In Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum, Indigenous people who are immune to a foreign zombie virus are quarantined on a reserve. The plot sound familiar? COVID-19 has forced people to stay inside, keeping safe from a virus as scientists ponder questions of immunity.
Sadly, the gory, politically loaded movie never made it to theatres on its intended release date, March 27. The movie, starring Michael Greyeyes and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, is now arriving on VOD and digital April 28 as relevant quarantine viewing.
Barnaby’s follow-up to the residential school-era thriller Rhyme For Young Ghouls is set in 1981, on the same reserve where Quebec officials squared off against the Mi’kmaq over salmon fishing rights. That ordeal was captured in Alanis Obomsawin’s Incident at Restigouche.
The film’s title refers to an American policy of measuring Indigenous bloodlines.
“It was a state-sanctioned policy,” explains Tailfeathers in an interview with NOW. “It was designed to erase us, assimilate us, divide us and remove us from our own communities, and breakup Indigenous nationhood and kinship. In Canada we had something very similar with the Indian Act and status. It was a systemically organized way of removing us from nationhood and displacing us.”
Barnaby’s film flips the term Blood Quantum. Indigenous blood is immune to a zombie virus in an ingenious premise where reserves become refugee camps under quarantine. Once again Indigenous people must decide whether they should allow settlers on their lands – like the ones that brought smallpox in the 18th century. And once again, allowing settlers on their lands is a potential health risk.
In our TIFF cover story, Barnaby joined other artists and storytellers to discuss his film’s place among Indigenous genre narratives that revisit trauma in fantasy contexts.
“Everything that we create, write and produce is post-apocalyptic because we survived an apocalypse,” said The Marrow Thieves author Cherie Dimaline during that roundtable. “We’re the survivors.”
“All of Jeff [Barnaby’s] work is elevated,” Tailfeathers added in our follow-up video interview during TIFF. “Indigenous people live with systemic violence everyday. Jeff takes that and turns it into this visceral, incredible, imaginative world that allows for audiences to be entertained but also walk away with something real.”