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Racism in Resident Evil 5? Capcom, two black actors respond

A white man strides into an African village. The black villagers start morphing into crazed zombies, wielding pitchforks and knives. The white man starts shooting them down.

The scene was depicted in a 2007 promotional trailer (embedded above: warning, it's a little scary) for Resident Evil 5, a video game that's set to be released next month. A blog called Black Looks, which comments on issues of race and gender, condemned the video's "depiction of Black people as inhuman savages, the killing of Black people by a white man in military clothing, and the fact that this video game is marketed to children and young adults. Start them young … fearing, hating, and destroying black people."

With the game finally close to release, some blogs have started revisiting the issue of whether Resident Evil 5 is racist. We asked Capcom, the Japanese company that made the game, what its developers had intended. Spokesman Chris Kramer told us:

The Resident Evil series has been around since 1996. It was first set in the American Midwest, and since then, it's gone to South America, Antarctica and Spain. For Resident Evil 5, our developers wanted to focus on pushing the current generation console's capabilities for rendering light. They wanted to see if they could make light as fearful as shadows. They wanted the players to go from a dark environment to a bright setting, when they're momentarily blinded. As their pupils adjust, they become vulnerable to attack. They wanted a location that would have hot, bright, flat light. And they chose Africa.

Kramer also noted that the original story for Resident Evil referenced a virus that was engineered somewhere in Africa. Returning to the continent brings the story full circle, he said.

Finally, Kramer pointed out that prior versions of the game, which has sold 34 million copies worldwide, featured Americans, Asians, Spaniards and Latin Americans.

Few are in a position to make a judgment; the game hasn't been released yet, and only its developers know how the entire game unfolds. So we interviewed two African American actors who played leading roles in Resident Evil 5 to see if they thought the game had racist overtones. They said ...

Resident Evil 5
Sheva Alomar in Resident Evil 5. Credit: Capcom.

... the sensitivity to Resident Evil 5 was understandable, but that the hue and cry were overblown. Karen Dyer, the Sherman Oaks actress who plays Sheva Alomar, the heroine in the story, said, "When the clip came out, Sheva wasn't in it because she hadn't been created yet. Once people get to hear the whole story and meet Sheva, I think they'll see that there's nothing racist about it. In the game, she gets together with Chris Redfield to try to help her people. I think it's a balanced portrayal" of black people.

T.J. Storm, who plays a Delta commander in the game, said the decision to set the story in Africa allowed developers to pull from a "completely different mythology." "In the game, you have what are called majini, which means evil spirit' " in Zigula, a language spoken in Tanzania.

"Resident Evil 4 was located in Spain, so there were Spanish zombies," Storm said. "Now we're in Africa. And guess what? The zombies are African."

-- Alex Pham

Video by Capcom

 
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