Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Blackness is handled

Blackness seems to be handled in three distinct ways in science fiction and fantasy (and probably in media overall). Let's explore below.

Photo from Quora* 

Blackness is Hidden

Some would argue that blackness being hidden is a negative thing. For example with Star Wars: The Force Awakens's Maz Kanata, some fans wanted to see Lupita Nyong'o as she is and not a CGI creature in her place. I tend to disagree with this line of thinking. Scifi/fantasy has a ton of non-human characters and someone has to have the privilege of playing them so why not one of us? Additionally, many of the roles are based on long standing characters that were always not human. The problem arises when there are no other depictions of people of color to go along with it, which is too often the case.

Examples: Maz Kanata, Neytri of Avatar, Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy

Blackness is a Non-Issue

This seems to be the most popular take on blackness. Sometimes it's because the story takes place in a post (or non) racial world, sometimes it's because the book/movie/show just decided not to address it. The characters just happens to be black in these cases. I have noticed that this take on blackness tends to correspond with a different sort of division being a point of contention. Aliens versus humans, mutants versus humans, etc. Race is the least of their concerns.

Examples: Most of them frankly, but Fish of Gotham, Molly of Extant, Annie of Being Human, Storm of X-Men (in the movies at least), the list goes on.

Blackness is Part of the Story

We haven't gotten to a point where we are racially colorblind- depictions of interracial relationships are still shown as progressive and people of color as headliners are still rare. Done correctly, including race can enrich a story, give depth to characters and speak to larger universe truths. For Scifi/Fantasy that takes place in the past or in contemporaneous to present day times, it feels more honest to incorporate race in some way. It's not as though we don't notice it, and for people of color it can be a point of pride to have our cultures included.

Examples: The ladies of Sleepy Hollow, Tituba of Salem

* I don't know if race was directly addressed in The Matrix, but I do know the Oracle was awesome.

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