Blood Quantum has been the most recent version of the zombie genre for years

Let’s start with a simple exercise.

Name three films that focus on Indigenous characters. Better yet, name three kind films centered on indigenous characters. Now look at your list (which probably includes the Disney musical Pocahontas) and identify how many of those films had creative teams made up mostly of Indigenous people on the lists. It’s not easy to do, is it?

It is rare, even in modern times that seem to adopt a cultural portrayal in film, to see films made from the perspective of Indigenous peoples, let alone such portrayals from Native American creative teams. Worse are the depictions of Native Americans throughout cinema history, dating back as far as the cowboy craze of the 1930s and beyond. Poorly worded “mystical healers” and “male doctors” permeate the public understanding of Indigenous peoples even to this day.


Blood quantum is an independent production released in 2019 by the writer-director Jeff Barnabas, member of the Mi’kmaq tribe from Quebec, Canada. Praised for its inventive narrative approach to the zombie genre, the film became an instant cult classic.

The film’s first act follows a traditional zombie film structure – our main characters go through their day when weird events that are immediately recognizable to audiences begin. A fisherman notices that his catch collapses long after it has been gutted and cleaned. A dog that had been shot comes back to life. An imprisoned man becomes erratic and violent. The events all culminate in a night of terror, as the main character Traylor (Michael Greyeye) responds to a domestic violence call, only to find the man who called violently attacked by his sick and aggressive girlfriend.


Nothing has caught the attention of genre fans so far, and at this point the only noticeable difference between Blood quantum and the standard zombie fare is the frame, taking place on the Red Crow tribe reserve in Quebec, Canada. However, the film then moves forward six months and takes a decisive narrative turn. We join our cast of characters who now adorn Mad Max– esque leather clothes, in a true post-apocolypic fashion. The film’s twist is that its native characters are impervious to the zombie virus, while the white characters are susceptible to infection.

This ethnic rule of the line in the sand is exacerbated by the fact that one of the main characters has a white girlfriend who is pregnant with their child. As all of the characters are either entirely native or entirely white, the fate of their unborn child remains to be determined. Will the father’s 50% blood be enough to keep the child safe from “zed” disease? The blood quantity laws from which the film takes its name is a system used in the United States and Canada to assess an individual’s indigeneity. They determine whether an individual can claim citizenship under certain tribes. For example, someone whose parents are both native would have a blood quantum of 2/2, or 100%.

Additionally, being immune to disease doesn’t make the Ravenous Undead any less dangerous, and survivors are forced to choose who they welcome, as a single infected zombie could easily overpower several in the Stronghold.

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By the late 2010s, the zombie movie landscape had grown complacent, with notable entries like Train to Busan featuring few new additions to the genre, choosing instead to focus on microhuman dramas or bombastic special effects. The zombie genre is well-trodden in Western cinema, with nearly six decades separating Night of the Living Dead and Quantum of blood. It’s easy for passive viewers to grasp the structure of these films – undead humans roam the land, and a collective of protagonists are left on their own to survive the situation. Where the genre excels is the explorations of broad social themes through the living dead. George A. Romero‘s Dawn of the dead posing as an allegory of American consumerism by placing his figures in a shopping mall. Boris Sagal‘s Omega man, based on Richard Matheson novel postulates that humanity is the real monster that opposes the development of greater evolution.


The coherent guideline of the genre is to explore a phenomenon of larger society by deconstructing said society. Jeff Barnaby’s Blood quantum features all the standard zombie fare the public has come to expect – brain-hungry undead, solid practical effects, and tense fight sequences. Where the film really goes beyond is its metaphorical examination of colonization and the biological impact the settlers had on the indigenous peoples of North America.

The immediately apparent irony in the account is that Canada’s indigenous peoples are somewhat impervious to the infection to which its white citizens are susceptible. Reflecting centuries-old events, the allegory of European settlers spreading diseases that killed hundreds of thousands of Native Americans is dark but honest ground to tread. Actor Michael Greyeyes who plays Traylor in the film said in an interview: “[our ancestors] did not create borders, they did not create walls, and in doing so, we cannot blame them for their humanity. The same humanity that exposed their ancestors to biological genocide is a focal point of the film – whether or not the Red Crow tribe is responsible for welcoming and caring for the infected and helpless white Canadians who come to seek refuge in their homes.

It’s important to reiterate that these hyper-focused questions are presented in a movie that begins with a full act of zombie clichés according to the book. It’s these questions that stick with audiences long after the credits roll that elevate the film far beyond its low-budget roots into something transcendent.

In the wake of Hollywood accepting diversity as mainstream, there are still significant gaps in portrayal where Indigenous filmmakers find themselves systematically overlooked. Blood quantum assumes on a metatextual level that telling authentic Aboriginal stories means reckoning with the legacy of the relationship between settlers and those they displace; and in so doing, puts an uncomfortable spotlight on the film establishment.

Movies like crazy rich asians and coconut are able to tell authentic stories of their respective Asian and Latin communities in a relative vacuum, placing their stories in Singapore and Mexico, far from the complexity introduced by Western colonizers. Indigenous filmmakers do not enjoy such luxuries and, by the very nature of their existence, challenge the film establishment, which has been allowed to thrive for decades on stolen land. Blood quantum joins the ranks of the best zombie movies alongside George A. Romero, Stuart Gordon, and Danny boyle, by offering not only a fascinating genre film, but a living critique of modern society; urging the public to examine their own complacency within these institutions.

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