terça-feira, 14 de julho de 2009

Black space - Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission . . .”

The first time I remember hearing this eerie command was as a child, sitting home one weekday afternoon while nursing a sore throat and a light case of the sniffles.

Usually, when I was too sick to go to school for more than one day, I always looked forward to thumbing through a variety of comic books my mother would buy me to quell my complaints of being bored while she was gone. As a rule, I would read and reread them in bed. But this time I schlepped my blanket and pillow out to the living room to look at television and settled down to view an afternoon barrage of corny game shows and melodramatic soap operas.

To my joyful surprise, I stumbled upon The Outer Limits, a science fiction series in which each show began with a disembodied voice commanding viewers to stay still and keep watching the tv screen. Admittedly, reruns of the black-and-white series, with its tacky special effects and overdone monster makeup, seldom lived up to the compelling introduction.

Nonetheless, for me the series did serve as a significant bridge from a leisurely enjoyment of superhero comic books to a keen interest in science fiction television and films.

I moved on from reruns of The Outer Limits to the short-lived series Space: 1999 and eventually found my sci-fi glee in reruns of the original Star Trek television series of the late 1960s.

My immediate interest in the show, however, was driven not exclusively by my preference for all things science fiction but also by a fondness for Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the African American female communication specialist of the Star Trek crew and my first television crush. Her presence on the bridge of the Enterprise made the absence of black people in other science fiction television shows and films all the more conspicuous.

I wanted to see more black people, not only on Star Trek (if I’d had my wish, Uhura would have had her own science fiction show) but across the genre. To the contrary, I found that in the vast majority of science fiction television shows and films, black people were, until quite recently, absent or extremely marginal to the narratives. This observation followed me well into adulthood and, to a great extent, came to define how black representation in American science fiction cinema is commonly perceived despite a growing presence of black representation in
the genre.

For example, when friends or family members would ask what I was working on and I would tell them I was writing a book examining the intersection of black representation and science fiction (SF ) cinema, the most common response was that it was going to be a short book. They would promptly inform me that black folk are not present in the genre or are certain to die prematurely in the second act. Admittedly, in a multitude of SF films, black people are just plain absent, which understandably leaves the impression there is very little to write about when it comes to black representation in the genre.

Yet, in spite of the overt omission of black representation and racial issues in SF cinema, I have found that both are present in numerous SF films. Albeit implicit—as structured absence, repressed or symbolic—blackness and race are often present in SF films as narrative subtext or implicit allegorical subject.

Most important, for this book, is the cultural politics of race that such representations suggest not only in SF cinema but alongside the sociohistorical place that blackness has occupied in American society. As a result, the SF film genre is not merely an imaginative medium primarily focused on the future. SF film is also a powerful lens by which to observe the collective racial desires, constructs, fantasies, and fears circulating throughout American society.

Chapter 1. Structured Absence and Token Presence
Chapter 2. Bad Blood: Fear of Racial Contamination
Chapter 3. The Black Body: Figures of Distortion
Chapter 4. Humans Unite! Race, Class, and Postindustrial Aliens
Chapter 5. White Narratives, Black Allegories
Chapter 6. Subverting the Genre: The Mothership Connection

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