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Black Space

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    Black Space
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79451-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-9)

    ″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...

    (pp. 10-41)

    American science fiction (sf) cinema has had a history of providing striking portrayals of the future, alternative worlds, sleek rocket ships, cyborgs, deadly ray guns, time machines, and wormholes through hyperspace, but, until quite recently, no black people. For decades it appeared as if science fiction cinema was the symbolic wish fulfillment of America′s staunchest advocates of white supremacy. Admittedly, such a strident characterization is informed by some degree of hyperbole. Nonetheless, the structured absence of blackness has historically been a signature feature of the genre. In numerous sf films, black people are missing, or if they are present, they...

  6. CHAPTER 2 BAD BLOOD: Fear of Racial Contamination
    (pp. 42-69)

    After America′s use of not one but two atomic bombs in World War II, the fear of nuclear annihilation became a common element in scores of science fiction films of the 1950s. Here was a doomsday weapon that was no mere deterrent but a military option America had proven it was not afraid to exercise. Consequently, such fears were not unreasonable. A social by-product of America′s nuclear assertiveness was an increasing hysteria concerning the fate of the world, which was confirmed by everyday U.S. citizens who felt compelled to purchase bomb shelters as protection from the proverbial ″beginning of the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 THE BLACK BODY: Figures of Distortion
    (pp. 70-95)

    Black racial representation has had a long and dubious history in American popular cinema. The thick-lipped, bug-eyed Sambo; the jovial eager-to-please servant; the obese, head-wrapped-with-a-handkerchief mammy; the noble bare-chested black savage; and the frighteningly muscular black buck—these were the crude racial representations of black people that populated the American minstrel stage of the antebellum era and American cinema well into the 1950s.¹ Films such asThe Birth of a Nation(1915),King Kong(1933), andGone with the Wind(1939) stand out as demonstrative examples of classic Hollywood films that overtly and symbolically presented black racial caricatures and endorsed...

  8. CHAPTER 4 HUMANS UNITE! Race, Class, and Postindustrial Aliens
    (pp. 96-122)

    Despite the appearance of otherworldly or distant temporal settings in American sf film, the genre is very much linked to the real political changes, dominant social discourses, and cultural practices at work in American society. Films likeThe Day the Earth Stood Still(1951),It Came from Outer Space(1953), and the originalWar of the Worlds(1953) are unmistakable examples of how narratives ostensibly about close encounters with aliens are in fact thinly veiled political metaphors of the pressing geopolitical concerns of the cold war era. Although the cultural fallout from the cold war paranoia of the 1950s made...

    (pp. 123-147)

    Like the American western, sf film has played a significant part in affirming a myriad of myths and constructing historical relationships that are, at the least, uncritical and, at worst, revisionist falsehoods. For decades, film westerns presented intrepid white settlers as righteously taming the Wild West by vanquishing bands of hostile Indians, instead of presenting the push westward as a violent imposition upon the indigenous population. The western reimagined domestic imperialism as the establishment of civilization for the greater good. Such cinematic narratives affirmed the myth of American frontierism and served to smooth over the cultural chauvinisms of westward expansionism....

  10. CHAPTER 6 SUBVERTING THE GENRE: The Mothership Connection
    (pp. 148-172)

    Not only has the presence of black characters increased in science fiction film—a trend witnessed inThe Core(2003),The Chronicles of Riddick(2004), andAeon Flux(2005), for example—but black actors have also become central characters in the genre, as demonstrated by films likeSupernova(2000),Alien vs. Predator(2004),Serenity(2005),The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(2005), andChildren of Men(2006). Although the increase of black representation in sf film has been dramatic, this does not mean that these characters convey or are even meant to communicate any impression concerning black cultural identity, history,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 173-182)
    (pp. 183-188)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 189-200)