult to believe that Capcom weren’t anticipating some form of backlash in response to Resident Evil 5. With video games like GTA: San Andreas and 50 Cent: Bulletproof having already whipped up a fair amount of racial controversy, creating a game in which you assume the role of a white man – guns and grenades hanging off you like Christmas tree decorations – running through African villages massacring hordes of hapless natives, was a bit like throwing petrol on the fire.
However, are the accusations concerning racism really justified when it comes to Resident Evil 5? Is the game immoral in its use of both imagery and subject matter? Does it depict Africans as mindless, barbaric savages, and is it therefore a blatant incitement of racial hatred?
Is it Coz I is Black?
Well there are many people who passionately argue that it is. People who feel that the game's depiction of a white man travelling into the dark heart of Africa to do battle with hordes of cannibalistic, homicidal natives is like something straight out of a 1915 D.W. Griffith flick. One particularly problematic moment being the point at which a white woman is dragged off kicking and screaming by two black men like something from a KKK propaganda video.
Writing on a blog dedicated to black issues, Tolu Olorunda insisted that Resident Evil 5 ‘wasted no time in capitalising upon the long history of blatant depictions of Africans as savages and helpless imbeciles.’ Going even further, Kym Platt at ‘Black Looks’ described a game in which a white man dressed in a military uniform goes around a third world country shooting Africans as ‘problematic on so many levels.’ She insisted that a video game like this - aimed at children - could well incite youngsters to ‘fear, hate,’ and even… ‘destroy Black people.’
A Different Interpretation
Clearly, the plot, setting, and imagery of Resident Evil 5 have provided critics with a great deal of ammunition to condemn the game as highly immoral and even racist, but this is a very superficial interpretation. In fact, it could well be argued that far from being an attack on the supposed ‘savages’ of the third world, Resident Evil 5 actually portrays the Black Africans as victims of Western Colonization and, far from being racially prejudiced, is in fact deeply anti-colonial.
The whole premise behind Resident Evil 5 hinges upon the spread of a biological weapon developed by an American Arms Corporation which is spreading through a fictional province of Africa. The virus itself is portrayed as a parasitic organism which literally colonizes the host’s body before transforming sane individuals into homicidal zombie/killers. The brutalisation of the African communities in Resident Evil 5 is therefore shown to be the direct result of Western infiltration and not because the Black Africans are somehow ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ or ‘barbaric’ by nature.
The virus becomes like a colonial invader; taking over the Black Africans by force and then causing their once peaceful communities to degenerate into chaos, anarchy and violence. As an allegory on colonialism, Resident Evil 5 certainly ties in with an argument put forward by post-colonial theorists like Thomas Hodgkin who, in ‘The West and the Third World’, defines colonialism as ‘essentially retrogressive and destructive of African Civilisations.'
Interestingly, Resident Evil 5 consistently portrays the indigenous population degenerating as a result of their contact with foreign invaders, one example being when the player enters a ‘primitive’ African village. Here they are attacked by tribal zombies who throw spears - a moment one critic described as ‘racist and deeply disturbing’. However it was also a point at which the player is able read the diary of a young tribal girl, who, after initially describing her Utopian tribal lifestyle, goes onto explain how the tribe descended into madness and murder after the arrival of Western scientists who infected them with a virus.
The whole basis for the argument that Resident Evil 5 is ‘blatantly racist’, that it dehumanises and demonizes Black Africans by portraying them as savage and primitive etc is obviously highly flawed. People who attack Resident Evil 5 for being racist are clearly basing these claims on knee jerk reactions they have to particular images from the game or trailer which, as Dan Whitehead puts it, do ‘play into old clichés’. However when the game is considered in a wider context the argument loses credibility.
What is much more convincing is that the game provides a damning allegory on colonialism through its portrayal of a vulnerable indigenous population and its exploitation at the hands of a Western Corporate Superpower for profits - and who view Black Africans as expendable - sub – humans. Therefore, if Resident Evil 5 is condemning anyone as savage or barbaric it certainly isn’t Black Africans, but rather those Western Countries and corporations who have profited from destabilising the African continent for centuries.