In this zombie apocalypse ... Indigenous people are immune

Vincent Schilling

‘Blood Quantum’ was the biggest budget for an Indigenous-led film in Canadian history

Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

This isn't Michael Greyeyes’ first dive into the world of zombies. Last year, Greyeyes wowed the Walking Dead universe in his role as Qaletaqa Walker, the head of the fictional Black Hat reservation and intimidating zombie-killer in AMC’s ‘Fear the Walking Dead.’

Now Greyeye’s will be making another impression on the movie world with the commercial release of “Blood Quantum’ on the Shudder TV movie channel.

“Blood Quantum” by director Jeff Barnaby hit the theatrical festival film circuit by storm and seriously impressed audiences at the Toronto Independent Film Festival in 2019. Now with the online release on Shudder TV, Greyeyes (as well as the rest of the largely Native cast-members) are looking to make another set of waves in the zombie/horror film genre.

The actors in “Blood Quantum” include: Michael Greyeyes (True Detective, Fear the Walking Dead), Forrest Goodluck (The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open), Olivia Scriven (Degrassi: Next Class & The Next Generation), Devery Jacobs and Brandon Oakes (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) and Gary Farmer (Dead Man, Jimmy P.)

In a video interview, Greyeyes, Cree, discussed the upcoming release of “Blood Quantum, what it is like working as an actor during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he sees in the future for himself and the film industry.

“Blood Quantum is a new feature film by filmmaker, Jeff Barnaby,” says Greyeyes. “A magma filmmaker, he wrote it, directed it, edited it, composed music for it. Blood Quantum is set in the fictitious reservation of Red Crow and it's set in the early '80s and it's the end of the world. It's a horror film about a zombie apocalypse. Except with this particular idea, the Indigenous people in Red Crow are immune. They're the only people immune to the disease in the whole world.”

Greyeyes says the film is “an incredibly new and fresh twist on a sub-genre that I've loved and I know you've loved for a long time. But to be in this project was extraordinary because it's about families, it's about community.”

Greyeyes says the uncommonly big budget for the film set it ahead of the curve. “Blood Quantum was the biggest budget for an Indigenous-led film in Canadian history, You need a lot of money to make a film like this. And when you watch it, you can really, really, really tell.”

“The response to Blood Quantum has been extraordinary,” says Greyeyes. “We opened Midnight Madness, the series at TIFF (Toronto Independent Film Festival) in the fall. The audience went completely wild. It's actually done a number of festivals … I actually saw it last at the Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse, and the audience went crazy there too. So it's a brilliant film. As a horror film, as a genre film, it succeeds on all the levels … but because it's made by Jeff, who's really quite a brilliant writer and filmmaker, it's much more than that, it's much more than a horror film. It's a film about systemic racism, and colonialism, and how history repeats itself, cyclically. How violence and how trauma moved from generation to generation… So I can't wait for a really large audience to finally sink its teeth in, pun unintended.”

Though he expressed he was fortunate to have a lot of projects under his belt, he also explained how the industry was for many Native actors and other professionals in the film industry.

“It's been devastating, for certain. I mean, we are literally gig workers. We work on it for one project and then when that project finishes, we wait until we can work on another project. So whatever money you make, project A, has got to last you through until you start working on project B or until, make it last as long as you can. So we never know where our next job is coming from. And I'm saying that as a person who's been given a lot of opportunities lately … and I feel like I'm in a luckier position than most artists… (But) most artists that I know, my friends, all my colleagues, many of them are in really precarious situations. The work has gone away and it's actually devastating for independent artists.”

“As much as I need the work and as much as my friends need the work, I'd rather stay six feet apart than six feet under. This is a really deadly pandemic. I think here in Canada, we've been very, very fortunate. Our social distancing and other mitigation efforts have been effective at this point in Canada, in the entire country, which is about the size of California, in terms of population. We have about 1,300 deaths, 1,300 too many. But we're not in this same kind of situation as New York or Italy. So I feel that Canada might not experience the same kind of surge that we're seeing to the south of us. But that being said, I know that they've closed the border for another 30 days, so we're not even, in May. So I don't imagine anything happening for another four weeks.”

“I'm also waiting to complete a work on “Wild Indian,” a feature film, so those are two projects that are up-in-the-air and we don't know how or when we're going to complete them. So everybody wants to get back to work, but I want it to happen in a place where we don't endanger more people. Certainly not our frontline workers who are making huge sacrifices to keep us safe.”

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