Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Another Brother from Another Planet




Reading some of the backlash to a black stormtrooper as one of the lead roles in Star Wars is not without its irony.  Given that stormtroopers look like high-tech Klansmen, you have to think J.J. Abrams was having a little fun here, channeling Mel Brooks who dressed up his black sheriff in a Klan outfit in one of the great scenes in Blazing Saddles.  But, Abrams was probably also trying to level the playing field a bit, as black characters are rarely seen in science fiction movies.  I suppose this is one reason some "fans" are so upset.  We get used to certain stereotypes and don't like to see them changed, even if the voice of Darth Vader was James Earl Jones.

For what ever reason, George Lucas chose to make Darth Vader white in the prequels, giving us the long sordid story of Anakin Skywalker, who would eventually fall prey to the dark side.  This was a bit of a disappointment as far as I was concerned, as we already had Lando Calrissian, played by the dapper Billy Dee Williams, so why not have David Oyelowo or some other young black actor play the role.  I guess it would have been too hard to explain how Anakin was Luke's father, even with three episodes.

For many years, black science fiction fans had to make do with Lt. Uhura.  The reboots of Star Trek addressed this shortfall, casting Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine.  There was even a Black Vulcan, played by Tim Russ, in Star Trek: Voyager.   However, these characters are far and few between and don't strike the imagination as much Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) did.

A lot of folks were upset that Blade Runner had virtually no black characters, leading some critics to wonder if there was some kind of Black genocide or plague in the near future.  There were no shortage of Asians, which appeared to have taken over LA, and Edward James Olmos played Gaff, one of the blade runners.  So, it didn't lack completely for ethnic diversity.

John Sayles created perhaps the first lead for a black actor in a science fiction movie in The Brother From Another Planet.  However, he seemed to be more influenced by Gordon Parks than science fiction films, as this movie owes a lot to the "blaxploitation" films of the early 70s.

Black science fiction is one of those sub-genres that doesn't get much mention.  From my little bit of research, Samuel Delaney is probably the most famous writer still working today.  He's won a slough of awards and would be interesting to read.

At one point, even W.E.B. DuBois tried his hand at science fiction in The Comet. Written in 1920, it foreshadowed the apocalyptic themes that would figure so heavily in the genre.  What makes his story interesting is that only a black man and white woman survive the comet, an obvious statement on miscegenation.  George Lucas take note.

So, why all the fuss over Stormtrooper Finn?  Isn't there plenty of room for a character like this in today's science fiction?  Sadly, some persons feel black sci-fi characters should remain sidekicks like Lando Calrissian, who ended up being frozen in "carbonite" for his treachery.  For that matter, so did Hans Solo, but he lived to see another day.  We never found out what happened to Lando.  Maybe he is Finn's father?  We can only wait and see.

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