Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sci-Fi, Jedi's and White Lies

Here is a piece I recently wrote as Dan Tres Omi. You can pass it on and post it where you like just give me credit. Thanks for the love...

Sci-Fi, Jedi's and White Lies:
My Beef with George Lucas, etc.
by Dan Tres Omi

In the seventh grade, I was introduced to Frank Herbert's Dune. Before that, I never heard of this trilogy even though the movie adaptation was playing in theaters. I was immediately engrossed in the story of Dune and the Fremen or Free men of Arrakis. Here was a group of a hardcore warrior people who endured the hardships of a terrible desert. Like the Kushite Arabs discussed in Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire by Drusilla Dunjee Houston, I imagined the Fremen being the same way. I understood that their eyes were blue because of their heavy consumption of the wonderful and life enhancing melange or spice, but I envisioned them to be a dark-skinned people because of the harshness of their sun. When I watched the movie adaptation, I found pale skinned white folks dominating the entire movie. I reread Dune and noticed that I glossed over how Herbert described his characters. All of the characters that were born and raised on Arrakis were pretty much of European stock. I read the rest of the trilogy and found the same thing. I was in shock. I don't really understand how I missed this when I watched Star Wars: A New Hope. Then again, I was only 4 years old. I forgot that Tattooine, the home world of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, has twin suns. Ironically, in either of the movie trilogies, expanded universe (EU), or Dark Horse comics, there is no mention of a dark skinned people inhabiting Tattooine. Okay, Lucas gave us the Tusken Raiders who wear masks but we know they are not human. We are not told whether they are dark skinned or fair skinned. They do grunt, huff, and make a bunch of noise. They also seem hostile to outsiders. The EU does get into their culture but most fans don't read past the movies. Yet I digress. We have to ask, why don't we see people of color in places like Tattooine?

Lucas gave us Lando Calrissian and later Mace Windu so maybe as fans who happen to be people of color, we should be grateful. Lucas, however, almost performed cinema genocide by introducing us to Jar Jar Binks played by Ahmed Best. Even white folks were offended by this character but to black people, Binks was sheer buffoonery. Binks was a throwback to Stepinfechit or a futuristic Mantam. Afrocentrists/Black Nationalists like Del Jones would say that Lucas is a “cultural terrorist.” Surely, folks like Lucas and Herbert seem to avoid the race issue entirely. Directors such as Steven Spielberg take it step further by making movies such as “Minority Report,” where a chocolate city such as Washington, DC is completely devoid of black folks. In my opinion, that is much more damaging. So a second question we have to raise is why is it that white writers create a future where those of European stock continue to dominate and people of color play second fiddle?

Some will argue that this is changing. Yes, there are a token few directors and writers who are producing forms of entertainment that give characters of color more light. Normally, the writers and directors who are people of color themselves so it would make sense that they would do this. The Wachowski Brothers are an example of “affirmative action” at work. Yet we have learned that they may have stolen that script so they may not be an exception but candidates by default. This idea would lead to an answer for the questions we have already asked.
Some would argue that a writer will write about issues that are near and dear to him or her. It's no lie that most science fiction writers and movie directors are white. So their heroes would look like and act like them. Contrary to popular belief, much of science fiction is based on science. There are a few glitches here and there such as explosions and noise in outer space but most of what we see or read is based on the same universal laws followed by scientists. With this in mind, wouldn't it be scientifically correct to see more people of color than whites? In several European countries, they are seeing a zero growth rate. This means that they are having just enough babies to make up for people who pass away. In the United States, more and more people of color are being born as compared to white people and the waves of immigrants are coming from non-white countries. Soon those of European descent in the U.S. will be the minority. The growth rate in Africa and Asia is not slowing down. I am not hinting that white folks will soon be extinct but I am pointing out that the idea of Europeans still running things in outer space is just not realistic. Sure, the United States and Russia are ahead of everyone in the space race, but countries like China, India, and Nigeria who have just started their space program are not far behind. There are quite of few people who are betting on China to surpass the United States in every corporate sector. Not to mention the fact that engineers who work for NASA and continue to innovate in almost every scientific field are coming from Asian and African countries. With all these trends happening for the last 30 years or so (let's not even talk about the Bandung Conference of 1955) one would think that sci-fi writers would be getting with the program.
Others would argue, with some merit, that this is just another form of white supremacy rearing its ugly head. In Demolition Man, we find Los Angeles dominated by white folks again and the only major black character is a villain. What is this movie implying? Others would say that it is white skin privilege since those who do write sci-fi tend to travel in circles with other white guys. They rarely hang with anyone outside of that group. Let's get even more technical. If a blonde haired, pale skinned and blue eyed boy grew up on a desert planet with twin suns, wouldn't we see some problems develop? I am sure that thousands of years into the future there would be some cures, but wouldn't people complain. We always hear Luke Skywalker and other characters in the Star Wars universe complain about Tattooine being a backwater planet run by the gangsta Hutts as if it is literally the Third World. So Lucas, what gives?

Thankfully, there are writers both white and non-white who are keeping it real. The Sci-Fi channel when it comes to its senses and uses its budget to make some movies, has several shows that put people of color in the front. Writers like Ursula K Le Quin, Octavia Butler and Steven Barnes are being offered more gigs as writers and producers on TV shows. So we will see some change. Yet it is still happening to slowly. Until then, Lucas I got beef with you, son!