First Nations Filmmaker Makes the Most of Turbulent Times




Photography Luis Mora, Writer/Director Jeff Barnaby.
Photography Luis Mora, Writer/Director Jeff Barnaby.

Blood Quantum

Ten years in the making, “Blood Quantum” is a new zombie apocalypse film by First Nations Writer, Director, Film Editor, and Composer Jeff Barnaby (best known for his debut feature film “Rhymes for Young Ghouls”).

It is a timely portrayal of deadly disease, xenophobia, survival and creating a post-pandemic new normal.“ Blood Quantum” is true to the genre of zombie film making. It is also rich in Indigenous culture. The characters are complex, the cinematography is artful and the parallels between the zombie plague and life after the COVID-19 pandemic are subtle yet coincidentally striking.

The film is an excellent distraction as cities worldwide grapple to reopen after our very real COVID-19 pandemic. In the plotline, the dead are coming back to life because there is a zombie plague and only a group of Indigenous inhabitants — the Mi’gmaq people on the Reserve of Red Crow in Listuguj (Quebec, Canada) are immune.

“I wanted the themes in Blood Quantum to be a bare-knuckled look into the frustrations of racism. To exist is to hold a line,” Barnaby says.

“That has a romantic, noble savage shine to it — but the truth is, you’re not holding that line so much as that line is holding you, and you get held there until you hate the world for treating you differently or hate yourself for being different.”

The concepts, political undertones, the struggle to create a multicultural, post-apocalypse community, as well as pre- and post-colonial dilemmas abound.

Blood Quantum movie poster: A film by Jeff Barnaby
Blood Quantum movie poster: A film by Jeff Barnaby

 Blood Quantum uses all the familiar zombie flick tropes, yet it offers more than escape from reality. It brings the “woke” viewer along for a head-nodding (in agreement) ride. Yet, for those who are not so well-versed in aboriginal people’s struggles worldwide, it evokes deep thought.

Perhaps it will also cause you to have some uncomfortable conversations about race, class, and post-colonial fears and injustice.

“I’ve based my entire life around the truth that art can transcend hate and alter perceptions; I know this for a fact because art has done this for me more than once,” Barnaby emphasizes.

If you know North American history, you’ll understand why the Indigenous people in the film, on the Reserve of Red Crow, are once-again divided over offering aid and shelter.

“With less than 5,000 speakers, my language is disappearing, as what’s left of the Mi’gMaq nation assimilates into the new world. The ideas behind “Blood Quantum” are more than just plot points to a horror film.

The Mi’gMaq are in extinction protocol,” he says. As Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) on every continent are demanding social justice and inclusion, “Blood Quantum” is a creative reveal of what could happen if the world’s people do not figure out how to coexist in harmony. Barnaby was born on a Mi’gmaq reserve in Listuguj, Quebec.

What Filmmaking Reveals

His filmmaking paints a stark and scathing portrait of post-colonial Indigenous life and settler culture.

“I know that there will be loss and tragedy in the grand pursuit of equality. The survival of being Mi’gMaq, of being Navajo, Nava’Maq, is synonymous with cultural synergy. I don’t know what I’ll lose in this pursuit of the idea of harmony.

Still, I know wanting to take the journey makes holding onto my humanity, understanding forgiveness, grief, love, hate, but never slipping into despair, mandatory.” Just like North American history, “Blood Quantum’s” ending is messy, unclear, and filled with anxiety about the future of humankind.

The film promises an emotional ride from hands over face gore to heart-wrenching character dynamics and a few laughs. Catch Blood Quantum on Shudder and Crave streaming services.

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