Manual Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film

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The first book-length study of African American representation in science fiction film, Black Space demonstrates 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. This one would be about a 3. While the middle chapters of this book do some very important work, he leads with chapter 2 his weakest chapter, and the last chapter is Not surprisingly, however, these alternative worlds often become spaces in which filmmakers and film audiences can explore issues of U of Texas Press Bolero Ozon.

Structured Absence and Token Presence. Sf film is also a powerful lens by which to observe the collective racial desires, constructs, fantasies, and fears circulating throughout American society. In this book, however, I place black racial formation at the center of these common dichotomies. As a result, a more complex and provocative picture emerges of how sf cinema, in imagining new worlds and addressing a broad range of social topics, has confronted and retreated from the color line, one of the most troubling and turbulent social issues present in American society.


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In the book's first chapter, "Structured Absence and Token Presence," he looks at the meanings inherent in the absence of black and other racialised characters in sf films, the implications of imagined futures in which only white people and often only white Americans survive, and the way blackness is coded through the use of symbolic characteristics and animals or animal-like others. While noting a number of films which do incorporate black characters - many of which, in the earlier years of sf film, were produced during the brief flourishing of 'blaxploitation' films which presented and validated black experience - Nama shows how these 'token' black characters often embody white concerns about racial issues.

Examining films produced in more recent years, Nama looks at the emergence of the 'safe' black hero - in many instances portrayed by a single actor, Will Smith - as a reassuring figure for white audiences. In the second chapter, "Bad Blood: The third chapter, "The Black Body: Figures of Distortion," begins with the observation that the black body has long been depicted in a distorted or exaggerated fashion in American media. Nama goes on to discuss how " In the fourth chapter, "Humans Unite!

In a number of science fiction films, the evil corporation becomes the threat which brings together black and white, while in others, the threat of an even greater Other - the invading or infiltrating alien - stand in for loss of jobs and disempowerment in a postindustrial economy and " In "White Narratives, Black Allegories," Nama begins his discussion by noting that science fiction film is a genre that, while superficially recapitulating many of the tropes of the white-supremacist, colonialist 'Western' genre, it is notably more open to resistant and subversive readings.

The Mothership Connection," Nama " Nama also explores the relatively new movement of Afrofuturism which includes not only film, but " If we cannot look toward the future to imagine new possibilities and solutions for a history of race relations marred with fear, violence, institutional discrimination, and deep-seated ambivalence, then where else?

May 15, Ernesto Aguilar rated it it was amazing. Science fiction's multilayered vision of the future, in author Nama's work, is still a plateau grounded in the contemporary realities of race. More specifically, as in dissection of the movie "They Live," science fiction has, at times, offered a chance for a discussion about inequality, power and the cultural contradictions between white working-class idealism based in Horatio Alger-inspired meritocracy and the long-unresolved disenfranchisement of people of color which has engendered mistrust.

I Science fiction's multilayered vision of the future, in author Nama's work, is still a plateau grounded in the contemporary realities of race. In this book, sci-fi gives the viewer a glimpse into racial fears and tensions of their periods. In the film "Demolition Man," the menacing Black man in Wesley Snipes stands tall amid a burning Los Angeles shortly after the rebellions following the Rodney King case, in which white police officers were acquitted for a vicious beating caught on film.

In "Aliens," the lone Latino character faces anti-immigrant potshots by fellow soldiers. Class and economics become weapons in subverting the idea of racial justice in some works. And urban blight, typified in the movie "Escape from New York," becomes a racial allegory for abandonment. The films and Nama's interpretations are diverse. From hit sci-fi fare to obscure movies over the decades, references go from anecdotal to engrossing.

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Jackson and who has changed how blackness is represented in Hollywood sf. The ethic of heroic masculinity is the same but does it lead us in a similar direction racially? So where we are being led? I have my suspicions, but I am more curious as to how Nama would extend his analysis on this point. Black Space opens up how we think about race in science-fiction cinema.

Nama demonstrates a solid understanding of genre conventions, of the potentials and limitations of the form. There is, however, a major problem with Black Space that its author recognizes and over which he has no control. While African American writers have made significant contributions to literary science fiction, that success has not translated into independent or robust accomplishments in cinema.

This is unfortunate, but it is hardly Mr. His films in this line, C. As a result, his work circulates in the independent channels fostered by film festivals, public libraries, and college campuses. In it the black space that Nama opens gains dimension, expressing the historical reality of race and its imbrication in American life with refreshing directness.


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A Vital SF Resource. Brian Stableford. New York: Routledge, Brian Stableford is a remarkably prolific writer. A quick count, no doubt already outdated as I write this, includes over 60 novels, 7 collections of stories, 23 translations, 5 anthologies, and 19 non-fiction works. When one considers that he is not much older than the number of novels he has written, and that none of this takes into account the extensive contributions he made to the Clute and Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction , for example, it seems impossible to imagine, at least for a very slow worker such as myself.

