Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film


Science fiction film offers its viewers many pleasures, not least of which is the possibility of imagining other worlds in which very different forms of society exist. Not surprisingly, however, these alternative worlds often become spaces in which filmmakers and film audiences can explore issues of concern in our own society. Through an analysis of over thirty canonic science fiction (SF) films, includingLogan's Run, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Gattaca,andMinority Report,Black Spaceoffers a thorough-going investigation of how SF film since the 1950s has dealt with the issue of race and specifically with the representation of blackness.

Setting his study against the backdrop of America's ongoing racial struggles and complex socioeconomic histories, Adilifu Nama pursues a number of themes inBlack Space. They include the structured absence/token presence of blacks in SF film; racial contamination and racial paranoia; the traumatized black body as the ultimate signifier of difference, alienness, and "otherness"; the use of class and economic issues to subsume race as an issue; the racially subversive pleasures and allegories encoded in some mainstream SF films; and the ways in which independent and extra-filmic productions are subverting the SF genre of Hollywood filmmaking.

The first book-length study of African American representation in science fiction film,Black Spacedemonstrates that SF cinema has become an important field of racial analysis, a site where definitions of race can be contested and post-civil rights race relations (re)imagined.


“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 . . .

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