Brad Pitt, Not So Hidden Racism and Sexism, and “World War Z” (2013)

World War Z is a poor movie that boosts Brad Pitt, racism, and sexism. For a fairly crowded theater, I have never seen it empty as quickly as it did yesterday. 

Beware – spoilers follow.

World War Z
Film Still from World War Z From Google Images

With a name like World War Z and the strong connotations associated with the words “world war,” I expected World War Z to be a war in some way related to world wars that have actually happened. I envisioned something “worse” than the world has seen before. (“Worse” is in quotations marks because the historian in me, especially after reading Micol Seigel’s article “Beyond Compare: Comparative Method after the Transnational Turn,” does not like to compare historical moments or peoples and make value judgments – its relationships that matter.) I expected a nuclear war – though that would be an ultra sensitive topic. Otherwise, maybe a massive eruption of people “at the bottom” in a war with wide-spread poverty like nothing imaginable today.

In reality, World War Z portrays a war that very quickly takes over 4 billion lives on several continents. The aggressive force is a virus that transforms healthy humans into zombie-like beings 10 seconds after they are bitten. They instantly bite others. Like we really need another zombie film with nothing new, nothing except mug shots of Pitt that is.

World War Z revolves around Brad Pitt at the expense of any possible logical development. We can quickly deconstruct any number of scenes in World War Z. Writers do everything possible to make Pitt (aka Gerry Lane) a god-like hero. Slight tweaks in many of the scenes would have added a sense of logic or morality but would have provided fewer glamor shots of Pitt. In fact, he is almost the only character in the film.

For example: Pitt is in the vault with the disease they need to make a vaccination: Why isn’t there a phone (like there was right outside of the room) or an intercom system connected to the security camera where the people running the lab could tell him what to get? There isn’t a phone because we are to believe that Pitt finds the correct vial out of hundreds all on his own, even though his character does not have medical training. If something like this had happened once – okay, but come on.

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World War Z  is another “mighty whitey” film: Women and non-whites need a white man for survival. Word War Z revolves around a privileged white male. The United Nations’s Army and doctors are virtually all white and male. Thierry, the man who helps coordinate some of Pitt’s travel around the world, is so-called black, but his role is little more than a few supporting seconds on a few occasions. At the beginning of the film, Pitt suddenly adopts a child, Tommy, whose Spanish-speaking parents were turned into zombies moments before. Tommy has no role in the film after Pitt saves him. At the end of the film when the vaccine Pitt discovered is being distributed, the film shows non-white nations being helped, especially those in the African continent. Thus the film only has a “white voice.”

Film Still from World War Z From Google Images Pitt’s Film Wife Take Care of the Children in World War Z

Women are also surprisingly absent. They are given very little on-screen time and even fewer speaking lines. Pitt’s wife in the film has a handful of lines where she fully embodies a stereotypically motherly role. Every scene includes her taking care of and worrying about her children or husband. Pitt’s two daughters in the film also have just a few lines and only at the beginning: one where they tell their parents a joke, the others where they are screaming.

In Israel, as zombies attack, Pitt saves a female soldier, Segen, by cutting off part of her arm seconds after a zombie has bitten her.

Film Still from World War Z Brad Pitt Protecting Segen From Google Images

.Segen has a few speaking lines. All of her lines consist of supporting Pitt’s efforts in saving the world, thanking Pitt, or screaming.

There is also one woman who is still alive and who works at the World Health Care Organization lab that Pitt has been traveling toward to work on the cure needed to stop zombies. She also just has a few lines; however, she is not used just for screaming lines or stereotypical female roles.

Never do two women speak to each another in this movie – making it fail the Bechdel test. (There is one very brief scene where one named woman and one unnamed woman speak, but to pass the Bechdel, both would need names.) Furthermore, never does a female character initiate conversation: Pitt asks the questions.

As individuals racialized white are quickly becoming a numerical minority in the United States, perhaps the film aims to present all white men via Pitt as being more and better than everyone else. The film also guarantees the future success and prominence of whites. It ends with Pitt saying:

This isn’t the end; not even close.