Admittedly, his recent Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature , both published by Scarecrow Press, were disappointing, but, according to the Brian Stableford Web Site, they were disappointing to him as well. Nevertheless, most of his work is solid and a remarkable amount of it is important.

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Beyond his fiction, his The Scientific Romance in Britain is an example of his best analytical work. I believe that the massive tome under review here, Science Fact and Science Fiction , is also an example of his best work and that it will prove to be a necessity, albeit an expensive one, for any library, public or personal, that strives for a strong collection on science fiction. This volume does not bow to visual appeal—it is a dreary grey with blue lettering, designed to slip in among the other reference works at the library. Blessedly, the pages are sturdy and, although printed in two columns, the typeface is of a decent size.

This is a workhorse of a volume and my copy will be used as such. Gesturing back to C. Although Stableford has done postgraduate work in biology, he is not himself a scientist. Nonetheless, he has considered the use of science in science fiction before, notably in the volume written with David Langford and Peter Nicholls, The Science in Science Fiction.

Here he does so with what seems to me, not at all a scientist, care and precision. For instance, reading the entry on biology led me to other entries on Aristotle, zoology, botany, microbiology, the microscope, chemistry, life, palaeontology, evolution, monsters, nature, J. Haldane, biotechnology, Frankenstein, horror, H. Wells, scientific romance, Julian Huxley, mutations, exobiology, genetics, genetic engineering, and cloning. A shorter entry, on eugenics, led to another series of entries: evolution, Darwin, intelligence, decadence, Utopia, dystopia, genetics, and biotechnology.

These trails supply a remarkably thorough exploration, but the entries supply much more than a path to follow. Let the example of the entry on eugenics demonstrate the erudition of the individual entries. It begins with a discussion of Francis Galton, the nineteenth-century popularizer of the concept, and we learn that he and Darwin were cousins. Stableford goes on to contrast positive and negative eugenics, explain biometrics, connect it to Utopian and dystopian literature including satiric works, to list a number of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century works using the concept, and to connect it to theories of racial supremacy, including the Nazi program.

The last two paragraphs, exploring sf texts that use eugenics, contrast C. The range of bodies of knowledge, works, and media is impressive even in the age of Google, and the entry forms a coherent, lively essay on the topic as well as a collection of information. I followed a number of trails of entries as I read for this review.

I had a student who wanted to write a paper on how the atom bomb is used in science fiction, a very broad topic about which he would need to learn more, quickly, in order to narrow down the topic to something more manageable. In addition, my student found discussion of various ways in which anxieties about the atom bomb are linked to those about population and pollution as well as, of course, the Cold War. The entry discusses mainstream and non-fiction responses as well as sf. Within the volume as a whole, my student could move to entries on: weapons, the atom, Einstein, Clarke, population, pollution, Sagan, alternative history, Wells, Campbell, and war these last three missing their signifying asterisks, though.

He found references throughout to a wide range of sf writers from a wide span of time, and to movies as well as the written word. Finally, he could consult the bibliography for more extended studies of the subject and look through the index.

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Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film by Adilifu Nama

With all this information, he was able to narrow down his focus to a much more specific study about the ways in which power is abused in a story, a film, and—his own contribution—a role-playing game. Stableford does not have entries on everything I might wish. I am working now with the connection between animal studies and science fiction, so I looked for entries on animals, ethology, and sociobiology.

The first two were absent, but there was a rather short entry on sociobiology. The entry had only a few trails to follow—to Darwin, neurology, ecology, and exobiology—and mentioned only two sf stories and two explorations of the connections between sociobiology and the arts. That does not mean, however, that I found nothing useful to my own project. By looking up authors I have found central to my own research—from Stapledon to Simak to Slonczewski—in the index, I was led to very useful scientific and bibliographic information in entries on intelligence, evolution, the conte philosophique , and xenology.

Both Stapledon and Simak have their own entries in the volume as well. By following all these paths, I added to my stockpile of facts, bibliographic references, and stimulating ideas. The book is not absolutely perfect, however, and here it is time to discuss its few flaws. The introduction attempts to explain, saying:. Particular priority has been given to writers who are practicing scientists as well as writers of fiction, and to the links between the various aspects of their careers. And why was Joan Slonczewski absent? The selection seemed more idiosyncratic than logical to me.

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Second, I was bothered by the phallocentric tone of the volume. Although there has been much speculation on the links between gender and sex and on alternative sexuality in both science and science fiction, the entry on Sex does not go into as much detail as the large body of work on these subjects might justify. One can find some relevant leads in the index, and a great many female authors appear in individual entries, but the male bias is noticeable.