Academic journal article Journalism History

Black Space

Academic journal article Journalism History

Black Space

Article excerpt

Nama, Adilifu. Black Space. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008. 200 pp. $24.95.

You may recall the famous depiction of Darwinian evolution in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in which a group of primates using a bone as a tool is replaced by a white space station inhabited by technologically advanced white workers. The absence of black characters in the script, however, suggests a racial bias, which is surprising given the film's other social commentary. Such troubling racial representations in science fiction cinema pervade the genre, writes Adilifu Nama, a Pan-African studies scholar at California State UniversityNorthridge, who unswervingly examines films from the 1950s to the present fot what they reveal about race in America.

Nama gets beyond the more obvious social, environmental, and moral issues traditionally explored in science fiction and takes on topics such as interracial sex, black blood contamination, and racial paranoia, which emerge subtly on the screen hidden in films about gigantic insects and radiation poisoning. For example, that the bomb's survivors in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil WW), as played by Harry Belafonte, a person of color, and a white Inger Stevens, might cohabitate in an otherwise deserted New York is so taboo that these two characters reside in different neighborhoods for much of the film.

The fear in these films of blackness as an uncivilized, militant force parallels media depictions of blacks from the civil rights years to the Ronald Reagan administration and beyond, the author contends. Anxieties about black militancy against whites pervades Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and the assemblage of alien patrons of the space speakeasy in Star Wars (1977) are black social outcasts, marginalized by an exclusively white military machine with its nationalistic jingoism. The film's principal white characters faced an ultimate black foe in Darth Vadet, whose voice was that of black actor James Earl Jones, whom we never see. However, Blade Runner ( 1 982) examines the racial limitations of the police and imagines the vengeance of repressed victims.

The degree to which these racially signifying narratives are the intended social critiques of filmmakers, versus the extent to which these films unwittingly reveal the racial limitations of their creators and authences, is territory for further research. …

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