Review: The Girl With All The Gifts (No Spoilers)
‘Tis the season of socially relevant cinema, from Moonlight to Hidden Figures to Thirteen to I Am Not Your Negro. But, as always, it is the speculative fiction genre that distinguishes itself in its ability to package the sociopolitical ills of our present day into fantastic scenarios that entertain, spook, titillate, inspire, and fuel. While Get Out is much more overt, The Girl With All The Gifts is an artistically subtle tale of power, fear and exploitation.
Zombie fiction tends to have a common theme – the destruction of civilization sparked or exacerbated by the frailty of humanity. Centuries before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) attempted to portray the relationship between race and fear through a zombie apocalypse, zombie mythos among western hemisphere Africans was a metaphor for racial oppression. While race may be deemphasized in recent zombie franchises (e.g. The Walking Dead, Resident Evil), zombie fiction continues to be a backdrop for dialogue on social power hierarchies.
I didn’t expect such depth from The Girl With All The Gifts. I just started the novel and on the first page the protagonist is described as “skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she’ll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her.” So despite the casting of the protagonist as a Black girl, you can understand why I had very low expectations for any relevant sociopolitical critique from this movie.
I was wrong.
Brought to us by director Colin McCarthy (Peaky Blinders, Ripper Street), this is a film about “the Other,” who is feared, imprisoned, experimented on, and still expected to be gracious enough to serve. Melanie is the tale of every marginalized community – exoticized for their gifts, but resented as a threat to mainstream society. The film offers layer upon layer of social critique, but I have to stop here or I’ll spoil the plot. One might accuse this film as exploiting the “magical negro” trope and/or promoting assimilation as the cure for social inequity – it is definitely worthy of the price of admissions (2x over) and further critical analysis.
B+ for Story and Character Development: While the film expertly weaves through the classical hero’s journey, Melanie’s character doesn’t so much evolve as circumstances force her into her true purpose. She is just as brilliant, resourceful, and earnest at the start of the film as she is in the end. I would have appreciated greater character development.
A for Strong Female Characters: The three central characters are female – Melanie (Sennia Nanua), Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), and Justineau (Gemma Arterton), and they dominate much of the drama in the film. Each character is endowed with purpose and agency that pushes the narrative forward. While I don’t understand Justineau’s attachment to Melanie and the other “infected” children, aside from a cliché mother’s instinct, when balanced with Melanie and Caldwell’s characters the representation of women in this film is both diverse and complex.
A for Diversity and Inclusion: Not only was the protagonist cast as a young Black girl, but other supporting non-white characters are included in this film, and none were pop culture caricatures or Hollywood stereotypes. People of color are represented in this film not as perfect, but with dignity, complexity, and agency.
If you can find it on the big screen, it is worth the larger canvas, but unfortunately, The Girl With All The Gifts appears to be in limited US distribution. You can stream it now on Amazon Prime.