World War Z relies on unrealistic, humiliating, and stereotypical mistakes by non-whites and females to develop the story. Of course, everyone realizes that movies require a certain willing suspense of disbelief. This is different.

Early in the film, Israel is safe because they have built a wall around their entire country in anticipation of such a world-wide outbreak. The UN sends Pitt to Israel, a nation of peoples historically racialized as other than or less than those racialized as so-called white, to begin his investigation and mission to save the world. Pitt is only there briefly until zombies climb over the wall, invade, and turn everyone in sight who cannot escape into a zombie.

Image Still from World War Z From Google Image Search

It is completely unrealistic and inappropriate that in such a case, the entire nation would leave the wall unguarded and without any buffer zones or other security measures. In the film, hundreds of people are standing right next to the wall on the inside – as if they have no understanding of the dangers inches away. This makes Israel, a nation that has actually been an important ally of the United States, look “dumb” and naive in the film.

Furthermore, the zombies overtake the wall seconds after an unnamed non-white female starts singing over the loud speakers. Since these zombies are attracted to loud noise, they go toward the sound as quickly as possible.

At another point, as Pitt and his crew are preparing to leave South Korea, everything is safe until his wife calls his cellphone, which awakens the zombies. In both of these cases and these are the only two instances when peace is so violently disrupted, the female character isn’t aware–to no fault of her own–that her actions endanger the entire world.

World War Z lacks any basic notion of human morality or sensitivity. No one, especially not Pitt, advocates finding a cure the zombies/infected humans. No one mourns the loss of billions of people. Instead, they are othered, deemed useless, murdered, and forgotten, even when unnecessary for the protection of healthy individuals. At the end, when a cure has been reached for the uninfected humans, the film shows zombies being gathered together and firebombed.

At the very beginning, the film announces the president, vice president, and many other top officials of the United States have been overtaken; although this is not necessarily immoral, it is certainly insensitive.

Although not related to the film’s content at all, consider all of the other things that could have been done with its $200,000,000 budget, plus all the associated cost for people see World War Z in the movie theater.

World War Z Poster

All-in-all World War Z is another fairly cliched action movie with serious and basic flaws. Except for a few brief scenes near the very beginning, there is nothing scary, juicy, exciting, sad, or even unique. Not even blood and guts – anywhere – something typically expected in such a movie. Special effects are generally horrible (see the first image above). There are no “ah ha” moments in any of the characters’ developments as people. There are also far too many major flaws, gaps, and unanswered questions in the story. Too many times when viewers are asked to buy into believing the impossible. While recognizing that it is a fictional, sci-fi story, I cannot think of anything that holds up if analyzed for a second.

For example, at one point at the beginning, World War Z shows a map of the places currently invaded. Virtually the entire world is already lit up. The basic math does not work. According to the movie, it should actually only take about 33 10 second periods to infect 4.3 billion people – roughly the number infected at the beginning of the film. This would mean that in no more than six minutes, the entire human population would be zombies. We are also suppose to believe that an hour later in the film’s time the world has been saved, repopulated, and everything is fine.

Reviewer Robbie Collin sums up one action perfectly in his review by saying, “…an important character trips up and accidentally shoots himself in the head, and you start to question whether the planet might in fact be safer in the hands of the zombies.”

The film was presumably made by only considering one question:
How can we make Brad Pitt look the best and make us money?

Even worse are the cultural representations found in World War Z. White men have the attention and power. Without them we are suppose to believe life would not be possible.

We need to discuss and historicize the popularity of zombies. Why now? In films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the pods (zombie-like creatures) have been interpreted as representing Cold War fears and more recently fears associated with the beginnings of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Some possibilities for what today’s zombies represent include the white fear of becoming a minority, fear of an apocalypse and death, fear of life existing outside Earth, fear about actual human limits, and questions about different manifestations of life.

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